Homeland security panel to focus on potential waste at DHS

House Homeland Security Chairman Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., launched his committee in the new Democratic-controlled Congress by vowing to take a hard look at the Homeland Security Department.

"DHS is a department in sore need of congressional oversight," said Thompson at the panel's organizational meeting.

Committee spokeswoman Dena Graziano said Thompson had developed an oversight plan calling for probes of department contracting practices and other "waste, fraud and abuse" issues. "There was little or no oversight of DHS" by the Republican-controlled congresses in recent years, she added.

Graziano said Thompson also wanted to review the department's record on promoting better communications among first responders. "It is important to him," she said, noting that he had fought to secure funding for Homeland Security Department programs to develop interoperable communication systems for police and fire personnel.

Graziano said that Thompson, whose home state of Mississippi was hammered by Hurricane Katrina in 2005, also intended to investigate the plight of storm victims who have been denied insurance claims on the grounds that their homeowners' policies did not cover flood damage.

Homeland Security ranking member Peter King, R-N.Y., agreed that Homeland Security Department was a candidate for "extensive oversight" and said he and other Republicans on the panel looked "forward to working with [Thompson] and cooperating whenever we can."

Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff was seen leaving the committee's offices about an hour before the panel met.

For the new Congress, the Democrats revamped the panel's subcommittee structure. They eliminated two panels -- the Prevention of Nuclear and Biological Attack Subcommittee and the Investigation Subcommittee.

The Investigation panel was rolled into the new Management, Investigations and Oversight Subcommittee chaired by freshman Rep. Chris Carney, D-Pa. Its ranking member is Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Ala. As an officer in the Navy Reserve, Carney served as a senior intelligence analyst and adviser in the Pentagon for several years after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

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