Senator Joe Lieberman (I-CT), chairman of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs, discussed his committee's priorities for the new year yesterday after meeting with the Democratic governor of Arizona, Janet Napolitano, President-elect Barack Obama's pick to head the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).
According to CQ.com (subscription required), Lieberman said his committee will primarily focus on five areas: a DHS authorization bill, weapons of mass destruction, rail and transit security, chemical security, and cybersecurity.
"I want us to begin to do a Department of Homeland Security authorization bill," Lieberman told reporters, "in much the way that the Armed Services Committee does an annual Department of Defense authorization bill as a way for this committee ... to reach some conclusions about both the resource needs of the department before the appropriators appropriate and also about policy changes that may make sense for the department."
Since its creation in late 2002, DHS has never had an authorization bill, which provides the authority for an agency to exist and recommends nonbinding spending levels to carry out its programs.
During their meeting, both Lieberman and Napolitano agreed that cybersecurity is critical to protecting the United States.
“We all worry that in the case of a real conflict, parts of our country, our government, could be incapacitated by cyber-attacks — so there’s a lot going on in our government to defend us from cyber-attack,” Lieberman said. “But, I want our committee to focus in on how we’re organizing that defense and what the role of the Department of Homeland Security should be on that.”
Lieberman has scheduled Napolitano's confirmation hearing for January 15. She is expected to breeze through as no opposition has been publicly raised to her appointment. Lieberman offered nothing but praise for Napolitano, stating, she is “a superb nominee for a critically important department.”
The only potential area of tension alluded to by Lieberman concerned whether the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) should remain in DHS or exist outside its direction.
"I feel that no parts of DHS should be jettisoned," Lieberman said, while he related that Napolitano said during their meeting that she hasn't made a decision yet and must confer with President-elect Obama more.
In other homeland security related news, the State Department's top counterterrorism official said the Obama administration will add another dimension to the nation's counterterrorism efforts: multilateralism, especially in Africa and Asia.