Report outlines options for improving DHS security structure

Homeland Security chief urging senate counterpart to introduce authorization legislation for DHS.

As lawmakers and the Bush administration begin to review policy changes at the fledgling Homeland Security Department, the Congressional Research Service is offering a playbook of options for drafting an authorization and spending bill.

House Homeland Security Chairman Christopher Cox, R-Calif., plans to write the department's first authorization bill since its inception two years ago. Cox is aiming to persuade Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Chairwoman Susan Collins, R-Maine, to do the same, but Collins has said she would wait until next year to draft a bill. Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff also is conducting a review of possible structural changes.

The CRS report released late last week focuses on expanding tech programs at the department and adding new layers to other vulnerable areas. The report suggested lawmakers accelerate the implementation of the Transportation Workers' Identification Credential card, which aims to control access to vulnerable areas at airports, seaports and other transit areas by applying a single standard for credentials to an estimated 5 million transportation workers.

House Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Harold Rogers, R-Ky., said at a recent hearing he wanted the department to speed up deployment of the program, noting it was one year behind schedule. Rogers said the department indicated it would complete a regulation for the maritime areas by July 2006, aviation by 2007 and other transit systems in following years. CRS suggested lawmakers expand the credential program to include transportation workers from other countries under an international agreement.

To improve passenger screening, CRS said collecting better intelligence and expanding sophisticated name recognition software could improve databases used to verify a passenger's identity.

The report also suggested expanding the use of biometric technology -- such as scanned fingerprints, iris and a digital photographs -- in documents for rail, trucks and other transit systems. The biometric technology is being used for aviation workers.

The report also highlighted the use of tracking devices as well as radiation, chemical, and nuclear detection technology to inspect air and rail cargo. Several lawmakers have criticized the department for not inspecting cargo carried on airline passenger planes.

CRS said policymakers should consider expanding the research and development of non-intrusive technology that could detect from a distance explosives carried by a passenger. "[The technology] could have a very high payoff in the crowded setting of rail and transit terminals," the report said.