Decisions in the upcoming Congress about the role — and perhaps most importantly about the funding — of the new Department of Homeland Security will be critical to first responders and other public safety officials in general as well as the wireless communications industry.

As the government implements the plan that will consolidate 22 federal agencies and interpret the Department of Homeland Security Act of 2002, there will be plenty of wiggle room. The language of the Act is vague and the political interests are many.

For example the department's new Under Secretary for Emergency Preparedness and Response is responsible for creating programs for developing inter-operative communications technology, and helping to ensure that emergency response providers acquire that technology. But it is unclear, what the process will be, and first responders and even private wireless interests should keep an eye on this debate over the next few months.

There appears to be movement toward establishing structure that will allow the transfer, consolidation and reorganization of agencies, personnel, assets, and obligations to the Department. A number of working groups have been formed within the Office of Personnel Management. Congress has granted the new department some easing of civil service rules in areas of performance appraisals, job classifications, pay, labor management, discipline, and employee appeals. Issues of money, authority, and any number of details such as responsibility of medical ramifications of inoculation, however, are unsettled and controversial.

The political sniping has already begun.

In mid-December, Congressional Democrats began criticizing the White House for failing to put enough money into homeland security. During a speech at the Brookings Institution, North Carolina Sen. John Edwards, a possible presidential candidate in 2004, said conservative “ideology” is driving the Bush administration to pursue tax cuts for the 1 percent of wealthiest Americans while vetoing “billions of dollars for domestic defense” for 100 percent of Americans. Wisconsin Rep. David R. Obey, senior Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee, told the National Press Club that the White House has tried to portray the administration as championing homeland security needs while Congress hesitates. In crucial funding debates, he said, the White House has been “less than willing to pull out all the stops to pay for homeland defense.”

Edwards, a member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, called for a domestic intelligence agency distinct from the FBI, which the administration appears to reject. He proposes creating computer databases to share information on suspected terrorists with local law enforcement.

Obey said the administration has been delinquent in providing money for first responders and port security. White House pressure to hold down federal spending has limited to $500 million the amount that has gone to help first responders with training and equipment upgrades, he said. “Very few state or municipal fire and law enforcement agencies have even a fraction of what they need to effectively respond,” Obey said at the Press Club.

Obey also said that Bush requested no money to help the nation's ports assess their vulnerabilities. And White House objections limited congressional efforts to provide such funds to $93 million last fiscal year, far less than the $800 million local officials say they need, he said.

The Bush administration, of course, counters that it is making progress in development of the new Department and that Congress has not allocated money that it requested.

Meanwhile the FBI and CIA insist on strict limits on the information they must share with the Homeland Security Department. The administration has begun to craft rules for the handling of intelligence in the hope of heading off conflict among the agencies, according to The Washington Post. The intelligence agencies appear to have persuaded the White House that information provided to the Department should be summaries that will not include raw intelligence or details to protect sources and methods.

Others say the Department's analysts need at least some undigested classified information to protect the nation's infrastructure. Access to information is likely to be a significant topic of debate in the formation of the new Department.

The statute that created the new agency is not specific about how the department will obtain and analyze classified information. The law signed by President Bush appears to give Tom Ridge, the homeland security director who has been nominated to head the new department, the power to demand classified intelligence held by the FBI and CIA “except as otherwise directed by the president.” No one knows who will manage conflicts between the department and other agencies, or the standards to make decisions.

Neither the FBI nor the CIA will be folded into the new Homeland Security Department. But Congress and the administration are expected to discuss a new Cabinet level intelligence coordination post and a new domestic intelligence agency separate from the FBI, according the Wall Street Journal.

Bush administration officials play down the likelihood of discord, but others say interagency turf battles, which the new Department was meant to alleviate, may only be exacerbated.

A number of the new department's component agencies — such as the Secret Service, the Customs Service, the Coast Guard and the former Immigration and Naturalization Service — will retain intelligence divisions that continue to gather classified data as they have for years. As a result, some officials said, the new agency will pose a bureaucratic threat to the FBI, the CIA, the NSA, the Defense Intelligence Agency and others.

The FBI and the Customs Service have already been squabbling for months over Operation Green Quest, the mammoth Treasury-run task force that is investigating the funding of terror groups.

But other social problems are part of the debate as well.

About 800 families in more than a dozen states have filed cases seeking compensation for the costs of their children's autism, which they say is due to Thimerosal, the mercury-based vaccine. Congress quietly added a couple of paragraphs to the Homeland Act that restrict the right to sue Eli Lilly and Co. and other manufacturers of Thimerosal. Under the new law, the families are required to file claims with a special administrative court under the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program before they can take their cases to civil court.

The changes could sharply reduce the families' chances of prevailing in civil courts, where damage awards normally could be much higher than those in the “vaccine court.” The federal program covers claims for medical and education expenses, but damages for pain, suffering and death are limited to $250,000.

Meanwhile, the Department of Justice has filed a request to restrict the use of information gathered in vaccine court proceedings in subsequent civil court cases. That is another potential obstacle for the plaintiffs.

All of the politics and infighting will become more confusing before it clears. So we thought it might be helpful to outline some of the key Bush administration plans for creation for the new department, which will likely be on the top of the newscasts over the next several months.

The plan lays out a series of steps for the establishment of the new department, with key dates being January 24, the day the legislation takes effect; March 1, when most major agencies are transferred; and Sept. 30, when remaining agency and functions transfers are to be completed.

