Homeland security authorization committee may be created

The chances of creating a permanent House authorization committee with oversight over homeland security for the next session are very good, according to a vocal congressional proponent.

"We're laying the foundation so the new rules for the new Congress will carve out a separate, independent, full-authorization committee for homeland security," said Rep. Curt Weldon (R-Pa.), speaking with reporters after giving a keynote speech at a homeland security budget briefing sponsored by Equity International Inc. House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) "has given his verbal support for that, and I can tell you the rank-and-file members believe it should be a standing permanent committee with full oversight of the authorization," he continued.

The House Select Committee on Homeland Security coordinates, but doesn't authorize, anything related to the issue, Weldon said. If Congress created a permanent Homeland Security Committee, then it would have jurisdiction over certain issues now controlled by other standing committees.

"Now are they going to be some battles along the way? Yeah. Because that means full committee chairs will have to give up jurisdiction," he added. "I don't have a problem with that. I'm on the Armed Services and the Science Committee. I don't want to take away from those committees, but there needs to be an oversight of homeland security from one group of members to focus all their energy on that effort."

He said some committee chairs will go along with it, but he declined to identify them. Weldon said they've held hearings in the Rules Committee and its chairman, Rep. David Dreier (R-Calif.), has been cooperative. Rep. Christopher Cox (R-Calif.), who heads the Select Committee, has also voiced support for a permanent version, Weldon said.

"If we want to be sincere in our homeland security efforts, then we have to bite the bullet and do the right thing," he said.

Democrats also generally support the idea, including Rep. Jim Turner (D-Texas), the ranking member of the House Select committee, who previously has supported establishing a permanent committee. The committee has a September deadline to report to the Rules Committee on whether or not it should be permanent.

During his address and afterwards, the Pennsylvania congressman, a strong advocate for first responders who often talks about his experience as a volunteer firefighter in his hometown, said the nation's top priorities are better intelligence, better communications interoperability among first responders and better technology transfer of military technologies to suit first responders' needs.

Progress has been made on all three issues, but more needs to be done, he said. In the technology transfer issue, he's sponsored the Homeland Security Technology Improvement Act of 2003 (H.R. 3644) that would create a $50 million fund and a national technology transfer center where there would be an ongoing dialogue between the first responder community and the military about needs and developed products.

"We spend $38 to $40 billion a year on R&D in the military," he said. "That money is paid for by the taxpayers. The military says we're doing [technology transfer]. They're not doing it. It's a haphazard effort that was largely decided by earmarks put in by individual members of Congress for their districts."

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