Key tech provisions included in House, Senate security bills

The high-tech industry may get what it wished for in the proposed Homeland Security Department, as most of its top priorities have been included in the bills now before Congress.

The high-tech industry may get what it wished for in the proposed Homeland Security Department, as most of its top priorities have been included in the bills now before Congress.

The House passed its homeland security bill, H.R. 5005, on Friday by a margin of 295-132. The Senate will try this week to address its bill, S. 2452, which the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee approved Thursday.

In some cases, key tech provisions have been included in both bills in similar forms, which significantly improves their chances of becoming law. In other cases, a provision appears in one bill but not the other, raising the necessity for bicameral negotiations, depending on what happens on the Senate floor.

A big difference between President Bush's proposal and both bills is the addition of language to create within the department a high-ranking specialist in science and technology. The House bill would create an undersecretary position, while the Senate measure would establish a directorate.

Both bills are broadly similar in the science and technology area. But the House bill would transfer to the new department the advanced scientific computing research program of Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. It also would establish university centers of excellence based on a set of specific criteria.

Both bills would create a technology clearinghouse for evaluation of new homeland security technologies. Both also would mandate the interoperability of communications systems in government and among emergency responders.

The Senate measure would create a Security Advanced Research Projects Agency to administer a $200 million research and development fund. It also would create an office to study risk analysis and assessment and an office of laboratory research to supervise programs being transferred into the proposed department.

The two bills differ in the way they would assign the duties of intelligence and critical infrastructure protection. The House bill joins those responsibilities in the same section, while the Senate bill would create separate directorates for each task.

Both the House and Senate bills contain exemptions from the Freedom of Information Act for businesses and individuals that voluntarily provide information about critical infrastructure vulnerabilities to the department. While the House bill largely would preserve the Bush administration's approach, the Senate bill would eliminate provisions that would have pre-empted state open-records laws, potentially limited corporate civil liability and required the federal government not to disclose certain information.

The House blocked the Bush proposal to transfer the computer-security division of the National Institute of Standards and Technology to the new department. It has not been addressed in the Senate. The tech industry is divided on the proposed transfer.

The House measure also would create a National Emergency Technology Guard, or NET Guard, a nationwide network of non-governmental science and technology experts who could respond to emergencies. The Senate previously passed an independent bill, S. 2037, to create the NET Guard, but similar language is not in the Senate legislation to create a department. Sen. George Allen, R-Va., is taking the lead in trying to get it added during floor debate.

Drew Clark contributed to this story.