House leaders discuss oversight of Homeland Security Department

House Republican leaders this week began to consider the jurisdictionally thorny issue of congressional oversight for the new Homeland Security Department.

Incoming House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas, confirmed Tuesday that Republican leaders during meetings Monday and Tuesday began to discuss their oversight options. DeLay said he wants to smooth the transition to the new department for Office of Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge, the White House's choice to head the department.

"We have to see how things progress in the executive branch," DeLay said. "We need to be as helpful as we can."

The House Government Reform Committee has the strongest jurisdictional claim to oversight, but its role is complicated by the contest to replace term-limited Government Reform Chairman Dan Burton, R-Ind. Reps. Christopher Shays, R-Conn., Christopher Cox, R-Calif., and Tom Davis, R-Va., all are seeking the post. Rep. Curt Weldon, R-Pa., also is proposing the creation of a new authorizing committee.

If a decision is made early next month, it could be included in the House rules package for the 108th Congress, but Republican leadership sources said the issue may not be decided until well into January.

Meanwhile, Sens. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., and Pat Roberts, R-Kan., said in a report released Wednesday the Sept. 11 attacks would not have happened if the State Department had followed its own guidelines and denied visas to the hijackers, the Associated Press reported. The two senators said in a report that "the answer to the question - could 9/11 have been prevented - is 'yes,' if State Department personnel had merely followed the law and not granted non-immigrant visas to 15 of the 19 hijackers in Saudi Arabia."

The criticism by Kyl and Roberts was among the most blunt in tying the issuance of the visas to the failure to stop the attacks. There was no immediate comment from the State Department. Roberts and Kyl are members of the Senate Intelligence Committee, which along with its House counterparts, conducted an inquiry into intelligence failures leading up to the attacks. Their comments were included in a supplemental report to the inquiry's findings, which were completed last week.

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