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Homeland Defense Raises Questions

WASHINGTON, Sep 21, 2001 (United Press International via COMTEX) -- President Bush's appointment of Pennsylvania Republican Gov. Tom Ridge to head the Office of Homeland Security drew praise at a Senate hearing Friday, but both witnesses and senators said more details are needed on Ridge's responsibilities and powers.

Sen. Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn., chairing the Senate Committee on Governmental Affairs hearing on homeland defense, said the nation's response to Sept. 11's unprecedented attack must be far-reaching. Many panels and reports in recent years have documented the government's fragmented, ineffective approach to preparing for domestic terrorist incidents, Lieberman said, and there's consensus that central control of such efforts must lie at the federal level.

The president took the first step in creating that sort of authority Thursday night, he said, by naming Ridge head of the new office.

"Congress needs to pass a law, after deliberate consideration, to make this Homeland Security Agency permanent," Lieberman said. "For the future, as far as we can see, we're going to have to be prepared to protect the American people as they live and work in the 50 United States."

Sen. Fred Thompson, R-Tenn., the committee's ranking minority member, also applauded Bush's choice, saying Ridge will need legislative support to do the job most effectively. Congress and the White House should decide jointly, however, what form his office will take, Thompson said. He also thanked the witnesses, including former senators Gary Hart and Warren Rudman, for their work on terrorism-related panels.

Rudman described the work of the U.S. Commission on National Security in the 21st century, which he co-chaired with Hart. As the nation focuses its approach to homeland defense, Rudman said, it must be careful to properly fund and utilize existing agencies instead of creating redundant ones. Bush's decision appears to move in that direction, he said, heartily endorsing Ridge's appointment.

"We don't know yet the details of the office, but it would appear to be what is generally called the 'czar' approach," Rudman said. "It is a very good way in a time of crisis to encourage improved coordination between disparate agencies, which in normal times tend to pursue their own bureaucratic purposes."

White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer, responding to media questions at a separate press conference, said "czar" isn't the right definition for Ridge's position.

"I think that fails to capture what this office is," Fleischer said. "The president has decided to establish it, to help with all the coordination of the variety of activities that are done by a host of federal agencies -- many federal agencies, some 40 -- as well as state and local governments."

Fleischer said Ridge will resign as governor in approximately two weeks, then move to set the office up permanently in Washington. Initial funding for the Office of Homeland Security will come from the White House, which will work with Congress if more money is needed, he said.

While naming a coordinator has benefits, Rudman told the Senate committee, an enduring solution will require an entire Cabinet-level department. This was the approach taken with the Energy Department in response to the 1970s energy crisis, Hart said.

Reviewing some of his commission's recommendations, Rudman said the new department should be centered on the Federal Emergency Management Agency. In order to better control the nation's boundaries, the department should receive jurisdiction over the U.S. Customs Service, Border Patrol and the Coast Guard, he said. As for Congress, it should create two select committees on the issues of homeland security, counter-terrorism and protection of information security, drawing on legislators' expertise in such areas as defense, intelligence and appropriations.

Hart said any proposals for a lesser response would only perpetuate the problem.

"We have heard, particularly before a week ago Tuesday, that Washington bureaucracy will not permit our solution to be adopted," he said. "I would like to hear (Cabinet secretaries or bureau heads) explain to the president and the American people and the Congress why it is more important to keep a piece of bureaucratic turf in a department than to protect the people of the United States."

A former senior State Department counter-terrorism official, speaking to United Press International on condition of anonymity, said inter-agency problems have up to now prevented the effective information-sharing needed for homeland defense.

"All this has to stop, but it will only stop if the person in charge of the new office has a lot of White House backing," the official told UPI. "You have to remember that in most anti-terrorist operations, you are trying to get a minimum of 22 agencies to cooperate."

Copyright 2001 by United Press International.

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