House homeland bill adds tech position, blocks cybersecurity transfer

The version of a bill to establish a Homeland Security Department generated Thursday by the House committee overseeing the legislation's development includes several key provisions sought by the House Science Committee.

As amended by the House Select Homeland Security Committee, the draft bill, would add the position of undersecretary for science and technology and block the proposed transfer of the computer-security division of the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). Sources noted that the early draft erroneously contained language on the NIST division's transfer.

The undersecretary would oversee federally funded research and development on homeland security. The new draft also would establish a cyber-security program under the department.

These provisions reflect changes made by the Science Committee. "We're very pleased," said David Goldston, chief of staff for that panel. "We feel at first blush that we got most of the things most important to us."

But the bill, proposed by Homeland Security Committee Chairman Dick Armey, R-Texas, does not match the Science Committee's preferred approach on cybersecurity provisions. Armey's measure fails to include language on standards for federal computer security that originated with Rep. Constance Morella, R-Md.

Another key provision would create a "clearinghouse" for homeland security technologies but does not provide details about it. The bill also contains a conditional exemption from liability for technology products provided for anti-terrorist activities.

The version of the bill circulated Thursday morning was considered a draft, with technical changes expected before the committee vote on Friday, according to an Armey spokesman.

The measure would establish an information-system security team to assist agencies with securing critical information systems. Also, an intelligence analysis center would be established within the department and be headed by an undersecretary. The center would coordinate with intelligence agencies to evaluate information and produce terrorism warnings and assessments.

Armey's bill would provide some limited business exemptions to the Freedom of Information Act. It also would establish a privacy officer in the department and require the secretary to establish procedures on information sharing that guarantee security, confidentiality and reliability of the information. The chairman's draft rejects a proposal for nationalizing driver's licenses and other identity cards.

The bill reflects the Bush administration's plan in giving the undersecretary for management responsibility for securing information technology and communications systems, and in creating the job of chief information officer to report directly to the secretary.