By Meredith Mays
Legislative Representative, IACP
he 110th Congress, which convened this month, will pursue a dramatically new agenda. New House and Senate leadership have promised that they will push many issues—including raising the minimum wage and comprehensive immigration reform—in the first few weeks they are in session. They also must pass nine of the 11 required fiscal year 2007 spending bills that are left over from the previous Congress.
As the session continues, the new Congress is also expected to address federal agency oversight and push for implementation of recommendations from the 9/11 commission. Also, one committee chairman, Representative Bennie Thompson (D-Mississippi), has said he will take up an issue important to the law enforcement community—information sharing with state and local law enforcement in domestic intelligence efforts.
Congress will be controlled by a slim Democratic majority in both the Senate (Democrats: 51; Republicans: 49) and the House of Representatives (Democrats: 232; Republicans: 201—at press time, two seats were still undecided).
House and Senate leadership has also been decided. In the Senate, Senator Harry Reid (D-Nevada) is the majority leader, Senator Richard Durbin (D-Illinois) is the majority whip, and Senator Robert Byrd (D-West Virginia) is president pro tempore. Senator Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) is the minority leader, and former majority leader Senator Trent Lott (R-Mississippi) is the new minority whip.
In the House, Representative Nancy Pelosi (D-California) is the Speaker of the House, the new majority leader is Representative Steny Hoyer (D-Maryland), and the majority whip is Representative James Clybun (D-South Carolina). The minority leader is Representative John Boehner (R-Ohio), and the minority whip is Representative Roy Blunt (R-Missouri).
110th Committees: What Will They Address?
Because of the Democratic takeover in the new Congress, the balance of committee power will also shift, giving Democrats a majority of votes. The committees will surely get to work quickly, holding hearings and voting on new legislation. The following is a description of committees that could have a significant impact on the law enforcement community, and what those committees could address in the coming session.
In the Senate, the Committee on Appropriations will be chaired by Senator Byrd, the longest serving member in the U.S. Congress. The committee is expected to focus on Department of Homeland Security (DHS) funding and funding for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, chaired by Senator Joseph Lieberman (I-Connecticut), will also likely address vigorous DHS oversight and fraud and abuse in government contracts.
Also taking up intelligence issues is the Senate Committee on the Judiciary, chaired by Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vermont). The committee is also expected to address counterterrorism tactics, comprehensive immigration reform, strong Department of Justice oversight, the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, and the Freedom of Information Act.
In the House of Representatives, new Committee on Appropriations Chairman Representative David R. Obey (D-Wisconsin) will likely focus on more domestic spending on education, medical research, community grants, and border security.
In addition, the House Committee on the Judiciary, chaired by Representative John Conyers Jr. (D-Michigan), is likely to focus on Federal Bureau of Investigation operations, National Security Agency surveillance programs, comprehensive immigration reform, promote intelligence sharing with state and local law enforcement, and recommendations from the 9/11 commission.
Finally, House Committee on Homeland Security Chairman Thompson is expected to take on information sharing. Representative Thompson has been quoted as saying, “We are long overdue in providing police and sheriffs’ officers with the basic information they need to take on the critical homeland security role that the 9/11 commission and others have identified for them.”
Thompson has been an advocate for information sharing for some time now, even issuing a report on the topic. The 2006 report, “LEAP: A Law Enforcement Assistance and Partnership Strategy,” outlines strategies to improve information sharing and asserts that a secure homeland depends on state, local, and tribal law enforcement. Some of the suggestions in the report include establishing a national center for intelligence-led policing, developing border intelligence resources, and granting security clearances to law enforcement executives.
Thompson intends to address these issues as he assumes the chairmanship in the 110th Congress. IACP will work closely with him and other members of Congress to ensure that these strategies are implemented.
Congress to Focus on Improved Information Sharing
On November 21, Senator Susan Collins (R-Maine), then chairman of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, and Senator Lieberman, then a Democrat and the ranking member of the committee, sent a letter to DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff.
In the letter, the senators called for improved information sharing by DHS to first responders, such as local police, fire squads, and emergency medical services, in order to avoid another failed disaster response, as they described the response to areas affected by Hurricane Katrina.
The senators said that the Homeland Security Information Network, a program that was created to link first responders and help them better communicate information, has basically failed. They asserted that only 6 percent of an estimated 18,000 first responders use the network on a regular basis.
In the letter, the senators also asked 22 questions of Chertoff on such topics as the implementation of necessary programs and the efficiency of agency protocols. These questions will likely be addressed this year, before the 110th Congress, as Lieberman assumes the chairmanship of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. Observers expect Lieberman to focus heavily on issues outlined in the letter, including government agency reform.