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Now Comes Hard Part for Congress

Legislation: Members applaud Bush's move, even as it sets up a complex debate over the details of establishing a new department.


WASHINGTON — For months, lawmakers have clamored for President Bush to unify the nation's defenses against terrorism in a single new agency with full Cabinet status. On Thursday, Bush finally agreed.

But don't expect Congress to set any speed records in passing the legislation necessary to make the Department of Homeland Security a reality.

While congressional leaders from both major parties lauded the Bush initiative, what lies ahead is a lengthy, complex debate over the details of exactly how to do it. When it comes to specifics, almost no one has more at stake than members of Congress themselves. And since Sept. 11, many lawmakers have their own ideas about what should be done.

"The war on terrorism has expanded to the war on turf," said Rep. Jane Harman (D-Venice), who called Bush's proposal "courageous."

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday June 13, 2002 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 5 inches; 190 words Type of Material: Correction
New Cabinet department -- A graphic accompanying a story in Friday's Section A on the proposal for a Cabinet-level department to oversee homeland security included an incorrect figure. The total budget for the four proposed agencies that would make up the department was correct as $37.5 billion, but the budget for one of those agencies, the Information Analysis and Infrastructure Protection office, is $364 million, not $364 billion.

The task facing Congress is especially difficult because the Bush plan calls for creating the department out of scores of agencies and offices now lodged in eight Cabinet departments. Moving the pieces around will be a complicated process. Designing an efficient new organization that melds them will be even more challenging.

And the changes will raise sticky questions of jurisdiction for congressional committees that now oversee the existing organizations. These committees wield enormous power over spending, policy and even the daily operations of these agencies. Juggling the organizational chart means juggling jurisdiction. Who will lose power and who will win?

To get his plan through Congress, experts say, Bush will have to placate--or, if necessary, roll over--dozens of powerful committees and subcommittees, many with a vested interest in preserving the status quo.

Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.) agreed that approving the plan before Congress adjourns this fall will be a major challenge.

"This is a huge lift," Lott said, likening Congress to a weightlifter. "But we should get it done."

Many lawmakers approved of the president's plan in the abstract but raised questions about key details. And criticism emerged from some quarters.

One senior congressional aide said he had heard many agencies affected by the proposed overhaul were surprised by Thursday's announcement.

"These agencies did not know this is happening. What that tells me is, the vetting that should have occurred did not take place," said Scott Lilly, director of Democratic staff on the House Appropriations Committee.

The White House, Lilly contended, is "making this decision by executive fiat, and they're not talking to people involved at the action level. I predict there will be large problems." However, bipartisan support for a Cabinet-level homeland security post has grown steadily in recent months. One bill similar to the president's plan has cleared a Senate committee and is gaining support in the House.

That bill, sponsored by Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (D-Conn.), is likely to be melded with the president's plan through negotiations with the administration. Other lawmakers may also propose amendments.

"The president is doing the right thing," said Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas). But, she added, "we may have to look at it and fine-tune it."

For instance, Hutchison, a leading sponsor of last year's aviation security bill, is likely to take a close look at Bush's proposal to move the 41,000 employees in the new Transportation Security Administration from the Transportation Department to the proposed Homeland Security Department.

Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), both members of the Senate's intelligence committee, said they would scrutinize proposals to include intelligence analysis in the new department. And House Judiciary Committee Chairman F. James Sensenbrenner Jr. (R-Wis.), author of a House-passed immigration reform bill, is likely to look closely at the proposed transfer of border security functions from the Justice Department.

Lieberman, who applauded Bush, was surprised to learn from a reporter that the Secret Service would be moved from the Treasury Department to the proposed department. "Really?" he asked. "I'll have to think about that."

Likewise, supporters of the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California questioned the president's proposal to make it part of the new department.

"We don't think this is going to go very far," a congressional aide said, noting that the laboratory and the Department of Energy, which oversees it, were caught off guard by the proposal.

As Congress considers reorganizing the executive branch, some lawmakers and analysts say it may need to consider reorganizing itself. It is unclear what committee would oversee a Homeland Security Department; many could stake a claim.

Rep. Harold Rogers (R-Ky.), chairman of the House Transportation Appropriations subcommittee, said some lawmakers may lose jurisdiction over agencies they now oversee.

"It would be a very difficult thing to achieve," he said, "but it's worth looking at."


Times staff writer Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar contributed to this report.

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