WASHINGTON - Congress has made it a priority in recent years to revamp the executive branch's homeland security agencies - but lawmakers' own way of dealing with the anti-terrorism effort remains a chaotic maze, and an effort to streamline the system is likely to erupt into a battle today.
There are 88 congressional committees that deal with homeland security issues. All 100 senators and 412 of the 435 House members sit on those panels.
The system "is a confusing mess," said Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney, a New York Democrat. "It really says to me the leadership of this body is more afraid of committee chairmen and their jurisdiction than al-Qaida."
Maloney and Rep. Christopher Shays, a Connecticut Republican, plan to lead a fight today to streamline the system so that two committees - one for homeland security and one for intelligence - deal with such issues. Their effort will be part of what is expected to be a daylong fight over new House rules after the 109th Congress convenes at noon.
The commission investigating the Sept. 11 attacks has been critical of the current process, and a report from a blue-ribbon panel last month found that Congress' consideration of homeland security is a "balkanized and dysfunctional" process.
There have been efforts to reorganize, but such moves usually run into the same objections - that individual committees have developed strong expertise making each of them uniquely qualified to deal with specific homeland security issues.
They also run into turf protection.
The Senate set up a task force on reorganization last year and suggested turning the governmental affairs committee into a homeland security panel with broad powers. The committee added "homeland security" to its name, "but vested interests rallied to dismantle this plan piece by piece," the blue-ribbon panel's report said.
The House had other problems last year as it considered major homeland security legislation. Its special committee on homeland security was regarded as toothless. Both that panel and the intelligence committee found its efforts almost thwarted by other chairmen.
Judiciary Committee Chairman F. James Sensenbrenner Jr., a Wisconsin Republican, nearly derailed the intelligence reform bill with his objections to some immigration provisions. Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Don Young, an Alaska Republican, strongly protested when House leaders tried to take away his homeland security functions. Those views still prevail, and that's going to make negotiations difficult.
The Hartford Courant is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.