House chairman plans aggressive oversight of security agencies

House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Don Young, R-Alaska, will conduct oversight investigations into a host of key security issues, including the ongoing creation of the Homeland Security Department, efforts to boost aviation security and whether the new emphasis on terrorism has resulted in federal lapses in emergency management and preparedness, among other issues.

Because the committee has jurisdiction over the aviation industry, highways, the nation's rail systems and the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Young has broad authority to investigate virtually every aspect of the Bush administration's security projects.

Additionally, federal legislation creating the Homeland Security Department integrated a number of existing agencies under Young's scrutiny, such as the Coast Guard, into the new department, making the way in which the Homeland Security Department is organized of particular interest to the committee.

A handful of the committee's members have also been named to the Select Committee on Homeland Security, including Republicans Young and Sherwood Boehlert of New York and Democratic Reps. Peter DeFazio of Oregon and Bill Pascrell of New Jersey, as well as Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C.

According to the committee's Feb. 12 oversight plan, the full panel will conduct investigations into how effectively the Homeland Security Department integrates into the existing intelligence community, focusing on its relationship with the CIA and FBI.

The full committee will also carefully watch the Homeland Security Department's development of its internal accounting and information systems, noting in its oversight plan the fact that, "The agencies under the committee's jurisdiction that have been transferred to DHS have struggled with integrating their own systems; a challenge now magnified by bringing these entities into one organization."

Young will also scrutinize the ability of the Homeland Security Department in handling non-terror related emergencies and responsibilities, including disaster work conducted by FEMA and Coast Guard search and rescue activities.

"The committee is interested in ensuring that these objectives . . . will not be overlooked or disregarded at the Homeland Security Department as it focuses on its primary mission of homeland security," the panel warns.

Transportation industry officials also predict the full committee will spend a substantial amount of time early this year on security as part of its reauthorization of TEA-21, the federal transportation funding bill and AIR-21 the aviation counterpart to TEA-21.

Security issues will also likely play a pivotal role in upcoming legislation to provide federal funds to states to upgrade and repair sewer and drinking water pipes, most sources agree.

The various subcommittees will also take an active hand in overseeing federal security programs, with oversight inquiries planned targeting the FAA, FEMA, the Coast Guard and the Transportation Security Administration.

The Subcommittee on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation will also oversee implementation of the Maritime Transportation Security Act. That law, passed last year, is designed to boost port security, an area that terrorism experts have repeatedly warned is vulnerable to attack or exploitation.