Panel urges DHS to prepare for presidential transition

An advisory council to the Homeland Security Department issued recommendations Thursday aimed at ensuring homeland security operations and programs are not compromised during the transition to a new presidential administration later this year, including a list of actions Congress should take.

"There will be a change of administration no matter which political party prevails," said William Webster, chairman of the Homeland Security Advisory Council and former CIA director. "This will be the first time that DHS has been required to meet the challenges of a presidential transition," a report from the council's administration transition task force said.

"Due to the critical nature of its mission ... it is important that DHS take action now to ensure a seamless and agile transition to new leadership and optimization of the new leadership's ability to assume operational control of the department."

Glenda Hood, who chaired the task force, noted that terrorist attacks occurred around governmental transitions in Spain in 2004 and in the United Kingdom last summer. She said the task force believes the most vulnerable time for the United States is 30 days before the upcoming presidential change and 60 days after the transition. Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said his leadership team will examine the report and its recommendations.

The report makes recommendations in the areas of threat awareness, leadership, congressional oversight, policy, operations, succession and training. On congressional oversight, the report recommended that the Senate form a select bipartisan group from existing oversight committees to expedite confirmation of all presidential appointments to national security positions in the Homeland Security Department.

The report also said Congress should implement an unfulfilled recommendation by the 9/11 Commission to consolidate congressional oversight of the department. Homeland Security officials say they now report to 86 different House and Senate committees and subcommittees. Chertoff told the council Thursday that one of the biggest problems with congressional oversight is that different committees have competing agendas. "We get a lot of conflicting congressional direction as opposed to consistent congressional direction," he said. The report also recommends that Congress pass the department's fiscal 2009 appropriations bill "much sooner" than it did the fiscal 2008 bill, which was rolled into an omnibus spending bill that was enacted only a few weeks ago.

"Congress should also review the department's fiscal 2008 budget to ensure sufficient resources are available and allocated for transition activities," the report added. "This must include pre-election and post-election transition crisis management exercises."

The report adds that Congress should work with the current and incoming administrations to reduce the number of senior positions at the department filled by presidential appointees.

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