House, Senate government oversight panels ready 2004 agendas

The House Government Reform and the Senate Governmental Affairs committees will continue to focus on homeland security and federal technology in 2004, sources said this week, as well as such topics as "diploma mills" and voting representation in the District of Columbia.

A House Government Reform aide said Government Reform Chairman Tom Davis, R-Va., "wants to build on" his committee's oversight of the Homeland Security Department and the Transportation Security Administration next year. Other legislative priorities for the panel include the possible reorganization of the General Services Administration to reduce redundancies in contracting oversight, enhancing Internet security measures, and examining federal agencies' compliance with e-government initiatives and electronic citizen-to-government interfacing.

Additionally, the committee will continue its oversight of compliance with the Federal Information Security Management Act, which requires federal agencies to report on their efforts to secure federal computer networks. So far, the committee source said: "The governmentwide results are disappointing. Only a handful of agencies are fulfilling all of the objectives of the act in a timely manner."

Early in 2004, the committee will likely hold a hearing on budget autonomy for the District of Columbia, and Davis will be pushing his bill to give D.C. a full seat in the House.

Senate Governmental Affairs Committee members will also be focusing on homeland security issues when they return from the winter recess, continuing their 2003 emphasis on port security, infrastructure protection, and increased funding for emergency first responders, according to Republican and Democratic committee sources.

Senate Governmental Affairs Chairwoman Susan Collins, R-Maine, plans to hold hearings on terrorist financing, and she will push for two bills passed by the committee in 2003--the Homeland Security Technology Improvement Act and a bill streamlining the grant process for security funds--to be brought to a vote on the floor.

Additionally, Collins will continue to examine government waste issues, looking at high-risk reports from the GAO and "wrapping up" the committee's investigation of the Union Labor Life Insurance Company, according to a committee aide. The committee held two hearings in 2003 to discuss reforming the Postal Service, and Collins plans to hold "two or three more" in 2004, the aide said.

The committee also plans to investigate "diploma mills," companies that award collegiate degrees for a fee, with little or no coursework required. At the committee's request, GAO will release a report, likely in early January, highlighting government officials who may hold these fraudulent degrees.

A minority source on the committee said ranking member Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn., a presidential hopeful, will push for greater industry accountability regarding environmental regulations, continued committee oversight of the Sept. 11 commission, and mutual fund reform, including full disclosure of investors' costs and fees.

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