WASHINGTON – Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., expressed his pleasure Thursday at President Bush’s expected announcement to create a cabinet-level Department of Homeland Security, similar to a proposal offered by Lieberman last fall.
“The president gave Governor Ridge the most difficult, and now most important, job in the federal government but did not give him the power to get that job done,” Lieberman said.
The Lieberman bill, introduced with Senators Arlen Specter, R-Pa., and Bob Graham, D-Fla., and a bipartisan group of House members, would combine the Customs Service, the Coast Guard, the Border Patrol, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and a handful of other, smaller programs into a full-fledged department, led by a Senate-confirmed Secretary with budget authority over the department agencies.
The bill also would createsa White House Office of Combating Terrorism to coordinate anti-terrorism activities government wide. The measure was reported out of the Governmental Affairs Committee May 22 on a party line vote of 9-7.
“The catastrophic events of last September 11 and the anthrax attacks that followed showed that our government is not prepared to deal adequately with the kinds of terrorist attacks that I fear we’re going to face again in the future,” Lieberman said. “That’s why we introduced our bill.”
While the details of the President’s proposal were still being fleshed out, “it appears his plan tracks our legislation,” Lieberman continued. “It sounds as if the administration will consolidate some of the key border security operations. And the administration is indicating the new department will be a focal point for coordination and communication with state and local officials and the private sector, just as we envisioned in our legislation.
“The battle now begins. The good news is that this broad, bipartisan group of us in Congress and the White House are on the same side as we strengthen our guard to protect the American people at home against the threat of terrorism. Make no mistake about it, change is never easy, particularly for large bureaucracies. And I expect that there will be opposition from the bureaucracies that will be put in place under the new secretary, and from members of Congress who are close to those bureaucracies.
“But the hard fact is that we are living at a time that demands peak performance and maximum cooperation among every agency of the federal government that has to do with homeland security. And it is only through the kinds of changes that we have proposed, and that the president will propose tonight, that that can happen. The status quo has simply not worked. I’m looking forward to working with the president and the administration to find and implement a better way.”