Congress passes 9/11 bills

Lawmakers push for an exit system and other IT-based security measures

Lawmakers want to change the formula that the Homeland Security Department uses to fund emergency responders and disaster preparedness. They would like to create an organization in DHS to focus on intelligence analysis. And they have a plan for implementing a secure exit system for visitors to the United States.

But policy experts say the anti-terrorism legislation could die in committee or be vetoed by President Bush if the House and Senate can’t agree to strike language in both bills that gives airport screeners collective bargaining rights.

The legislation to implement recommendations of the 9/11 Commission that were never written into law contains mostly “ho-hum” provisions and authorizes actions that, in many cases, DHS has already taken, said James Carafano, a senior research fellow for national security and homeland security at the Heritage Foundation.

“There’s nothing in the legislation that I think the administration feels is worth dying for, so I think it will be perfectly willing to veto this,” Carafano said.

The House passed its version of the bill Jan. 9. The Senate passed a version March 13. The legislation will go to a conference committee, where lawmakers will try to reconcile differences in the bills.

“This legislation continues the work of Congress to strengthen homeland security and build upon the 9/11 Commission’s recommendations,” said Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), ranking member of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. “It will provide appropriate transparency and accountability into the government’s security decisions. It will also strike an appropriate balance between increased security and our cherished civil liberties.”

Both bills provide risk-based grants for state and local entities to pay for homeland security needs, although each uses a different basis for calculating funding. The House bill sets no total for the value of the grants. Instead it guarantees each state a minimum of 0.25 percent of the total funding. Border states are guaranteed 0.45 percent of the total. The Senate bill sets a minimum share for each state of 0.45 percent of a $3.1 billion grant pool.

The bills also create grant programs to improve interoperable communications for emergency responders. The House version sets no specific funding amount, but the Senate bill authorizes $3.3 billion for five years.

Governors, law enforcement experts and others have criticized congressional efforts to direct where grant monies go. Earlier this year, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg said that such manipulation had shortchanged his city and politicized homeland security funding.

Carafano said congressional micromanagement renders the grants less effective than they otherwise would be and creates a mind-set of pork-barrel handouts and entitlements.

“Everyone would be much better off if [Congress] focused on the really key things,” such as the overarching architecture of homeland security and strategic needs, he said.

Administration officials have similar concerns about the grant-related provisions. A recent Statement of Administration Policy said those provisions would dilute grant funds by “lessening dependence on risk and by expanding eligibility criteria.” A provision expanding eligible areas under the Urban Area Security Initiative would “complicate, delay and render far more opaque the process of grant selection,” according to the statement of policy.

A provision in the House bill would change the Directorate for Information Analysis and Infrastructure Protection to the Office of Intelligence and Analysis under the leadership of an undersecretary for intelligence and analysis.

A provision in the Senate bill would give DHS a year after the bill became law to establish an airline-based biometric exit system that records the departure of every person participating in its visa waiver program.
9/11 bills in limboLawmakers have loaded information technology proposals into bills implementing recommendations of the 9/11 Commission that previous Congresses did not write into law. The new legislation calls for the Homeland Security Department to increase its strategic use of information technologies.

What the House bill says.
  • Change the Homeland Security Department’s Directorate for Information Analysis and Infrastructure Protection to the Office of Intelligence and Analysis. An undersecretary for intelligence and analysis would lead the office.
  • Establish a comprehensive IT network architecture for the Office of Intelligence and Analysis based on the Markle Foundation’s proposed Systemwide Homeland Security Analysis and Resource Exchange Network. 
  • Designate an information-sharing and knowledge management officer for each of DHS’ intelligence components to report to the undersecretary for intelligence and analysis. The officer’s role will be to coordinate various systems used to gather and disseminate homeland security information.
  • Submit a plan to lawmakers for accelerating the full implementation of an automated biometric entry and exit data system in the U.S. Visitor and Immigrant Status Indicator Tracking program.
What the Senate bills says.
  • Conduct a cost-benefit analysis of the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative.
  • Require agencies that conduct data-mining activities to submit a report to Congress describing the activities, their purpose and the technologies being used.
  • Establish an International Border Community Interoperable Communications Demonstration Project with at least six communities to address the needs of emergency response providers and the National Guard.

About the Author

Brian Robinson is a freelance writer based in Portland, Ore.


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