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U.S. Senate moving on first Homeland Security authorization since 2003

In a political climate where the most mundane of tasks often appear mired in complex partisan strategies designed to show one party or the other holding a strategic advantage, a U.S. Senate committee has managed something quite unusual. It has managed to come to agreement on the first authorization bill for Homeland Security since the department’s creation in 2003.

The Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee passed The Department of Homeland Security Authorization Act of 2011 Wednesday, following a two-week consideration.

Since the Committee, which is led by Connecticut Independent U.S. Rep. Joe Lieberman and Maine Republican U.S. Rep. Susan Collins, is somewhat limited in its region of authority, the bill offers a narrow pathway that is likely not to force it before additional committees in advance of a floor vote. For example, the bill does not really take up the highly-controversial matters surrounding the TSA, which falls under the purview of the Senate Commerce Committee.

Essentially, the bill focuses on streamlining the DHS. Numerous amendments were offered — some more radical than others — and the proposal was ultimately adopted on a bipartisan vote of 9-to-1 with 31 amendments.

Image has not been found. URL: http://media.iowaindependent.com/joe_lieberman_125.jpgJoe Lieberman

“The Department of Homeland Security is operating at a higher level now than at any time in the past,” Lieberman said. “But it continues to be a challenge to manage. This authorization bill translates worthy programs into statute, eliminates others, and nips and tucks to find cost savings to help the Department continue to mature and meet its missions more effectively.

“Given the current fiscal environment, I am particularly proud of a series of provisions to bring greater discipline to the Department’s acquisitions process, which could in turn save billions in taxpayer dollars now lost to waste, fraud, abuse or just plain failure.”

While the Committee was marking up the bill, Lieberman had said he viewed this process, given the number of years that had passed since DHS was created, as an opportunity to take a hard look at all the separate offices under the department, “to eliminate offices that really have not functioned or functioned well and to try to consolidate in other ways.”

It appears the Committee took that goal to heart.

The bill establishes a process for review of proposed DHS acquisitions and investments, and directs the Secretary of Homeland Security to reduce overhead costs of DHS field offices located near each other at least 5 percent by consolidating buildings and other support functions.

It eliminates the Office of Counternarcotics Enforcement and the Office of Cargo Security Policy. It also eliminates the Border and Transportation Security Directorate, the Office for Domestic Preparedness, and the Office of State and Local Government Coordination, which were abolished through administrative reorganizations. In addition, DHS will be required to consolidate its Washington headquarters at St. Elizabeths before fiscal year 2018.

The National Protection and Programs Directorate would be renamed as the Infrastructure Protection and Resilience Directorate, and the newly named organization would acquire the Federal Protective Service and Office of Infrastructure Protection.

An Office of International Travel Security and Screening would be created from a combination of U.S. Visit, the Visa Waiver Program, and the Screening Coordination Office to identify and prevent terrorist travel in or to the U.S. An electronic system would also be created that would allow for remote viewing of visa applications and to notify airlines when a traveler’s visa for entry into the U.S. has been cancelled.

Legal authorization for DHS’s intelligence activities would be provided under the National Security Act, and would codify an earlier executive order that gave the DHS Secretary authority to manage access to classified information for state, local, tribal and private sector entities. In addition, the Office of Intelligence and Analysis would be provided the ability to directly hire its own employees — an authority long since granted to others within the civilian intelligence community.

A more detailed outline of the bill, provided by the Senate Committee, is embedded below.

Susan Collins

“DHS is a more effective department than it once was. But the Department must continue to mature and reach its full potential. This first-ever authorization bill is another step toward that goal,” Collins said.

“In light of the broader fiscal crisis we face, we have produced a fiscally responsible bill. The new proposals — such as the Office of International Travel Security and Screening and improvements to the DHS acquisition system — are intended to enhance performance, consolidate functions and save money in the long run. … We want real savings — not shell-game savings.”

But all of this being said, a turf battle continues to rage between committees, especially in the U.S. House, where the Homeland Security Committee has pushed to consolidate its oversight of the department. But the House Committee Chairman, U.S. Rep. Peter King, a New York Republican, appears to be working in tandem with his Senate counterparts on scope and objective of the authorization.

“I have been working in close coordination with Senators Lieberman and Collins as both committees move toward our shared goal of reauthorizing DHS … Within the next several weeks, I will introduce and the House Homeland Security Committee will mark up a DHS authorization bill. I tend the legislation to be targeted to reduce inefficiencies and waste, consolidate functions and improve the acquisition process, while strengthening valuable homeland security programs,” King said.

Department of Homeland Security Authorization Bill 2011 Outline

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