Senate homeland security leaders sketch 2006 agenda
Committee may recommend legislation to reorganize the Federal Emergency Management Agenda.
The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee this year could consider significant legislation on the organization and structure of the Homeland Security Department.
Committee Chairwoman Susan Collins, R-Maine, and ranking Democrat Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut plan to continue their investigation of the government's slow response to Hurricane Katrina. The senators want to finish the inquiry and issue legislative recommendations by February, when their House colleagues also plan to release findings.
Committee aides said the senators are likely to recommend legislative changes to the Stafford Act, which governs federal assistance to natural disasters. The panel also could recommend a bill to reorganize the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which was criticized for the government's response to the hurricane.
On other homeland security issues, the panel plans to debate changes to the funding formula for "first responders" to emergencies. The debate has pitted urban lawmakers against rural.
Urban legislators and the independent commission that investigated the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks repeatedly have urged Congress to tweak the formula to give more money to areas at a higher risk of terrorism.
In the rural lawmakers' corner, Collins and Lieberman last year successfully fought a House proposal backed by the commission and urban lawmakers. This year, the senators plan to reintroduce their proposal, which they argue would distribute more money on the basis of risk but also give vulnerable rural areas an adequate and predictable flow of money.
Collins faces tough opposition from her House colleagues. The chamber passed its proposal three times last year, and Collins' counterpart in the House, Homeland Security Committee Chairman Peter King, R-N.Y., has vowed to stick to the House plan.
The Senate committee also plans to consider legislation to implement a reorganization of the department proposed last year by Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff.
Among other things, the legislation would create a post for a policy undersecretary and possibly merge the Customs and Border Protection division with the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency.
Other panel priorities include legislation to bolster protection of chemical plants and seaports.