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Congress Moves Forward on Homeland Security Plan - 2002-07-17

As Congress moves forward with legislation to create a new government department of homeland security, lawmakers continue to voice concern about costs and organization.

Congress must go through a complex series of legislative steps before a homeland security bill can be sent to President Bush.

Both the House of Representatives and Senate, however, are moving quickly. The House may vote on its measure next week. Senate action is expected the week after.

On Wednesday, leaders of nine congressional committees testified before a special "select" House panel that will craft a final House bill.

Democratic Congressman David Obey is among the harshest critics of President Bush's homeland security plan. Unchanged, he says, it would allow the new security department to bypass Congress' role in overseeing how money is spent.

"Don't throw away the precious separation of powers arrangement, just because some hot shots in this town tell you it will make it easier to catch bin Laden," he said. "It won't! It won't!"

Mr. Obey refers to the Bush administration's proposal that the head of the new security department be able to "transfer," without congressional approval, up to five percent of the department's budget from other government agencies.

Republican Congressman Bill Young, chairman of the powerful House appropriations committee, shares concern over the proposal. "In our view, the administration's transfer proposal is overly broad and unprecedented," he said. "It would undermine the appropriations that the committee and this Congress carefully deliberate on every year."

Aside from the question of spending authority, President Bush's plan faces strong opposition on the questions of size and organization.

Congressional critics say the new department is attempting to bring too many functions into one place, creating what Congressman Obey calls a "fantastic potential for disruption" of the war on terrorism.

Democrat John Dingell from the House appropriations committee is uncomfortable with the whole idea of creating a new government bureaucracy.

"You put them in a department, and then the [bureaucratic] warfare and the trouble starts," he said. "And I can just tell you, you should anticipate, we're going to have a vast period of confusion when you set this agency up. It's going to be counter-productive."

The Bush administration reiterated Wednesday its position that the new homeland security department must have wider spending authority to effectively confront terrorist threats.