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House Readies Republican Homeland Security Bill

Democrats on the divided House Select Committee on Homeland Security complained that Army largely ignored their concerns about the largest government reorganization in 50 years.

House Minority Whip Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said deliberations had been an “exercise in futility for the committee’s to work so hard on this issue and to have their unanimous recommendations ignored by this committee.”

The proposed department would oversee all or part of 22 existing agencies and would have a first-year budget of some $38 billion. It would include such agencies as the Coast Guard, Border Patrol, Customs Service, Secret Service and Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Since the hijacking attacks of September 11, legislators have worked to streamline homeland security procedures, including making the CIA and the FBI share information more effectively. Both agencies would be placed under the new department.

President Bush has said he hopes Congress will pass the legislation before going on August recess and that he plans to enact it into law in time for the anniversary of the attacks.

The committee debated the details of the plan throughout Friday. Rep. Army lost one vote to postpone a deadline for airports to comply with new screening practices for checked baggage.

Calling the Dec. 31 deadline unrealistic, he said major airports have already indicated they will not be able to comply, but the deadline could foster “a false sense of security… and it’s a false sense of security that’s going to get you bit.”

The committee voted 6-3 to maintain the deadline. Democratic Rep. Robert Menendez, supporter of the current deadline, said putting off such security measures “is a disservice to the American people and it is certainly not providing homeland security.”

The committee also voted down some aspects of the bill that some considered too intrusive to civil liberties, like a national identification card or a program where transportation workers would be trained to report suspicious activity.

Army fought for, and won, unusually flexible spending policies for the White House with regards to the department.

The Democratic-led Senate Government Affairs Committee will consider similar legislation next week.

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