Senate chairmen take aim at Lieberman on homeland bill

In another sign of intramural tensions over homeland security legislation, Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin, D-Mich., is taking aim at a key section of the Senate bill that would give the new Homeland Security Department broad powers to gather intelligence, sources told CongressDaily Monday.

Levin favors establishing a new directorate for intelligence within the new department, according to an aide, but would make the directorate the focal point for the "receipt"-rather than the "analysis"-of information.

The change is intended to allow the current intelligence-gathering structure to stay essentially in place, rather than creating new analysis functions that Levin feels could be duplicative within the department.

Levin, a member of the Governmental Affairs Committee, will propose the change Wednesday during the panel's markup of the legislation. The new intelligence-gathering powers are a central element of the bill proposed by Governmental Affairs Chairman Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn., who is leading the Senate's effort to approve the department.

Levin joins a handful of other influential Senate Democratic committee chairmen who-like House Republican committee chairmen before them-are voicing opposition to parts of the homeland bill under the purview of their committees.

The concerns indicate that Lieberman's decision to keep his own counsel about some of the legislative language during a hasty drafting period could leave his bill vulnerable to changes in committee and on the floor.

House Republican leaders have confronted identical friction from turf-conscious committee leaders during the two weeks they have worked on the bill.

To keep the bill free of undue influence from those committee leaders, House leaders established an ad hoc Homeland Security Committee to write the legislation.

Last week, the Homeland Security Committee approved legislation that attempts to split the difference between the Bush administration's plan and the recommendations of a dozen committee chairmen.

The House Rules Committee will decide Wednesday whether a handful of affected committee chairman will get the opportunity to try to amend the bill Thursday, when it comes to the House floor.

The most troubling amendment for House leaders could come from Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Don Young, R-Alaska, who hopes to employ his 75-member panel to prevent the Coast Guard from being moved to the new department.

On the other side of the Capitol, Democratic committee chairmen are beginning to raise similar issues as Wednesday's Governmental Affairs panel vote nears.

Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., for example, is working with Sen. Robert Bennett, R-Utah, and others on a letter to the administration about ways to make the new agency more open and accountable to the public.

Leahy spoke at hearings about the need to make the agency subject to Freedom of Information Act requests.

According to his spokesman, Leahy "has warned the administration not to use the new department as cover, as an excuse for blanket exceptions from things such as FOIA."

While Leahy's office would not comment on the letter, his spokesman acknowledged discussions were ongoing with other senators about such issues.

Leahy also has joined Sen. Christopher (Kit) Bond, R-Mo., to urge changes to the bill's provisions on uses of the National Guard.

Meanwhile, Environment and Public Works Committee Chairman James Jeffords, I-Vt., has requested that the Federal Emergency Management Agency remain outside the new department.

Republicans have raised concerns, as well. Sens. Ted Stevens of Alaska and Susan Collins of Maine hope to add language to the legislation to ensure that the Coast Guard would continue focusing on traditional non-security functions, such as search-and-rescue operations.

Stevens, the top Republican on the Appropriations Committee, also is working with Appropriations Chairman Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., to remove language from the White House proposal to give the director of the new department broad flexibility in spending congressionally appropriated funds.

In a sign that Lieberman understands the power of fellow committee chairmen, he left the spending provision out of his bill, choosing instead to allow Byrd and Stevens to write that section.