Outdated IT, turf issues loom for Homeland Security

'One of the most important ways to spend homeland security money is to get our computers up to where they should be.'

'Sen. Joe Lieberman

Although lawmakers widely support the administration's proposal for a new Homeland Security Department, House and Senate leaders last week remained undecided on many of the details, including how to integrate the many systems it will absorb.

As Congress debated issues such as funding for security systems and changes to federal employees' collective bargaining rights, questions about the shape and scope of the department's IT infrastructure went unanswered.

'America is not using its technology edge,' said Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (D-Conn.), chairman of the Governmental Affairs Committee and author of the Senate bill to create the department. 'Our computer systems are outdated. One of the most important ways to spend homeland security money is to get our computers up to where they should be.'

Who will lead?

Among other key issues up for discussion were who would head the new department'homeland security adviser Tom Ridge said it is unlikely he would take the post'and whether the bill establishing it would pass by the administration's Sept. 11 target.

In the House, several committees, including the Government Reform, Judiciary, Transportation, and Ways and Means panels, will review the legislation. A select committee likely led by Rep. Richard Armey (R-Texas) will consolidate the work.

The Senate will use legislation already approved by Governmental Affairs as a vehicle for creating the new department. Lieberman and others have been pushing for a department for months.

Sen. Robert C. Byrd (D-W.Va.), chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, noted that the administration has hinted that it might veto a recently passed supplemental appropriations bill that includes funds for homeland security and systems upgrades.

Lieberman said the Sept. 11 deadline is important 'because it will get us to move faster than we otherwise would.' He said lawmakers had discussed funding homeland defense systems with Ridge.

The legislation, Lieberman said, should protect the collective bargaining rights of federal employees assigned to the new department. He noted that current law lets the president limit the collective bargaining rights of some employees who work in national security jobs. 'No one's collective bargaining rights should be diminished,' Lieberman said.

Needed in the White House

After briefing senators, Ridge said the president needs him as an adviser within the White House rather than as secretary of Homeland Security. He said administration officials would meet with federal union representatives to discuss collective bargaining details.

Congressional sources identified gaps in the IT aspects of administration's homeland security plan, such as the lack of a role for the Treasury Department's Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.

That bureau maintains databases of automatic weapons and explosives that would be crucially important to the new department. But Homeland Security should not get involved in the bureau's regulation of handguns, congressional sources said.

Some lawmakers also said the department shouldn't absorb the parts of the Immigration and Naturalization Service that provide services to immigrants. The security function of the Border Patrol is at odds with the welfare role of the INS' immigration visa processing, they said.

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