Key Senator calls for Homeland Security shake-up

Congress could shake up the top ranks of the Homeland Security Department, a key senator indicated Wednesday, saying management challenges plaguing the agency call for action.

Without committing to specific changes, Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Chairwoman Susan Collins, R-Maine, said recent reports on management challenges at the department have made a "compelling case" for creating a new undersecretary for long-term policy strategy in a homeland security reauthorization measure her panel is likely to draft.

"I anticipate we'll be drafting a reauthorization bill" for the department's programs. Collins said during a break in an oversight hearing before her panel. She added that a timetable for the measure has not been set. Connecticut Sen. Joseph Lieberman, the ranking Democrat on the panel, said the idea is a "good one."

At the hearing, security experts highlighted a December report from the conservative Heritage Foundation and the Center for Strategic and International Studies that proposed Congress create an undersecretary for policy to address the lack of forward-looking strategies at Homeland Security. The report also recommended that Congress give the secretary authority to abolish the undersecretary for management position and other changes to management responsibilities.

Michael Wermuth, with the RAND Corporation, backed the report's findings, arguing that a policy expert is needed to establish department-wide strategies rather than the "somewhat fragmented approach that currently exists."

Wermuth said that senior department officials support such a change and that "there is fairly broad support for that proposition" in Congress. Wermuth also called on Congress to give Collins' panel and the House Homeland Security Committee full authority over homeland security issues.

Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, took issue with those suggestions, arguing against giving the Homeland Security secretary more authority or Collins' panel more turf and additional funding. "I don't think there's going to be more money," said Stevens, the former chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee. "In fact, I know there's not going to be more money."

Stevens told the experts to rethink their recommendations for consolidating authority, arguing that there is no clear line to split transportation from transportation security issues. Stevens recently took the helm of Senate Commerce, which has jurisdiction over transportation issues.

Richard Skinner, the department's acting inspector general, also outlined numerous challenges facing Homeland Security's next secretary. President Bush's nominee, Michael Chertoff, is testifying before Collins' committee next week, and the Senate is expected to easily confirm him to succeed outgoing Secretary Tom Ridge.

Skinner said the department must consolidate its terrorist watch lists that contain biometric information, such as fingerprints, to stop potential terrorists from entering the country. He also called for a national standard for biometric information and increased security checks for U.S. citizens re-entering the country, and for Canadian and Mexican visitors.

Homeland Security's science and technology directorate, which is often targeted by lawmakers, also must improve coordination with other agencies to make better investments in research and development and counter measures, Skinner said.

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