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Homeland Security Top Priority for New Congress

The new Democratic-led U.S. Congress Tuesday begins work on homeland security legislation, a top priority for lawmakers. VOA's Deborah Tate reports from Capitol Hill.

About half of the recommendations made by the bipartisan 9/11 commission to improve homeland security in the wake of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks have been signed into law.

The rest became bogged down in partisan wrangling during the last Republican-led Congress.

The new Democratic majority hopes to finish the work of enacting the proposals, and legislation aimed at doing that is to be introduced on the House floor Tuesday.

The bill is known as House Resolution number one, reflecting the importance Democratic leaders give to the measure. It calls for giving police and fire fighters the tools they need to better communicate with one another during emergencies, tightens port security, better secures nuclear material to keep it out of the hands of terrorists, boosts congressional oversight of the intelligence community, and perhaps most importantly, improves information sharing within the U.S. government.

Congressman Bennie Thompson, a Mississippi Democrat, is chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee:

"We [will] require agencies to share intelligence, we [will] require federal, state and local law enforcement people to go to fusion centers and work with each other, share that information," said Bennie Thompson.

Former Democratic Congressman Lee Hamilton co-chaired the 9/11 commission:

"If this bill, HR-1 is enacted, funded and implemented, then the American people will be safer," he said.

The bill also calls for expanding U.S. diplomacy through economic, educational, trade and exchange initiatives.

Former Democratic Congressman Tim Roemer also served on the 9/11 commission:

"Our country needs not only to effectively use our military and our intelligence and our law enforcement, we need to effectively communicate with public diplomacy to our allies around the world," said Tim Roemer.

On the Senate side Tuesday, the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee will hold a hearing on implementing the rest of the 9/11 commission's recommendations. Commissioner Roemer and co-chairman Hamilton will be among the witnesses testifying before the committee.