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Appropriators criticize Bush's homeland security plan

Senate appropriators Tuesday sharply criticized language in the Bush administration's plan for a new Homeland Security Department that would allow the department's secretary to shift funds among programs without congressional approval.

Senate appropriators, weighing in on President Bush's proposal to create a Homeland Security Department, Tuesday sharply criticized language in the plan that would allow the department's secretary to shift funds among programs without congressional approval.

"The proposal by the president provides the new secretary with extraordinary powers, powers that potentially could tip the delicate balance of constitutional powers between the legislative and executive branches of government," Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., and ranking member Ted Stevens, R- Alaska, said in a letter to Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn. Lieberman's committee has solicited advice from other Senate panels as it crafts an amendment to implement Bush's homeland security proposal.

"These are powers that even the secretary of Defense and the secretary of State do not currently have, nor should they have," Byrd and Stevens wrote.

The president's plan says the secretary can transfer funds "not to exceed 5 percent" of appropriations among functions within the department, as long as the Appropriations panels are notified 15 days prior to the transfer. Congressional approval would not be required.

Byrd and Stevens noted that such language was not included in the homeland security bill previously reported by the Governmental Affairs Committee, adding, "We object to the inclusion of these fund transfer provisions as proposed by the president."

Byrd and Stevens also urge Lieberman to include language to require the president to submit a "detailed budget request related to the transition and implementation of this legislation" by Jan. 3, 2003.

House Appropriations Committee Chairman Bill Young, R-Fla., also has signaled opposition to the transfer language in the president's plan. Young, in a series of letters last month, said the Homeland Security secretary would be able to transfer a "minimum" of $2 billion among programs without congressional approval under the administration's plan.

The House Appropriations Committee next Tuesday will mark up legislation that would allow limited transfers within the department, but require approval by the Appropriations committees. "It's regular order," a committee spokesman said of the proposal before the committee next week. "The initial [administration] proposal was overly broad, but I think they'll be fine with our language."

Rep. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, who serves on the select committee overseeing development of the House homeland security bill, said Young and his fellow appropriators have been "very supportive" of the effort to craft the legislation, but added, "Limited transfer authority is key to being able to respond to the ever changing threats we face."

Portman said he and other select committee members are working with members of the Appropriations, Government Reform and other committees with jurisdiction over pieces of the homeland proposal to iron out differences while the legislation is still in the formative process.

"Our whole goal should be to work out as much as possible of the potentially difficult problems before [the bill] gets to the select committee," he said.