Science Democrats Active in Modifying Homeland Security Bill
Yesterday, during House Science Committee passage of the Homeland Security Bill (H.R. 5005), Committee Democrats offered several amendments that would strengthen and shape science and technology at the new Department.
Rep. Ralph M. Hall (D-TX), Ranking Democrat on the Committee, co-sponsored with Chairman Boehlert the Manager's Amendment, which would establish an Undersecretary for Science and Technology in the new Department of Homeland Security. Mr. Hall said, "The most important idea offered by this Committee, and the one that has received unanimous bipartisan support, is the proposal to create an Undersecretary for Science and Technology, and I hope the Select Committee will adopt this provision. Now that the Committee has acted, I want to see us move this bill with all deliberate speed and not let politics, or turf, or struggles over who gets credit stand in the way of organizing to keep our Nation secure."
Among the major amendments offered by Democratic Members and included in the bill as passed by the Committee are:
- HOMELAND SECURITY INSTITUTE: Rep. Lynn Woolsey (D-CA) and Rep. Mike Honda (D-CA) successfully moved an amendment establishing a Homeland Security Institute, the key recommendation of the recent National Research Council study on homeland security research priorities (Making the Nation Safer: The Role of Science and Technology in Countering Terrorism). The HSI think tank would house technical and scientific expertise to work on key research issues at the direction of the Department. The amendment included direction, proposed by Mr. Honda, that the Institute will work on technology roadmaps. Ms. Woolsey said, "The Institute of Homeland Security will provide invaluable scientific and technological guidance for counteracting terrorism to senior government officials in the new Department of Homeland Security." Mr. Honda added that, "As existing technologies are given new security applications, and new technologies are developed by the Department, it will be critical that roadmaps are developed to ensure that all of these tools are scalable and interoperable. Otherwise, the lack of strategic planning could lead to expensive boondoggles."
- CLASSIFIED RESEARCH LIMITATIONS: Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) and Rep. Lynn Rivers (D-MI) sponsored an amendment to ensure transparency and accountability when fundamental research is classified. Clear rules on classification are necessary to ensure both protection of sensitive research and freedom of inquiry. The Johnson-Rivers amendment would address these concerns while allowing for judicious use of classification where appropriate. The amendment was adopted on a vote of 17-9. Ms. Johnson said that, "It is imperative that the classification of research be determined before grants are awarded and that the classification status of research be reviewed periodically, as it is at other federal agencies. This amendment is a major victory for researchers everywhere and is one that is based on sound, proven policy that has been implemented elsewhere in the federal government." Ms. Rivers added, "The amendment makes clear that the Department cannot arbitrarily decide to classify research in the middle of a research program. I believe this amendment will allow us to utilize the expertise of our Nation's research institutions in the war against terrorism while preserving our long tradition of openness in fundamental research."
- TECHNOLOGY PORTAL: Rep. Rivers, along with Rep. Honda and Rep. David Wu (D-OR) successfully offered an amendment to establish a technology "portal" where companies with ideas or technologies that they believe could be useful in meeting specific national needs can communicate effectively with appropriate government officials and be assured that their proposals will be assessed promptly and thoroughly. Ms. Rivers commented that, "After the anthrax attack last fall, we learned that we need an easier way to facilitate contact between scientists and developers with decision-makers in the Federal Government. This proposal will allow the new agency to provide needed guidance and assistance to those who want to help strengthen our Nation's ability to respond to terrorist attacks and threats." Mr. Wu said, "This amendment would ensure that newly acquired technologies and ideas would be transitioned smoothly and quickly to frontline government agents fighting the war on terrorism."
- PSYCHOLOGICAL TRAINING: Rep. Brian Baird (D-WA) successfully offered an amendment providing that emergency response to a terrorist attack include psychological treatments for survivors and rescuers and training for mental health professionals who deal with victims. Mr. Baird commented that, "There are people - children and adults - in Washington, DC and New York City, near 'Ground Zero,' who are still showing signs of trauma from the September 11 attacks. It is essential that we help our survivors to reduce the sometimes paralyzing symptoms of terror trauma and provide mental health professionals the tools to provide effective treatment."
- NIST COMPUTER SECURITY DIVISION: The Manager's amendment included language sponsored by Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) to block the transfer of NIST's Computer Security Division. This proposal in the President's plan had attracted significant opposition from the computer industry, which has come to rely upon NIST for assistance with private sector security issues. "By including my amendment," Ms. Lofgren said, "I believe we will make our country more secure in the face of terrorist attacks and preserve the credibility and success of NIST's Computer Security Division."
- NASA and HOMELAND SECURITY: Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee's (D-TX) amendment that the sense of the Congress was that the new Secretary should work with NASA on security issues was accepted as well. Ms. Jackson Lee said, "I am gratified that the Committee shares my belief that NASA has much to contribute to the fight against terrorism. My amendment is just one step in my continuing effort to tap the expertise NASA can bring to the table, including, but by no means limited to, its accomplishments in computer security."
- OTHER: The Committee also adopted an amendment by Rep. Mark Udall (D-CO) and Rep. Jim Matheson (D-UT) to clarify NIST's critical role in developing standards for detection of chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear, and explosive threats and for border and transportation security technologies. Ms. Johnson and Rep. Steve Israel (D-NY) successfully created a science and technology advisory committee in the department that would provide key input from first responders and community groups. Rep. John Larson's (D-CT) amendment, to waive the local funding requirements for fire-related counter-terrorism training, failed by a vote of 16-17.