House committee OKs standards for security tools, training

The House Homeland Security Committee on Wednesday approved legislation to require federal officials to develop voluntary national standards for homeland security equipment and training.

The measure, H.R. 4941, also would require the Homeland Security Department to create a program for transferring to the private sector technology developed with federal funding and aimed at preparing for and responding to terrorism and disasters. It was approved by voice vote.

The committee approved, by voice vote, a substitute amendment to the bill. Among the changes included in the substitute are several new provisions including language requiring department officials to develop a plan detailing how civil rights and civil liberties issues will be taken into account and used in research and pilot programs.

In addition, the amendment would require the department to develop a strategic plan for the department's science and technology activities and direct the National Research Council to prepare a guide for researchers that informs them about "potential homeland security implications of their work and how laws and regulations apply to such research."

Some committee members expressed concern that the legislation does not include funding for research into improving rail security. Rep. Bennie Thompson of Mississippi, the committee's top Democrat, and others argued that "without specific funding, DHS will not focus on rail security."

Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C., offered an amendment that would have authorized $50 million annually for three years for rail security research and development projects, such as those aimed at reducing the risk from hazardous, chemical, biological and radioactive substances, and developing technologies for sealing rail cars.

The committee approved by a 15-13 vote an amendment that stripped from Norton's amendment the language authorizing a specific amount of money for such projects and instead authorized "such sums as may be necessary."

Christopher Shays, R-Conn., argued that Norton's amendment as originally drafted would have limited the amount of funding appropriators could provide for rail security research and could complicate efforts to move the bill.

But Norton said that while the amount she proposed is "embarrassingly modest," appropriators may provide nothing unless the committee authorizes a specific amount of funding. Shays' language will "ensure that no money is appropriated," Norton said. After adding Shays' language, the panel approved her amendment by voice vote.

The committee rejected on a 13-15 vote an amendment that would have authorized $50 million in funding for cyber-security research and development in fiscal 2007. Loretta Sanchez, D-Calif., argued that the committee should include specific funding to make a "clear statement" of the importance of improving cyber security.

"There is very little leadership out of Homeland Security on this," Sanchez said.

But Curt Weldon, R-Pa., argued that the Defense Department is spending "hundreds of millions" of dollars on cyber and information security and that the committee should not specify funding for Homeland Security without analyzing what other departments are doing.

The committee approved, by voice vote, an amendment that would require the National Institute of Standards and Technology and other agencies to test emergency-responder communications equipment to ensure that it meet standards set by the Association of Public Safety Communications Officials International. The amendment also would require that results of tests conducted by federal researchers be published to help educate first responders.

An amendment to require the Government Accountability Office to study the for the most recent homeland security grants was withdrawn. The agency has come under fire recently for reducing funding to New York and Washington, the two cities targeted by the 2001 terrorist attacks.

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