House passes bill to shuffle border

Published on Thu, Aug 1, 2002 by Meg Olson

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House passes bill to shuffle border

By Meg Olson

The U.S. House of Representatives voted 295-132 to create a new federal Department of Homeland Security which would gather together bits and pieces of two dozen federal agencies concerned with finding and thwarting threats to national security.

The July 26 late-night vote came after hours of partisan debate. The Republican majority behind the bill argued that the new department was the most cost effective and expedient way to address problems of coordinating intelligence and enforcement that may have contributed to the September 11 attacks. Representative Rick Larsen voted with most of his fellow Democrats against the new department. “He feels we don’t need to create a new $4.5 billion agency to protect our homeland,” said Larsen’s chief of staff Jeff Bjornstad. “We need to increase funding for intelligence, and we’ve been doing that. We should expect agencies to work together and the president should take the lead to make sure they do. There has been progress and we should allow them to do their jobs, not disrupt them with an enormous bureaucratic transition. There is no great advantage to the American people in just moving the chairs around.”

The House proposal would take all enforcement functions of U.S. Customs and the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) and put them in the new department under the administration of an under-secretary of border and transportation security. This would include all inspectors at local borders, managers, investigators and border patrol agents. Agricultural inspection functions would also be transferred in from the Department of Agriculture

The revenue functions of Customs, such as assessing and collecting duty on imported goods, would stay with the Department of the Treasury. The only portion of the INS that would stay with the Department of Justice would be a bureau of immigration and citizenship services that would issue visas and report to intelligence agencies in the new department through a border liaison.

Other agencies that would wind up in the new department under border security include the Coast Guard, the national domestic preparedness branches of the FBI, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the secret service. The rest of the FBI and the CIA would not be in the new department.

The Senate is expected to vote on their homeland security proposal after the August recess. A key difference between the House and Senate versions is likely to be the ability of managers to waive civil service employment standards, a proposal President Bush strongly supports as necessary for flexibility needed to respond to security issues. The waiver is included in the House version, despite Democrat concerns it eroded the rights of workers, but not in the Senate version.

Access to information is expected to be another hot issue, amid concerns the new department adds another level of secrecy to the conduct of government business..
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