Lawmaker outlines priorities for homeland security legislation

ASPEN, Colo. -- There are a number of provisions, such as indemnifying firms that do business with the federal government, that Rep. Tom Davis, R-Va., wants to see the Senate include in its bill to create a Homeland Security Department.

If the Senate does not address these provisions, Davis plans to fight to have them included when the House and Senate reconcile their legislation, he said last week at the Progress and Freedom Foundation's Aspen Summit.

The Senate's first order of business when it returns from the August recess is to address a bill, S. 2425, passed by the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee on July 25, which differs on key points from the bill, H.R. 5005, passed by the House on July 26.

"Our approach is to give limited indemnification to access new technologies," said Davis, who chairs the House Government Reform Technology and Procurement Policy Subcommittee. He said that the House approach is preferable to the Senate proposal to cap the amount of damages that can be collected, but Davis said he could support a combination of tort liabilities limitations and indemnification.

Davis also wants to see an expansion of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) exemptions. Currently, the legislation says it is applicable to firms that share information about security breaches to the Department of Homeland Security, but he wants it enlarged to cover other departments as well, he said.

With the FOIA exemption, "who will share information with the U.S. government" about their vulnerabilities or solutions to security problems if that information can be requested by competitors, the media or even terrorists, he said.

He predicted that the Senate would not act on the legislation by Sept. 11, but a Senate leadership source said the Senate could pass its own bill by the one-year anniversary of the terrorist attacks.

The same issues that plagued the House-passed bill, such as moving the Computer Security Division from the National Institute for Standards and Technology (NIST) to the new department and workers rights issues, likely will resurface when the Senate takes up its bill, the leadership source said.

Sen. Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn., supports moving the NIST division, but the tech industry opposes the shift and plans to mount opposition, sources said.

Davis also noted that biometrics will have "a huge role in homeland security." While biometrics technologies raise privacy issues, the reality is "if we play by the old rules in a free and open society, we are going to get slammed" by our enemies, Davis said.

In the next few months, the government will lift its spending freeze on information technology projects as policymakers and officials within a Homeland Security Department sort out their IT needs, Davis said.