Senate aide predicts fractured Homeland Security oversight

Senate oversight of the Homeland Security Department likely will continue to be fractured during the 109th Congress, despite recent legislative maneuvers and the approval of funding for the department, a key budget aide said Tuesday.

Bill Hoagland, the director of budget and appropriations for Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., said that if negotiations between the House and the Senate on legislation designed to overhaul the intelligence community are completed, it is not likely to seriously affect the current overlapping jurisdictions on security issues in the legislative branch.

Hoagland spoke at a briefing on security financing sponsored by Equity International.

Negotiators on a Senate plan for security jurisdiction have established that the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee will oversee much of Homeland Security. But the Transportation Security Administration and Coast Guard will remain within the jurisdiction of the Commerce Committee, and the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center in Georgia and Secret Service will be handled by the Judiciary Committee, Hoagland said.

The House established a special Homeland Security Committee. It is set to go out of business at the end of the 108th Congress, but House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., has indicated support for making the panel permanent.

Adding to the problem of oversight is the increasingly political nature of homeland security funding, Hoagland said. "Immediately after [the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks], there was a sense of bipartisanship," he said. But with the significant increase in resources for interested parties, "it should be obvious to all that homeland security has become more politically charged."

"Both sides have used the talk of danger in an effort to win votes," he said. "I'm not totally naive to the politics of this town and, more importantly, the separation of power. [But] this politicalization of homeland security cannot but add to the anxiety to the American public about their safety."

Hoagland also said it is "not my responsibility to question" allocations for Homeland Security in fiscal 2005. But he did note that "despite the tremendous resources that have been devoted [to homeland security], it is clear that our borders remain porous" and that lawmakers need to pay attention to them as closely as they pay attention to the nation's airport gates.

Andrew Maner, the chief financial officer for the department, said Congress was "very generous" with its funding for airport-screening technology, but he said the department is working to reduce its immigration backlog, a process that likely will continue for several more budget cycles.

The department is "very well-funded, [so] it is up to us to spend this money wisely," Maner said. He acknowledged, when questioned, that there are "certainly things we can do to improve."

Financial management is "a journey," he said, so Homeland Security is taking the criticism it received in its first year and attempting to improve. Those improvements include enhancing the process for allocating funding for state and local emergency responders, a process that is "never fast enough," he said.

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