- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 22, 2001

The Democrat-led Senate yesterday endorsed President Bush's decision to create a national office for combatting terrorism and introduced legislation to establish the post permanently.

Sen. Bob Graham, Florida Democrat and chairman of the Select Committee on Intelligence, said the bill offers a prescription for the condition of terrorism.

"Terrorism is not a crisis. Terrorism is a cancerous condition, a condition that all Americans will have to come to terms with as we strive to return to normal lives," Mr. Graham said during a Capitol Hill news conference.

The bill complements Mr. Bush's announcement to a joint session of Congress Thursday night that he has created a Cabinet-level Office of Homeland Security. He has nominated Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge to lead the new agency to protect the country against further terrorist attacks.

White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said the office would be a separate organization in the White House to coordinate and integrate a comprehensive strategy to combat terrorism and to strengthen defense preparedness.

Such an office has been suggested by numerous task forces on terrorism, and Rep. William M. "Mac" Thornberry, Texas Republican, introduced a bill in March to create a National Homeland Security Agency.

"With more than 40 federal agencies currently overseeing homeland security, establishing a Cabinet-level office with primary responsibility in this area is clearly an important first step," said Mr. Thornberry, a member of the House Armed Services Committee.

"The key thing now is to make sure it has the budget and authority and resources to get the job done," Mr. Thornberry said.

Mr. Bush created the office by executive order. Congressional approval would make it a permanent office with budget authority and create a symbol of national unity, Democrats said.

"We applaud what the president has done by executive order. We want to build on what the president has done," Mr. Graham said.

Mr. Graham's committee will begin hearings Monday to analyze the president's executive order and to extend that order into a permanent office.

Sen. Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat and assistant majority leader, said he also supports the president's initiative.

"What he did last night was a giant step forward," Mr. Reid said.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, California Democrat, said $12 billion was spent throughout the 40 different agencies combatting terrorism last year.

"What we do here today aims to complement what the president offered last night by giving it the precise authority that's necessary to cut across all of these departments," Mrs. Feinstein said.

Meanwhile, the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee held a hearing to examine whether the federal government is adequately organized to face possible terrorist threats.

Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman, committee chairman and Connecticut Democrat, said the hearing represents the "hope, unity, and purpose to a nation stunned by this tragedy, including, most recently, the magnificent statement of American principles and purpose that President Bush delivered to the Congress, to the nation, and indeed to the world last night."

Testifying before the committee was Virginia Gov. James S. Gilmore III, who also chairs the Advisory Panel to Assess Domestic Response Capabilities for Terrorism Involving Weapons of Mass Destruction, a national commission established by Congress in 1999.

The commission recommended a national office to combat terrorism in December 2000.

"Our panel's review of the federal bureaucratic structure, spread across numerous agencies and vested with some responsibilities for combatting terrorism, revealed a structure that is uncoordinated, complex and confusing," Mr. Gilmore said.

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