Democrats threaten to subpoena DHS transition plans

Democrats on the House Homeland Security Committee Wednesday threatened to subpoena the Homeland Security Department to get access to presidential transition planning documents.

If they make good on the threat, it would be the first subpoena issued against the department since its creation in 2003.

Democrats charge that the department has failed to give the committee enough information describing how the agency plans to handle the transition to a new president and administration after the November election.

They are giving the department until May 23 to produce the documents.

"We want that information or else we're going to subpoena you," Rep. Bill Pascrell, D-N.J., told the department's acting deputy secretary, Paul Schneider, during a hearing. House Homeland Security Chairman Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., added, "We think it's reasonable for the committee's jurisdiction to have access to those planning documents and whatever you have in place to address transition."

A law enacted last year mandates that the department provide a "transition and succession plan" by Dec. 1 to the incoming administration. It does not require that plan to be submitted to Congress.

According to Pascrell, committee Democrats are seeking contact information identifying the department officials responsible for transition planning; a list of program priorities for the next administration; a list of political appointees at the department; and itemized budgets for each agency within the department handling the transition. Aides added the committee wants a detailed plan for how each operational agency is planning for the transition. That includes agencies such as Customs and Border Protection, Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the Transportation Security Administration. Schneider said the department had informed the committee that there is no budget information pertaining to the transition.

Schneider's testimony to the committee Wednesday included a list of department posts held by political appointees. The department previously gave the committee a seven-page PowerPoint document entitled "DHS Transition Planning," but Schneider acknowledged more documents exist. Democrats said information the department has provided is inadequate. Aides said the list of presidential appointees does not provide names of each official. They said they want the department to explain whether any of the presidential appointees have been moved to career civil servant positions.

Schneider said the department is required by law to give Congress a full transition plan by October -- a claim that could not be immediately verified. Regardless, he said he would "look to see if there is other documentation we can provide" to comply with the committee's demands by May 23. He offered assurances the department will be ready for the transition.

For example, the department has identified a career civil servant to be in charge of each major operational agency during the transition, he said. "We are taking a multi-pronged approach to our transition planning to ensure operational continuity of homeland security responsibilities during the presidential administration transition," he said. "Our goal is to ensure the programs we are implementing are on track for the next administration."

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