Lawmakers' emphasis on homeland defense continues

Homeland defense remained the dominant theme in last week's technology-related bills, with lawmakers filing measures on protecting the nation's seaports, preparing for bioterrorism and training local officials to prevent and respond to emergencies.

Rep. Clay Shaw, R-Fla., introduced a bill, H.R. 3437, that would require the creation of a federal port-security task force and local seaport security committees overseen by the Coast Guard. The goals of the bill include investments in "non-intrusive" security technology and better communication among law enforcement agencies.

In the Senate, two lawmakers filed bills on bioterrorism. A comprehensive bill includes language that would require a federal Internet site to provide information on bioterrorism, and that would enhance grant programs in an effort to get more state and local health agencies to use e-mail and high-speed Internet connections. The other bill, S. 1764, would provide tax and legal incentives to biotechnology firms that increase research and investment in counter-terrorism products.

House and Senate companion bills, meanwhile, would give federal agencies some purchasing flexibility. The measures, S. 1780 and H.R. 3426, would streamline the procurement process when it involves buying technology or other goods for use in humanitarian or peacekeeping operations, or for preventing cyberattacks or other types of terrorism.

Four separate bills seek to address the needs of state and local agencies involved in policing and emergency response.

One measure, H.R. 3397, would require the FCC to free designated airwaves for use by the public-safety community by 2006. And a second bill, H.R. 3435, would authorize grants to the local police, fire and emergency personnel who typically are the "first responders" to terrorism and other emergencies.

The other two virtually identical bills, S. 1763 and S. 1787, represent Senate Democrats' efforts to improve law enforcement in rural areas. Among other things, the bills would authorize money for: grants to local police agencies for improving their wireless communications capacity and buying computers and other technology; grants for improving emergency 911 services; and funds for a Rural Policing Institute to train local police on computer crimes and other topics.

Other technology-related bills introduced last week included: H.R. 3394, which would authorize nearly $880 million over five years to create new cyber-security programs within the National Science Foundation and the National Institute of Standards and Technology.

H.R. 3400, which would authorize nearly $7 billion over five years to increase information technology research at six federal agencies. The House Science Committee approved both H.R. 3400 and H.R. 3394 by voice vote last Thursday.

H.R. 3422 would create a Congressional Trade Office to provide lawmakers with independent, nonpartisan analysis of information on trade. Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., introduced similar bills, S. 274 and S. 1347, earlier this year and may seek to include such language in trade-negotiating legislation when his panel votes on the issue this week.

S. 1788, which would give the FBI access to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System for certain investigations.

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