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Collins Keeping Jurisdiction

Unlike House, Senate Not Expected to Create Homeland Panel

Senate Governmental Affairs Chairwoman Susan Collins (R-Maine) wants to head off any potential attempts to yank the Homeland Security Department from her panel’s jurisdiction by passing a Senate resolution to clarify her right to oversee the newly created agency.

While the House appears to be moving forward with tentative plans to convert its Select Homeland Security Committee into a permanent panel, the Senate has remained deeply divided over whether it should create a new committee to oversee the department.

Collins said last week that she wants to make sure Governmental Affairs retains its oversight role while ensuring that other committees retain their right to oversee the implementation of the various laws that the department’s agencies enforce.

“We could use some clarity to relieve some [jurisdictional] concerns,” Collins said. “We could clarify that through a resolution maybe next year.”

Collins said she had already directed her staff to work on potential resolutions that would give all committees a firmer grip on their jurisdiction over various laws and issues at the department.

“I’m very careful not to claim jurisdiction over things like immigration laws or customs laws,” Collins said. “Overall, I think it’s worked well having Governmental Affairs act as the oversight committee for Homeland Security.”

Collins appears to be trying to head off any attempts in the Senate to create a permanent Homeland Security committee, which some members advocate.

“I do believe that the subject is sufficiently critical to our daily and future lives that the Senate should consider it,” said Senate Armed Services Chairman John Warner (R-Va.), who noted that recent news reports about the trouble the department has had coalescing made adequate oversight even more important.

Others noted that even a simple “clarifying” resolution could open a Pandora’s box of problems in the Senate.

“Those are the kinds of things that when they happen, people may start to think that maybe we need to do some real restructuring” of the committee system, said Senate GOP Conference Chairman Rick Santorum (Pa.). “Right now, I haven’t seen any real conflicts” in jurisdiction.

Santorum noted that Senators had generally agreed to take things slowly and give all committees time to work out the kinks in oversight of the department, before making any radical changes to the current committee structure.

Still others fear that House action will inevitably cause the Senate to create a Homeland Security panel, as happened this year when the House acted to change its Appropriations subcommittees’ jurisdiction to accommodate a new Homeland Security appropriations panel.

The Senate was forced to follow the House’s lead to avoid any conflicts that could have come up during appropriations conference committees.

“We may fall victim to that same sort of thing that happened with the Appropriations Committee,” said one GOP Senator, who asked to remain anonymous.

“We’ll fumble around with nobody willing to give up turf until ultimately we have to do something.”

The Senator said, however, that the easiest solution may simply be to alter the name of the Governmental Affairs panel to include Homeland Security.

“Otherwise it’s difficult to conference a House bill from one committee over there and three committees over here,” noted the Senator.

While the House created its temporary panel made up of top members from other key House panels, the Senate Majority Leader and Minority Leader decided that Governmental Affairs would oversee the operation of the department, while other committees would keep their traditional authority over agencies under the department.

For example, the Judiciary Committee still oversees the Immigration and Naturalization Service, which was incorporated into the department.

Similarly, the Coast Guard was included in the department, but has to answer primarily to the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee.

Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.), who helped broker the current deal, agreed with others that no changes are needed.

“We’ve always assumed that the current way is working,” Daschle said. “There are a lot of issues that have two or three committees of jurisdiction, and I think that that creates better oversight.”

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