Here is a synopsis of the Bush administration's Department Of Homeland Security Reorganization Plan:

What Tom Ridge Must Do

The administration nominated Tom Ridge as the Secretary of Homeland Security, and he must be approved by the Senate. But Ridge is expected to be confirmed and much is laid out for him to do.

The Act is to take effect January 24, and Ridge is to establish the office and begin to appoint officers with confirmation of the Senate. Those include the Deputy Secretary of Homeland Security, Under Secretary for Information Analysis and Infrastructure Protection, Under Secretary for Science and Technology, Under Secretary for Border and Transportation Security, Under Secretary for Emergency Preparedness and Response, Director of the Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services, Under Secretary for Management, General Counsel, Inspector General, Commissioner of Customs, and a maximum of 12 Assistant Secretaries.

Ridge will also have to name, “as soon as may be possible” officers who include an Assistant Secretary for Information Analysis, Assistant Secretary for Infrastructure Protection, Privacy Officer, Director of the Secret Service, Chief Information Officer, Chief Human Capital Officer, Chief Financial Officer, Officer for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, Director of Shared Services, Citizenship and Immigration Ombudsman, Director of the Homeland Security Advanced Research Projects Agency.

Ridge will have to establish:

  • The Office for State and Local Government Coordination, the Office of International Affairs, and the Office of National Capital Region Coordination.

  • The Homeland Security Advanced Research Projects Agency and the Acceleration Fund for Research and Development of Homeland Security Technologies.

  • Within the Directorate of Science and Technology the Office for National Laboratories.

  • The Bureau of Border Security, the Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services, and appoint the Director of Shared Services.

  • Establish the Transportation Security Oversight Board with the Secretary of Homeland Security as its chairman.

Key Dates For Department Creation

Here is the schedule:

January 24

  • Establish the Secretary of Homeland Security's office. This is likely to be the date that Tom Ridge changes his title from director of the White House's Office of Homeland Security to secretary of the new department.

  • Appoint the deputy secretary, who has been named as Gordon England, currently Navy secretary, the four undersecretaries, only one of which, Asa Hutchinson, has currently been named, the assistant secretaries, and other senior officials of the new department.

  • Establish international, state and local, and national capital region coordination offices within the secretary's office.

  • Establish the new Homeland Security Advanced Research Projects Agency.

  • Establish the new Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services, which will take on many of the Immigration and Naturalization Service's functions.

March 1

  • Transfer of Coast Guard, Secret Service, Customs Service, Federal Emergency Management Agency, and Transportation Security Agency to the new department.

  • Transfer of Commerce Department's Critical Infrastructure Assurance Office and Defense Department's National Communication System, the FBI's National Infrastructure Protection Center to DHS, as well as some other computer system protection offices.

  • Transfer a number of nuclear, biological, and chemical defense efforts to the new department's Directorate of Science and Technology.

  • Transfer a number of medical arrangements, including the Metropolitan Medical Response System and 12 ready packages of pharmaceutical and medical supplies distributed nationwide from the Department of Health & Human Services to the new department.

June 1

  • Plum Island Animal Disease Center to be transferred from the Department of Agriculture to DHS.

  • Establish Homeland Security Science and Technology Advisory Committee.

Sept. 30

  • All remaining personnel, assets, and liabilities to be transferred.

The Key Department Functions

Information Analysis and
Infrastructure Protection

The Under Secretary for Information Analysis and Infrastructure Protection will be responsible for oversight of an alphabet soup of intelligence gathering agencies including: NIPC, NCS, CIAO, NISAC, EAO, and FedCIRC, the management of the Directorate's Information Analysis and Infrastructure Protection duties, and the administration of the Homeland Security Advisory System.

Science and Technology

The Under Secretary for Science and Technology will be responsible for research and development, helping to develop a national policy and plan coordinating the Federal Government's civilian efforts with respect to, identifying and developing countermeasures to chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear, and other terrorist threats. Establish priorities for directing the development, testing and evaluation, as well as procurement of technology and systems for- preventing the importation of chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear, and related weapons and material. The office is also to establish a system for transferring homeland security developments or technologies to Federal, state, and local governments, and to the private sector.

Border and Transportation Security

The Directorate of Border and Transportation Security will include the Bureau of Border Security, the Office for Domestic Preparedness, the Customs Service, the Transportation Security Administration, FLETC, and FPS. The BTS Directorate will also have in place the key leaders of the new Directorate to include securing the borders, territorial waters, ports, terminals, waterways, and air, land, and sea transportation systems, including managing and coordinating those functions transferred to the Department at ports of entry.

Emergency Preparedness and Response

The Under Secretary for Emergency Preparedness and Response will be responsible for helping to ensure the effectiveness of emergency response providers to terrorist attacks, major disasters, and other emergencies. This includes the Nuclear Incident Response Team, which incorporates medical responses as well as coordinating other Federal resources. The Under Secretary for Emergency Preparedness and Response is responsible for developing comprehensive programs for developing inter-operative communications technology, and helping to ensure that emergency response providers acquire such technology.

Other Officers and Functions

  • Director of the Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services is responsible for establishing national immigration services policies and priorities.

  • Citizenship and Immigration Services Ombudsman: Will report directly to the Deputy Secretary; and will be responsible for assisting individuals and employers in resolving problems with the Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services, and identifying areas in which individuals and employers have problems in dealing with the Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services.