Panel plans to tweak Homeland Security Department Act

The chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee plans to move quickly on legislation he introduced Tuesday that would make changes to the act creating the Homeland Security Department, saying at a hearing on Friday that the bill consists of "a series of technical amendments that are non-controversial."

Chairman Christopher Cox, R-Calif., scheduled a Monday afternoon committee vote on the bill, H.R. 1416. "This is, in fact, a very straightforward and technical amendment to the act," he said.

Michael Dorsey, director of administration at the department, essentially agreed but told the committee that because the Bush administration "only recently received" the bill, it will have no position on it until after conducting a more thorough review.

Rep. Jim Turner, D-Texas, expressed concern about the "erosion" of the Freedom of Information Act under Section II of the legislation, which would prohibit information that private companies disclose about their critical infrastructure and security issues from being publicly released.

"I want to be sure Congress in no way expands" or creates room for the provision to be interpreted any more broadly, Turner said, noting that lawmakers must "ensure companies do not utilize this provision to keep from the public information that should be available to them under the guise of security concerns."

Dorsey noted that he believes the changes are "just trying to correct the grammar" and not change the meaning of "critical infrastructure" or the intent of the original language.

Most sections of the legislation correct typographical errors, Dorsey noted, but the administration likely will seek changes on the section that deals with immigration-related powers and the department's duties regarding border and transportation security.

Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., queried how that section of the bill would affect the Bureau of Citizenship and other immigration issues.

"That is the area where we have some concerns," Dorsey said.

But Cox explained that the legislation seeks to ensure the smooth transition of immigration services from the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) to the Homeland Security Department. Cox noted that that section of the bill has more substantive than purely technical changes because the structure of the new department "does not mimic the structure at INS."