Lawmaker calls for hearings into delay in merging of watch lists

The ranking Democrat on the House Select Committee on Homeland Security has called for immediate hearings to determine what is hampering consolidation of the government's terrorist watch lists.

'In the past month, the deadline for completing this critical project has slipped by nine months, and last week a senior Homeland Security official suggested that a consolidated watch list would not be necessary,' Rep. Jim Turner noted in a letter yesterday to the committee's chairman.

Congress last year directed the Homeland Security Department to create a single watch list to screen for known or suspected terrorists. Law enforcement, intelligence and security agencies now maintain at least 12 separate lists, with no simple way to check names against all of them.

The Bush administration created the Terrorist Screening Center within the FBI late last year to fulfill the task (Click for GCN story). The agency estimated at the time that the job of integrating watch lists would be completed by this month.

Turner has repeatedly criticized DHS and the FBI for the slow pace of progress. In his letter to Rep. Christopher Cox (R-Calif.), the Texas lawmaker complained that Homeland Security secretary Tom Ridge last month pushed the goal for consolidation back to summer and that the department's strategic plan projects the merger will not be completed until year's end.

'The repeated delays and excuses on the issue of terrorist watch list integration by both the FBI and DHS are hard to comprehend,' Turner said. 'Our committee should exercise its oversight responsibilities and hold a hearing immediately on this issue of urgent national importance.'

Meanwhile, Cox yesterday praised Ridge's performance on the one-year anniversary of the department.

'Unequivocally, America is safer today from the threat of a terrorist attack than we were just one year ago,' Cox said. He said, however, that sharing information between federal, state and local governments still must be ensured and the committee 'intends to conduct vigorous oversight in this area this year.'

About the Author

William Jackson is a Maryland-based freelance writer.

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