WASHINGTON – Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa, and Sen. Bob Graham, D-Fla., Thursday called for a new structure within the executive branch to help fight the war against terrorism within United States borders.
The proposal, building upon a bill introduced by Lieberman and Specter last year, would create a National Department for Homeland Defense to focus federal attention and resources on securing our borders and protecting the critical infrastructure. It also establishes a White House Office on Combatting Terrorism to execute a national strategy for fighting terrorism and to facilitate government-wide coordination with intelligence and military agencies.
“The bottom line is if statutory and budget authority are not conferred upon the director of homeland security, the homeland defense of this nation will always be less than what it should be,” Lieberman said. “Governor Ridge and his successors need to centralize their authority so that our anti-terrorism policies are consistent and thorough. They need the power to knock heads to overcome bureaucratic resistance, to eliminate wasteful duplication of effort, and to target precious resources. And they need control over the budgets of agencies they are charged with overseeing so that those agencies will see clearly what needs to be done.”
“The federal government is fortunate to have secured the services of former Governor Tom Ridge of Pennsylvania to take on this responsibility,” Specter said. “However, regardless of the close working relationship that the governor and the president currently have, this office needs to be institutionalized in order to survive beyond the term of a single president – to go beyond the term of Governor Ridge’s successor – in order to ensure that homeland defense receives the attention and funding it deserves.”
Senator Graham said: “I believe the person who should be in charge is Governor Ridge and I am deeply concerned that Governor Ridge cannot do all that the president intends for him to do – and that the nation needs for him to do – under his present authority.”
The proposal was unveiled at a Governmental Affairs hearing that followed two hearings last fall on whether the government, specifically the executive branch, is adequately organized to meet the type of security threats expected after September 11. The bill will be introduced shortly.
“The point is to set up a system that will allow us to better prevent, effectively prepare for, and quickly respond to terrorist attacks made against Americans on U.S. soil,” Lieberman said. “We must still ask, six months into Governor Ridge’s appointment, whether we are any better positioned to defend ourselves against another terrorist attack within our borders.
“Governor Ridge, I’m sure, has done everything in his power to make this nation safer. But I fear this is not enough, and the reason is he lacks the necessary authority to overcome bureaucratic obstacles that always get in the way of major change in the way government conducts its business.”
The department would combine the Coast Guard, the Border Patrol, Customs, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and three smaller critical infrastructure offices. The secretary, appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate, would coordinate with state and local governments and other federal agencies; provide planning guidance; oversee training programs; and generally call the shots in the event of another terrorist attack.
The National Office for Combatting Terrorism would be led by a presidentially-appointed, Senate-confirmed director charged with assessing terrorist threats and, along with the department secretary, developing a strategy and a budget to fight terrorism at home. The director would have budget certification authority over programs in the terrorism prevention and response budget and would coordinate execution of the national strategy by relevant federal agencies – particularly those concerned with intelligence and law enforcement.