House OKs homeland security panel

The House Rules Committee yesterday gave the new Homeland Security Committee oversight of most DHS activities.

A new rule gives the committee authority over DHS issues generally, with the exceptions of immigration policy, nonborder enforcement and customs revenue.

The Rules Committee assigned immigration policy and nonborder enforcement issues to the Judiciary Committee and kept authority over customs revenue in the Ways and Means Committee.

The homeland security rule for the incoming 109th Congress stripped the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee of its authority over the Transportation Security Administration. The transportation panel's chairman, Don Young of Alaska, had unsuccessfully appealed to his Republican colleagues for support in retaining that authority.

The rules panel directed the new committee to continuously review DHS' relations with other government agencies.

The Republican and Democratic leaders of the House were scheduled to announce the members of the new committee and its subcommittees after the Rules Committee action.

The House Rules Committee decisions resonated with similar action in the Senate, which has concentrated authority over DHS in the Governmental Affairs Committee.

'The new committee will permit the House to give the Department of Homeland Security the same legislative support and dedicated oversight that the Committee on Armed Services provides to the Department of Defense,' said the panel's presumptive new chairman, Rep. Christopher Cox (R-Calif.), in a statement.

Cox, the 9/11 Commission and many observers in the policy community had pressed the House leadership to concentrate DHS oversight in a single committee. The Rules Committee's action fell short of the 9/11 Commission's recommendation for a more comprehensive shakeup that also would have given the new committee powers over the FBI as well as all aspects of intelligence and immigration.

The Homeland Security Committee will succeed the temporary House Select Committee on Homeland Security. The new committee's expanded powers and reduced membership likely will strengthen its ability to craft and help enact homeland security authorization legislation, according to Cox, the 9/11 Commission and others.

The House failed to pass a DHS authorization bill in the 108th Congress largely because authority over DHS was fragmented across dozens of committees and subcommittees, lawmakers and policy specialists agreed.

In a further bow to the consequences of terrorism and natural disasters, the Rules Committee adopted a new procedure for continuity of legislative operations after a catastrophe. A new provisional quorum rule allows the House to conduct business with fewer members than usually required in the event of a 'natural disaster, attack, contagion or similar calamity.'


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