Senate committee proposes homeland security bill

U.S. Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.) today introduced the Department of National Homeland Security Act of 2001, which is designed to create a new agency that would oversee all federal aspects of preventing and preparing a response to any attacks carried out on U.S. soil.

The Senate Committee on Governmental Affairs, which Lieberman chairs, will hold a hearing tomorrow to discuss the proposed legislation, which Lieberman said he hopes passes before this session of Congress ends Oct. 16.

The bill's introduction follows President George W. Bush's appointment on Monday of Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge to director of the U.S. Office of Homeland Security and represents a different view on how that critical job should be carried out. While Congress and the Bush administration agree on the need for a federal body to take charge of homeland defense, the president favors an executive office while Lieberman's proposal calls for the creation of a separate agency.

Without the power of an agency behind him -- which would lend all-important budgetary control -- Ridge's efforts are likely to get caught up in the bureaucracy of multiple federal bodies that currently have some responsibility over homeland security, Lieberman said. He added that he supports Ridge's appointment, based on the governor's proven leadership skills.

"I fear that as an adviser who lacks statutory mandate, Senate confirmation and budget authority, he won't be as effective as we need him to be," Lieberman said of Ridge at a news conference Thursday. "Gov. Ridge deserves to have at least the power he enjoyed as governor of Pennsylvania."

The bill, cosponsored by Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), dictates that the Department of National Homeland Security be organized along functional lines into three parts. The U.S. Coast Guard, Customs Service and Border Patrol would be grouped into a division in charge of prevention. The U.S. Department of Commerce's Critical Infrastructure Assurance Office and Institute for Information Infrastructure Protection, as well as the FBI's National Infrastructure Protection Center, would comprise the division overseeing protection, including responsibility for safeguarding the nation's IT systems. The Federal Emergency Management Agency and the FBI's National Domestic Preparedness Office would make up the preparation division.

"In short, this legislation is meant to structure homeland defense in a way that makes sense operationally but also in terms of maximizing funding priorities, interagency cooperation and bureaucratic clout," Lieberman said. Reps. Mac Thornberry (R-Texas) and Ellen Tauscher (D-Calif.) also spoke in support of Lieberman's proposal.

Despite the fact that President Bush has already established the Office of Homeland Security, Specter said he's confident that this office could become a department. "The president was in no position to wait for Congress to act" when creating the office, due to the need to organize homeland defense following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the U.S., he said.

"My sense is, if we craft a very good bill and send it to the President, he will sign it," Specter said.

Attempting to further justify formation of the department, Thornberry noted that many of the affected agencies aren't organized in the most logical manner. For example, the Coast Guard is under jurisdiction of the U.S. Department of Transportation, even though its function is largely to patrol entry to the U.S. by sea.

"I've been contacted by a number of folks in these agencies who think [creating a new department] is a great idea. They all feel a little out of place" where they are now, Thornberry said. He acknowledged that others within these agencies will be "reluctant to lose power and money."

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