Homeland Panel Off to Halting Start

Posted March 4, 2003 at 6:24pm

A bouncing 50-member panel was born Tuesday, as the House’s new Select Committee on Homeland Security had its first official meeting and formally adopted organizing rules for the 108th Congress.

The creation of the committee — which Chairman Christopher Cox (R-Calif.) called “as historic” as the birth of the Department of Homeland Security itself — came after an intense series of negotiations over the panel’s rules, structure and jurisdiction.

Members and staff met late into Monday night and then again Tuesday to hammer out the final details, with the biggest hang-ups relating to how and whether the House’s other committees would cede jurisdiction to the new panel.

The chairmen of several of the chamber’s most powerful committees also sit on Homeland Security, and aides involved in the effort said that it was unclear exactly how much real authorizing and oversight authority the new panel would have.

Despite Tuesday’s organization, Homeland Security remains largely a work in progress. Cox had to borrow a room from the International Relations Committee to hold the hearing, though he said he hoped the panel might someday have a room of its own.

The panel has yet to hire most of its staff, and it also doesn’t have a working Web site.

Though subcommittee memberships won’t be worked out until the next organizational meeting, Cox and ranking member Jim Turner (D-Texas) did announce the names and jurisdictions of the five panels — a subcommittee on infrastructure and border security; a subcommittee on rules; a subcommittee on emergency preparedness and response; a subcommittee on cybersecurity, science and research and development; and a subcommittee on intelligence and counterterrorism.

As the rules package was finalized only at the last minute, several committee members asked Cox questions about them before they were officially adopted.

Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) asked which subcommittee would handle immigration-benefits issues, and Cox responded that if it wasn’t included in any of the subcommittee descriptions, then it must be handled at the full committee level.

Another lawmaker asked for a complete list of the issues that would be handled by the full committee, but Cox said such a list would probably be impossible to compile.

The panel’s size means that each hearing’s opening statements alone could take two and a half hours. As Homeland Security’s rules are partially modeled on those of the Energy and Commerce Committee, that panel’s chairman, Rep. Billy Tauzin (R-La.), spoke up to tell Cox of some advice he had received from the House Parliamentarian about the procedures for limiting opening statements.

Select Intelligence Chairman Porter Goss (R-Fla.) also weighed in, reiterating that while Homeland Security would be dealing with some intelligence matters, sole jurisdiction over issues relating to sources and methods would remain with his committee.