Intelligence reform bill boosts hiring at Homeland Security agencies

A sweeping overhaul of the U.S. intelligence community includes provisions to beef up Homeland Security agencies, such as hiring thousands of new security agents, investing billions in aviation security, and raising the mandatory retirement age for FBI agents.

The 2004 Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act was approved by the Senate by a 89-2 vote, and in the House on a vote of 336-75. It now goes to President Bush for his signature.

"We are enacting the most comprehensive overhaul of our nation's intelligence agencies in more than 50 years," said Sens. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., co-authors of the legislation. "We are, in essence, giving the intelligence program a long overdue upgrade, so that our intelligence community has the resources, personnel, oversight, coordination and accountability necessary to counter the security threats of today and the future."

The bill implements many of the recommendations made by the Sept. 11 commission. Within its 245 pages, however, are many provisions beefing up Homeland Security agencies.

For example, it increases the number of full-time border patrol agents by 10,000 over five years and the number of full-time Immigration and Customs Enforcement investigators by 4,000 over five years. It also orders an increase in the number of beds available for immigration detainees by 40,000 in the same time period.

The bill requires DHS to test advanced technology systems to secure the U.S. northern border, such as sensors, video and unmanned aerial vehicles. DHS also is required to devise a plan for systemic surveillance of the southwest border by remotely piloted aircraft.

The bill authorizes nearly $2 billion in new funding for the Transportation Security Administration to improve aviation security. That includes $600 million to improve air cargo security from fiscal 2005 to fiscal 2007, $300 million to develop new air cargo security technology from fiscal 2005 to fiscal 2007, $450 million for baggage-screening improvements, more than $250 million for weapons-detection equipment, $100 million to research explosives detection technology, and $150 million to test new screening equipment.

The bill requires DHS to develop a national strategy for transportation security and to determine appropriate screening staff levels to ensure that delays at airport security checkpoints are minimized.

With regard to the FBI, the bill increases the mandatory retirement age of agents from 60 to 65, and allows the creation of a Reserve Service "for temporary re-employment of employees in the bureau during periods of emergency."

The bill establishes minimum federal standards for birth certificates and driver licenses, and requires DHS to establish minimum identification standards for passengers boarding commercial aircraft. DHS also is required to make recommendations for identification standards to gain access to federal facilities.

9/11 Chairman Thomas Kean, former Republican governor of New Jersey, and Vice Chairman Lee Hamilton, former Democratic congressman from Indiana, thanked lawmakers for passing the bill, but said much work still remains.

"Some of the commission's recommendations--on foreign policy, nonproliferation, outreach to the Arab and Islamic world, and public safety access to broadcast spectrum--while partially addressed here, cannot be resolved by legislation alone," the chairmen said. "They will require additional and continued attention, and we look forward to working with partners both outside and inside the government on their behalf."

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