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FYI Number 82: July 16, 2002

House and Senate Consider S&T in Homeland Security Bill

Last week, key committees in the House and Senate spent considerable time and effort on the science and technology components of the legislation to establish the Department of Homeland Security. In one case, solid progress was made, while in another, the outcome was less clear. Congress is working against the clock to enact this legislation by September 11, complicated by a month long recess in August.

The staff of the House Science Committee labored throughout the night to ready draft legislation for full committee consideration on July 10, only 22 days after the White House sent Congress its draft homeland security bill. Committee members had earlier expressed disagreement with two major S&T provisions in the Administration's bill. The committee approved two important changes during their mark-up session. The first authorized an Under Secretary for Science and Technology to coordinate the Department's science and technologies programs, and to provide for, and oversee, supporting R&D. The committee also voted to prevent the transfer of NIST's Computer Security Division. Both provisions were in a block of amendments swiftly approved by the committee, without dissent, by a voice vote.

There were 18 amendments considered during the three-hour mark up. Some were approved, others rejected, and some withdrawn upon promises of further consideration. The deliberations were friendly and bipartisan, with the voting by voice and the occasional show of hands.

Opinions ranged more widely, and were expressed more forcefully, at a Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing held later that day. Witnesses at this hearing included Linton Brooks, Acting Administrator of the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA); Ray Orbach, Director of the DOE Office of Science; William Happer of Princeton University; and the directors of four national laboratories.

Committee chairman Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) began the hearing by saying that the Administration's bill "gives a nod to the important role" of DOE and NNSA in detecting and mitigating terrorist attacks. He worried that the Administration's plan to transfer a unit from Lawrence Livermore would reduce the vitality of the scientists affected, saying that he doubted that many would want to work in a technical service capability. Ranking Minority Member Frank Murkowski (R-AK) lauded the Administration's bill, and spoke more generally of the need for domestic energy production. Senator Pete Domenici (R-NM) supported a broadening of the Under Secretary's responsibilities, similar to what the Science Committee had done. Domenici wants the Department of Homeland Security to be able to access all parts of the national laboratories. The impact of the Administration's proposal on Lawrence Livermore employees was the focus of Senator Diane Feinstein's (D-CA) initial statement.

NNSA Administrator Brooks told the senators that the national labs "are key in making all of this work." He sought to assure the committee that the Administration's plan would not affect the labs' ability to fulfill their core mission. Brooks identified the Chemical and Biological National Security Program and the nuclear smuggling detection and assessment activities as units that would be transferred to the new Department of Homeland Security. In concluding his remarks, Brooks said, "I support fully the concept of locating the new Department's main research facility at Lawrence Livermore, with satellite centers of excellence located at other national laboratories. It will create a campus-like environment where scientists will be dedicated, full-time, to thinking about homeland security, and it will allow for direct interaction with the expertise that resides at the other DOE labs as well as other labs throughout the federal government. It's good for DOE and it's good for the Department of Homeland Security."

Director Orbach also gave the Administration's plan high marks. He outlined the need for universities to have a single point of contact at the laboratories, described how some functions would be transferred, and spoke of the lab employees' great patriotism.

Chairman Bingaman's first line of questions revolved around "what is meant by 'proposed transfer'?" Would affected employees be physically moved, and would they report to new bosses? he asked. Brooks replied that while responsibilities and budgets would be moved to the new department, "we don't propose to build any walls in the laboratories." "The scientists will still be doing the same work," Brooks said. Would this new arrangement resemble the current laboratory practice of "work for others"? Bingaman asked. Brooks replied that the proposed changes are more of a philosophical and administrative nature. Would pay checks still come from the lab? Bingaman said. "Yes," responded Brooks.

Domenici had his doubts. He remarked that previous consolidations, such as DOE, had turned out worse than the original structure. He made, as later characterized by Feinstein, disparaging comments about Lawrence Livermore, and wanted to know why it had been singled out over the other two weapons labs. Domenici wanted all of the labs to be incorporated into the new Department, although he admitted he would not prevail. Brooks sought to assure Domenici. "No one lab will have supremacy" he said, later adding that he would not attempt to rank them in importance. Access to all of the assets of the laboratories will be crucial, Brooks told the committee. Subsequent testimony by Happer and the lab directors described the importance of the laboratories to the new Department of Homeland Security.

Other committees worked on portions of the homeland security legislation last week. These committees altered the Administration's legislation in major and minor ways. Special committees in both the House and Senate are now using the amended legislation written by these committees to craft a new version of a bill to establish the Department of Homeland Security.

Richard M. Jones
Media and Government Relations Division
American Institute of Physics
(301) 209-3095

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