Lieberman says enactment of DHS authorization bill a priority

Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Joseph Lieberman, I-Conn., Tuesday outlined his panel's priorities for the year, including the first authorization bill for the Homeland Security Department. Lieberman indicated he would like his committee to mark up the authorization bill before congressional appropriators approve the department's annual spending bill.

That would put the time frame during the summer, as the Homeland Security spending bill is usually one of the first to pass Congress.

"I want us to begin to do a Department of Homeland Security authorization bill in much the way that the Armed Services Committee does an annual Department of Defense authorization bill as a way for this committee ... to reach some conclusions about both the resource needs of the department before the appropriators appropriate and also about policy changes that may make sense for the department," Lieberman said after a private meeting with Arizona Democratic Gov. Janet Napolitano, who is President-elect Obama's choice to lead the Homeland Security Department.

The department was created nearly six years ago but has never had an authorization bill, mainly because the Senate has never completed work on one.

Lieberman said he informed Napolitano of his committee's priorities during his meeting. "I think she's a superb nominee for a critically important department and, in the normal course of things, I look forward to supporting the nomination barring any unexpected events," Lieberman said.

Napolitano appears to be smoothly heading toward confirmation; no senators have publicly said they oppose her nomination. Lieberman said he would like to see the Senate vote on her nomination by Jan. 21 but noted the timing is up to Senate Democratic leaders. Lieberman said other priorities for his committee include strengthening efforts to prevent a terrorist attack in the country using weapons of mass destruction, improving rail and public transit security, reauthorizing chemical security legislation and addressing cybersecurity vulnerabilities.

"The fact is that, because of the new technological realities of our world, the U.S. government [and] U.S. industry are under constant and pervasive cyberattack," he said. "I want our committee to focus on how we're organizing that defense and what the role of the Department of Homeland Security should be in that." Lieberman said he also firmly believes the Federal Emergency Management Agency should be kept within the department.

He said Napolitano has not reached a decision on the matter and needs to consult with Obama. "I feel that no parts of DHS should be jettisoned," Lieberman said.

He added that Napolitano will "take a very fresh look at border security and immigration enforcement generally," including controversial work site raids carried out by Immigration and Customs Enforcement. "I think it's fair to say that ... she's a law enforcer," Lieberman said, noting Napolitano's background as a U.S. attorney. "I think that while one can ask questions about the way in which the raids are being carried out, if the law says that employers should not employ illegal immigrants, I think you can expect this secretary -- Secretary[-designate] Napolitano -- to do whatever she can to see that that law is enforced."

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