WASHINGTON (AP) – The ink is barely dry on the new Homeland Security Department legislation, but corporate lobbyists are already chasing the pot of gold it offers.

One German-based contractor has started a political action committee and recruited budget experts to help its pitch for U.S. anti-terror money. Microsoft has hired a former Coast Guard commander to oversee its homeland bidding.

And several firms are creating special units to help companies compete for billions in new national security spending.

“It’s our intent to become a politically sophisticated player here,” said Gregg Ward, head of the Washington lobbying office of German-based Siemens AG, whose business includes medical systems, information technology, energy, transportation and communications.

The bill approved this week to create a domestic security department offers high-tech companies a chance to share in at least $500 million a year in research and development grants. And they hope that’s just for starters.

The new department will give industry a front-row seat as it sets its priorities. The legislation calls for “private sector advisory councils” composed of industry and trade group representatives who will advise the department on security products, services and policies.

The government’s anti-terror spending could reach into the billions in coming months – an enticing prospect for many companies as the faltering economy makes new business hard to find.

Siemens currently is sharing a $1.37 billion federal contract with Boeing to install and maintain explosive detection equipment in airports and to train baggage screeners.

The company is using that U.S. contract, awarded in June by the Transportation Security Administration, as a selling point as it seeks similar work in other countries, Ward said.

Siemens is seeking to raise its profile in Washington through a PAC funded by its employees and through its new procurement office. The company is hiring four or five people specifically to pursue government contracts, and is looking for those with experience in appropriations in government, said Ward, an assistant secretary in the Energy Department during the first Bush administration.

Siemens is also trying to win state business. Its health care information technology company won a contract from Pennsylvania to link hospitals so they are alerted whenever an emergency room physician reports potential bioterrorism-related illnesses such as anthrax or smallpox.

“For most companies, the private market is relatively flat right now and has been for a little while,” Ward said. “The public procurement, the public accounts are that much more attractive … particularly in the security area and the defense area, obviously the budget continues to increase.”

Siemens is far from alone in realizing that.

Others who have include Cerberus Capital Partners, which hired the Phoenix-based lobbying firm of former Vice President Dan Quayle to pursue contracting opportunities for companies in which it has an interest.

The government’s anti-terrorism effort is shaping up as an industry unto itself; the phrase “homeland security” began popping up on lobby registrations almost as soon as President Bush coined it last fall.

Dozens of companies have registered to lobby for domestic security contracts and grants in the past year, joining an already-long roster of businesses seeking military contracts.

Those hoping for homeland defense money include some long in the security business who are repackaging their products and services for government consumption and turning to lobbyists for help navigating the complex world of procurement.

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