WASHINGTON – A dozen House committees have finished their work on development of a Department of Homeland Security, sending their recommendations to a super-panel that will decide which recommendations to accept or reject.
The last to wrap up early Friday morning was the Government Reform Committee, which approved moving the Coast Guard, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Immigration and Naturalization Service and the Secret Service into the new department.
Other panels, like the Judiciary and Transportation Departments opposed most of those moves, and suggested that INS should be split between the Justice Department and new DHS.
The last of the recommendations came the night after President Bush's top four Cabinet secretaries urged lawmakers not to balk at folding 22 agencies into the new department, a massive reorganization in the executive branch's structure.
"We cannot respond to the terrorist threats simply by pledging more cooperation or making marginal changes," Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill told the first hearing of the newly-formed House Committee on Homeland Security. "We must be willing to make a dramatic transformation in light of the dramatic threats we face."
The super-panel is preparing legislation to send to the House for a full vote in the coming weeks. Lawmakers from 12 committees approved various changes throughout the week, but the super-panel will have the final say before a House vote on which agencies and units will move to the new Cabinet department.
Members expressed caution about the speed and size of the changes to take place, though all acknowledge that passage is all but certain.
"We intend to move forward in a deliberative fashion that's comprehensive in its scope and responsible in its restraint," said Rep. Dick Armey, R-Texas, House majority leader and chairman of the panel.
Comprehensive, perhaps, but the new department will not include the CIA and FBI, a concern that Attorney General John Ashcroft tried to address by promising that the two intelligence agencies would share all the information they gather with analysts at the new DHS.
"For the first time, America will have under one roof the capacity for government to work together to identify and assess threats to our homeland," Ashcroft said.
He also urged the House panel to buck the recommendation of the House Judiciary Committee to split the Immigration and Naturalization Service into separate enforcement and administration activities that will be handled from the DHS and the Justice Department respectively.
"I believe that it's very important that they be connected, because there are frequently overlaps," Ashcroft said. "I believe that is best undertaken if you don't have these two functions in different Cabinet agencies."
Despite an investigation into an alleged visa bribery ring discovered by Diplomatic Security, Secretary of State Colin Powell urged the panel to uphold the House Judiciary Committee's vote Wednesday to keep the consular activities in the State Department but give the new department power to train consular officials and review visa applications with security questions.
"We have the experience, the training, the language skills and the dedicated people to perform this mission," Powell said.
While not many changes are expected to occur within the Defense Department, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said that the overhaul of the executive branch is necessary to help the Pentagon continue its job of protecting the nation.
"Working together with the other agencies charged with U.S. national security, we will accomplish our common goal of ensuring the security of the American people, our territory and our sovereignty," said Rumsfeld, his arm in a cast after a thumb operation.
The Senate is expected to act on its version this month as well, with the goal of sending the president a bill in September, but problems began to emerge Thursday when Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W. Va., chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, said he will filibuster any attempt to approve specific details before lawmakers have time to consider the proposal that Byrd said was crafted in secret.
"The work was completed before any member of Congress was briefed on the plan," Byrd said. "I am not for rolling over and playing dead for this or any other administration when it comes to the separation of powers, checks and balances, and the constitutional prerogatives of Congress."
Republicans accuse Byrd and Democrats in general of putting politics ahead of national security and undermining the war on terror.
Fox News' Carl Cameron and the Associated Press contributed to this report.