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CQ Today: First Day of Homeland Security Authorization Puts Focus on Domestic Terrorism

Fri, September 16, 2011


Language on domestic terrorism emerged as the most contentious issue during a Senate panel's markup of its first Homeland Security Department authorization since the agency's 2003 founding.

The Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee began consideration of the bill (S 1546) Wednesday and plans to continue its work next week.

The measure's proposal to create a department coordinator to oversee efforts to counter homegrown terrorism prompted the most debate. Under the legislation, the coordinator would focus on "the ideology that gives rise to Islamist terrorism."

By an 8-8 vote, senators rejected a proposal from Hawaii Democrat Daniel K. Akaka to broaden the language to task the coordinator with addressing the threat of homegrown terrorism generally, rather than including the explicit reference to Islamist extremism.

Akaka and other panel members - mostly Democrats - argued the department should not single out one specific ideology.

Carl Levin, D-Mich., said he was troubled by the underlying language, calling it "too narrow."

Panel Chairman Joseph I. Lieberman, I-Conn., and ranking Republican Susan Collins of Maine argued it is important to stress that Islamist extremism is of particular concern, something they have said the Obama administration has failed to acknowledge.

"Hesitancy to name the threat that we face impedes our efforts to counter it," Collins said.

Akaka's amendment also would have directed the Government Accountability Office to review whether the department's efforts to counter homegrown terrorism have violated protections under the First or 14th amendments to the Constitution.

Kentucky Republican Rand Paul was the only GOP senator to support the amendment.

Other Amendments

Meanwhile, the panel adopted, 13-4, a proposal from Arizona Republican John McCain that would give Border Patrol agents greater access to federal lands along the Southwest border.

McCain said the proposal would help alleviate problems that have arisen when land management laws have impeded border security efforts.

Under the amendment, agents would be given access to the federal lands for routine motorized patrols and for the deployment of temporary tactical infrastructure and surveillance and detection equipment.

By voice vote, senators also adopted amendments from Collins that would block the department from requiring contract applicants to submit political information, such as campaign contributions, and require funds saved from the consolidation or elimination of programs to be returned to the Treasury.

In addition, the panel adopted by voice vote a proposal from Delaware Democrat Thomas R. Carper and Massachusetts Republican Scott P. Brown to require a DHS financial audit, and an amendment from Oklahoma Republican Tom Coburn to mandate reporting from the department on the amount of federal funding provided to state and urban fusion centers.

Senators rejected, 5-12, a Paul amendment to limit the fiscal 2012 authorization to the level appropriated for fiscal 2007.

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