Resurgent Democrats to move quickly on 9/11 proposals

With the Democrats taking control of the House of Representatives next January for the first time since 9/11, the nation is likely to see changes in anti-terrorism policy and increased domestic spending.

At the dawn of the110th Congress in January, Democrats Nancy Pelosi of California, the presumptive speaker of the House, and Bennie Thompson of Mississippi, who likely will become chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, will press their party's homeland security goals, including carrying out the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission.

Pelosi said in a Nov. 7 Web posting that if the Democrats become the majority, she intends to move quickly to carry out the 9/11 Commission's advice. 'We will make our nation safer and we will begin by implementing the recommendations of the independent, bipartisan 9/11 Commission,' Pelosi wrote on the Huffington Post blog.

The commission issued 41 recommendations in its final report in July 2004, including advice to DHS to improve incident command, cargo screening, intelligence and information-sharing and private-sector preparedness. The Public Discourse Project issued in December 2005 a report card on progress toward achieving the commission's recommendations.

"The 9/11 Commission has recommended numerous steps that must be taken to secure the U.S., (and) the Democrats have made fulfillment of all recommendations the center of their security platform," Frost & Sullivan Senior Homeland Security Analyst Matthew Farr said in a news release today.

Other anti-terrorism areas of emphasis for Democrats in Congress have included urban and mass transit security; chemical security, port security, first responders, disaster preparedness and privacy.

Thompson, now the senior Democrat on the House Homeland Security Committee, has been a vocal advocate of the 911 Commission recommendations, as well as for expanding interoperability for first-responder communications, strengthening border security and protecting railroads and mass-transit systems from terrorists. He also has supported Democratic efforts to increase homeland security spending by billions of dollars.

'Unfortunately, there is much left undone in homeland security,' Thompson wrote in the Web statement. 'The Committee has found numerous vulnerabilities and gaps in the Department's efforts to date to protect our nation. Indeed, Hurricane Katrina made clear that our nation was not prepared to respond to a natural disaster, more less, a terrorist attack. I want to make sure that those vulnerabilities and gaps are addressed and our nation is better for it.'

Thompson already has sponsored legislation to review the role of the DHS' chief privacy officer; name an assistant secretary for physical infrastructure security; establish a database for small businesses involved in homeland security; establish interoperable communications for fire and police agencies and create a federal grant program for mass-transit system security.

On the Senate side, with races in Virginia and Montana still too close to call at press time, it's not clear whether the Senate will become majority Democratic.

Leadership of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs also is uncertain. The senior Democrat, Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.) won re-election as an independent. Had he remained a Democrat, Lieberman would have been next in line for the chairmanship, but now the outcome is not certain.

Lieberman consistently has pressed for large increases in homeland security spending. Earlier this year, for example, he proposed to increase DHS' budget by $8 billion above the White House's budget request for fiscal 2007 to better prevent and respond to terrorism and natural disasters.

"The Democratic takeover of the House and possibly the Senate will likely result in significant new funding for homeland security initiatives,' Frost & Sullivan's Farr said.

In addition to promoting specific legislation, newly empowered Democratic lawmakers will have the opportunity to launch investigation backed by larger committee staffs and, more important, the power to subpoena witnesses.

Yesterday evening, Pelosi acknowledged the shift in control of the House of Representatives partly by extending an olive branch of bipartisanship to the White House.

But Thompson and other Democratic lawmakers repeatedly have asked their Republican counterparts to conduct aggressive investigations of alleged administration wrongdoing in the homeland security arena, ranging from wasteful spending on Katrina recovery projects to politically-driven allocation of state homeland security grant funds.

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer for Government Computer News' sister publication, Washington Technology. GCN senior writer Wilson P. Dizard III contributed to this story.

About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

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