Lawmakers pledge to track wasteful security spending

The Bush administration and Congress must be wary of wasteful spending on homeland security measures that do not fit into an effective national plan, lawmakers and panelists said during a House subcommittee hearing.

The House Government Reform Subcommittee on National Security, Veterans Affairs and International Relations on Tuesday held the first of two hearings on how federal money could be used most effectively to combat terrorism.

Subcommittee Chairman Christopher Shays, R-Conn., and ranking Democrat Dennis Kucinich of Ohio, as well as Government Reform Committee Chairman Dan Burton, R-Ind., and ranking Democrat Henry Waxman of California, last October sent a letter to President Bush stressing the need for Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge to make the development of a national homeland security strategy a top priority.

"The administration has failed" to do this, Kucinich said at the hearing.

Edwin Meese, co-chairman of the Heritage Foundation's Homeland Security Task Force, said his group has a "continuing dialogue" with Ridge's office and stressed the importance of keeping communication lines open between that office and state and local officials.

Heritage released a report in January offering 25 recommendations on how to take a more proactive approach to protecting the nation's computer networks and improving intelligence gathering, information systems and surveillance systems, among other things.

Meese stressed the need for a "fusion system" to collect, analyze and disseminate threat information for all levels of government that could serve as a central clearinghouse. Ridge's office is establishing a Crisis Coordination Center to serve such a purpose.

The federal government should fund research conducted by the private sector on new technologies to detect diseases such as smallpox and anthrax, said Randall Larsen, director of the ANSER Institute for Homeland Security.

Bioterrorism is a new threat and many current technologies cannot effectively detect harmful pathogens until it is too late, he said. But one promising technology under development that could use government aid is the "zebra chip," which is used to identify common diseases, he said.

"I know of no other technology that offers more potential promise to both mitigate and deter biological attacks on the American homeland," Larsen said.

Paul Bremer, former chairman of the National Commission on Terrorism and member of the Gilmore Commission, said he supports legislation requiring the Office of Homeland Security to establish a single database available to everyone dealing with border security, including consular officers at embassies abroad who issue visas.

But he said Ridge's lack of budget authority has led to problems. He noted that Ridge's proposal to combine the four agencies responsible for border security had been rejected, and Ridge had refused to testify before a congressional committee on homeland security spending.

Henry Hinton, managing director of defense capabilities and management for the General Accounting Office, suggested that partnerships forged between the public and private sectors during the preparation for the Y2K computer bug could be looked to as possible models for the homeland security effort.