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House Admin OKs 2 Panels, Ponders 3rd

Two new House Administration subcommittees designed to oversee Capitol security and elections were approved during the panel’s first hearing of the 110th Congress on Friday, while the top Republican called for a third subcommittee.

In a 7-0 vote, the committee gave the green light to the new panels and officially assigned the Members who will serve on them. (Two members of the committee, Reps. Robert Brady (D-Pa.) and Mike Capuano (D-Mass.), were unable to attend.)

Ranking member Vernon Ehlers (R-Mich.), who oversaw a complete overhaul of the House’s computer systems more than a decade ago, also urged the committee to consider the creation of a technology subcommittee.

With rapid advances in technology, it is time for Members to look at what can be done to improve the House’s current computer infrastructure, Ehlers said.

“This is one of the biggest expenditures of the House, following only salaries, benefits and maintenance, and deserves more attention,” he said.

Ehlers specifically cited a House Administration hearing held in September 2006 that looked at a lengthy information technology assessment by the Congressional Management Foundation and Gartner Consulting. That study recommended strategies the House should take to improve its technology infrastructure.

“It is my sincere hope that we will be able to build upon those efforts and continue to make progress on furthering the use of technology for the betterment of this institution,” Ehlers said. “This is the most important piece of unfinished business facing this committee.”

Chairwoman Juanita Millender-McDonald (D-Calif.) told the panel that she plans to look at the House’s technology systems and hopes Ehlers will play a role in the process.

Most of the 30-minute hearing focused on the formation of the two new subcommittees, the first House Administration will oversee in years.

Securing the Capitol is especially important, Millender-McDonald noted. She raised concerns about previous evacuations of the complex, during which people with disabilities have had difficulty getting out quickly.

Brady will head the Capitol security subcommittee (as well as serve as vice chairman of the entire panel). Capuano and Rep. Dan Lungren (R-Calif.), who dealt with security issues as attorney general of California, also will oversee security.

The elections subcommittee is perhaps the area where the most controversy could be raised this session, and there’s a lot of work to be done.

Many Members have called for electronic voting machines to produce a paper record following alleged irregularities in Florida’s 13th district. (The results of the 2006 contest between Democrat Christine Jennings and Republican Vern Buchanan are still being contested.)

A bulk of the 52 bills currently sitting in the committee relate to election laws, and Millender-McDonald and Ehlers have publicly disagreed on the best method to fix the Help America Vote Act of 2002, particularly when it relates to voting machines.

The chairwoman recently asked the House Appropriations Committee for $800 million for states to update voting machines and provide poll training, a request that Ehlers criticized early last week.

But at Friday’s hearing, Ehlers said he would “not object to eventually expending this money,” so long as the committee takes a thorough, bipartisan look at HAVA before making any decisions.

“I would hate to see additional monies go out now, only to see them to be used for the purchase of equipment that could be inadequate,” he said.

Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), a longtime member of House Administration, will head the elections subcommittee. Millender-McDonald, Ehlers, Reps. Susan Davis (D-Calif.), Charlie Gonzalez (D-Texas) and Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) will fill out the rest of the panel.

The hearing took a lighthearted turn when Ehlers noted that five members of the panel hail from the Golden State.

“It’s clearly an attempt by the state of California to take over the committee,” Ehlers joked.

Millender-McDonald responded: “California is not trying to take over. California has taken over.”

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