Senate Approves Thompson Amendment to Reduce Government Bureaucracy and Improve Accountability in Homeland Security Efforts

Washington , DC – The U.S. Senate today adopted an amendment offered by Senator Fred Thompson (R-TN) to the National Homeland Security and Combating Terrorism Act.  The Thompson amendment strikes portions of the legislation which would create a National Office for Combating Terrorism in the White House and the development of a duplicative national homeland security strategy.

The Thompson amendment was agreed to by a voice vote, after two failed attempts by Senators to kill or alter the amendment.  A vote to table, or set aside, the Thompson amendment failed by a vote of 41-55 last week, with seven Democrats and one Independent voting with Republicans to keep the amendment pending.  An attempt by Senators to offer a scaled back version of the Thompson amendment was eventually withdrawn after it was evident that there was not support to pass it.  That cleared the way for the Thompson amendment to be adopted.

“This bill, as it is drafted now, mandates the development of a national strategy,” Thompson said. “We have a national strategy, and we have had it since July. I don’t know whether the idea is to set the old one aside and come up with a new one or submit the one the President has already put out again. This was a good idea back several months ago, but time has passed and things have changed.”

Thompson opposed the creation of a statutory, Senate-confirmed White House position, that would have been created by the bill.  He pointed out that the proposed office was redundant and unnecessary, because the White House has already established the Office of Homeland Security, currently headed by Governor Tom Ridge , and an Office of Combating Terrorism, which is part of the National Security Council.  Both of these offices currently perform the functions and responsibilities sought for the proposed statutory White House Office. Thompson also opposed the bill’s requirement to develop an additional  homeland security strategy even though the White House already released one this summer.  

While the President has also expressed his desire to have a confidential Homeland Security Advisor to advise him on domestic security issues, the director of the proposed statutory office would have been Senate-confirmed, and therefore required to testify before Congress.

“What concerns me about this bill is that in more than one instance there is an attempt to diminish the President’s authority,” said Thompson.  “What I am suggesting is that the President ought to have a little flexibility in the White House to have a confidential advisor of his choosing to coordinate not only what is going on in the new Department, but the important homeland security entities that are not in the new Department. The Secretary of Homeland Security will be Senate confirmed, the therefore required to testify before Congress.  This amendment does not diminish the authority of the Congress.”  

Thompson also expressed his concern that the budget review and certification authorities given to the new office would have given the director of the new office the ability to decertify – in essence veto – the defense budget, though this official would not have to balance the many competing needs of the Department.

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