New agency's creation sets off realignment of panels

For the House and Senate, the fun begins now, as they are forced to determine how they will fund and oversee the new Homeland Security Department. By comparison, the six-month congressional debate over creating the new department may have been a piece of cake.

In January, each chamber must make at least short-term decisions on which authorizing committees will provide oversight of the new department. Plus, the House and Senate Appropriations committees will have to decide what changes, if any, to make in how their 13 subcommittees divvy up pieces of the executive branch as they make annual spending decisions.

As the current crazy quilt of jurisdiction makes clear, the House and Senate are not required to maintain identical lines for committee jurisdiction. On the other hand, the 13 Appropriations subcommittees generally fall along similar lines in each chamber, and it has not been uncommon in years past for senior appropriators to shift lines of authority from one subcommittee to another-especially following government restructuring.

In the House, in particular, Republican leaders already have begun to wrestle over possible changes. With little public notice, last Thursday the House GOP Conference approved a "sense of the conference" resolution to "expeditiously" amend House rules "to consolidate the authorization and appropriations processes" for homeland security in the House.

"My goal was to create momentum" for the committee reorganization, said Rep. Curt Weldon, R-Pa., the resolution's sponsor. "The vote in the conference was overwhelming. Now, it's up to the [party] leaders to show leadership.... If we don't do it, we doom the Homeland Security Department."

Although he emphasized that the lack of opposition at last week's session gave a boost to his plan, Weldon conceded that some committee chairmen and others with current jurisdiction would fight the changes. That showdown could take place Jan. 7, when GOP leaders are scheduled to bring the rules package to the House floor, as typically happens on the opening day of each Congress.

Creation of a new homeland security committee "is a real possibility," said Rules Committee Chairman David Dreier, R-Calif., who has been working with House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., on possible rules changes.

Dreier, who currently is on an overseas trip with Hastert and other members, said discussions would continue in the next several weeks. GOP sources speculated that the leadership-controlled Republican Steering Committee could make tentative decisions, possibly at a meeting next month.

"The speaker said that he agreed with my resolution, but he also said, 'Please, don't tie my hands,'" Weldon said.

Weldon added that he also has received encouragement from Dreier and Republican Policy Committee Chairman Christopher Cox of California during separate pre-election hearings on his proposal by each of their panels.

With the distractions of the election plus pressures to complete business of the 107th Congress, many members with an interest in committee realignment have had little time to focus on the issue.

House Judiciary Committee Chairman James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., for example, could lose jurisdiction over the Immigration and Naturalization Service, which has shifted from the Justice Department to the new agency. But he was busy in recent weeks with terrorism insurance and bankruptcy legislation.

"I haven't spoken with the chairman" on the reorganization proposal, said a committee spokesman.

At least one committee has sought to protect its turf.

Although the Customs Service will be shifted to the Homeland Security Department, the Ways and Means Committee drafted that part of the bill to make clear that the Treasury Department-over which it has jurisdiction-"retains authority" over the collection of revenues by the Customs Service, said a Ways and Means spokeswoman.

Adding a further complication is pressure from the Bush administration to limit the number of committees and subcommittees before which the new Homeland Security secretary must testify.

In testimony last week before the House Armed Services Committee, former GOP Virginia Gov. James Gilmore-who chairs an advisory panel to assess the nation's response to terrorism-urged "a focal point in the Congress for the administration to present its strategy and supporting plans."

As inevitably is the case in Congress, questions of committee turf are linked to who will hold the gavel. Although Weldon said he did not offer his proposal because of personal interest in chairing a new committee, he gave ample reasons why he would be suited for the job.

"These are my issues," said Weldon, a senior member of the Armed Services Committee and the founder of the congressional Fire and Emergency Services Caucus. Weldon unsuccessfully sought the Armed Services chairmanship in 2000, and next year will be the second ranking Republican on the panel after the incoming chairman, Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif.

With its broad federal oversight, the House Government Reform Committee has obvious interest in the creation of a new panel. But its desire to protect its turf is complicated by the three-way contest to succeed Government Reform Chairman Dan Burton, R-Ind., who must step down because of chairmanship term limits.

The chief candidates are eight-term Rep. Christopher Shays, R-Conn., who has the most seniority on the Government Reform Committee, plus two challengers from Republican leadership ranks. They are Cox and National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Tom Davis of Virginia.

"We haven't heard anything coming down the pipeline right now. Our basic answer is we just don't know," said a Government Reform spokesman of the homeland security jurisdiction issue.

In addition to the Judiciary and Ways and Means panel, leaders of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee earlier voiced strong objections to shifting agencies-notably, the Coast Guard-now under its domain. A spokesman for that panel was not available Tuesday for comment.

Likewise, House appropriators have yet to focus on whether they will create a new subcommittee with jurisdiction over the Homeland Security Department.

"I don't want to prejudge what we're going to do," said an Appropriations spokesman. "We haven't decided our preference yet."

The spokesman said it was possible the committee would "carve out" a new homeland security subpanel by eliminating one of the existing subcommittees. The District of Columbia Appropriations Subcommittee, for example, could be folded into one of the other subcommittees.

In the Senate, meanwhile, Governmental Affairs Committee members already are staking claim to jurisdiction over the department.

"There may have to be another appropriations subcommittee," but not a new authorizing committee, said incoming Senate Governmental Affairs Chairwoman Susan Collins, R-Maine.

Jurisdiction "should stay with Governmental Affairs," Collins said. "I don't think there's a dispute about that."

"The conversation needs to take place," said a Senate GOP leadership source, who observed, "Nobody likes losing jurisdiction-that's one thing you can count on around here."

But the source stressed that "this conversation hasn't started yet" among Senate Republicans.

Mark Wegner and Charlie Mitchell contributed to this report.