Permanent security panel nears; DHS faces shakeups

Permanent security panel nears; DHS faces shakeups

The House Homeland Security Select Committee soon will become a permanent standing committee with expanded powers and fewer members, Chairman Christopher Cox told reporters today.

The California Republican also said the committee might consider reorganizing the Homeland Security Department to remove some functions that do not directly pertain to counterterrorist missions. Cox did not specify which activities would be candidates for removal, but mentioned that some immigration benefit functions might not directly affect the terrorism mission.

Committee staff also reported during a lunch meeting at the Capitol that the intelligence bill now under negotiation by the House and Senate almost certainly would include a provision to elevate the position of DHS cybersecurity director to an assistant secretary of the Information Assurance and Infrastructure Protection Directorate. The House has approved legislation to do so.

Cox' statements reflect those of House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.), who said on Tuesday and again last night that the select committee should become a permanent, standing committee. Both the 9/11 commission and members of the select committee have recommended formation of the standing committee, with full oversight and legislative powers.

Cox, in a broad-ranging discussion of the committee's organizing principles and agenda, said the standing committee would have 29 members, rather than the 50 representatives who now make up the select committee.

'We know from experience that it was impossible to bring a [Homeland Security Department] authorization bill to the floor' under the former select committee structure, Cox said.

The changes announced this week would take effect when the new Congress adopts its organizing rule in January. The rule also would define the scope of the Homeland Security Committee's powers, some of which it likely would gain by absorbing powers now held by other congressional panels.

Other committees still would have some jurisdiction over parts of DHS that do not directly relate to counterterrorism. For example, the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee would retain oversight of the Federal Emergency Management Agency's responses to natural disasters.

In addition to the new House committee structure, Cox said he favors a review of DHS' organization in order to shift nonsecurity functions to other departments or agencies.

'Congress acted, not with haste, but with alacrity' in originally organizing DHS, Cox said. The permanent Homeland Security Committee would take a careful look at whether some parts of the department should be carved out and reassigned to other agencies.

Cox did not specify which parts of DHS were candidates for legislative surgery. He suggested that DHS' missions likely would be under continuous review in future years as the threats to the nation change.

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