- The Washington Times - Friday, July 12, 2002

Secretary of State Colin L. Powell said yesterday that he is willing to let the proposed Department of Homeland Security write rules for entry visas now the State Department's job so that better guidance will be given to those who issue them.
The homeland security chief "will have access to all of the intelligence, law enforcement information, and he will make those policy judgments with respect to who should be authorized to receive a visa," Mr. Powell told the House Select Committee on Homeland Security.
Mr. Powell told the panel, which is considering President Bush's proposal for the new department, "I yield all of that authority willingly to the secretary of homeland security."
The Washington Times reported this week that the State Department has a policy to approve a visa for any Saudi national unless it already has a specific reason to deny that person entry to the United States. The Times also reported that no one has questioned the employees who granted visas to several of the September 11 hijackers.
Mary Ryan, the head of the consular service, was asked to step down this week after reports first made by United Press International that 71 Arabs, including some linked to al Qaeda, bought U.S. visas for $10,000 each from consular officials in Doha, the capital of the Persian Gulf state of Qatar.
Mr. Powell insisted yesterday that Ms. Ryan was asked to retire only because of a reorganization of the service to work with the Homeland Security Office, not because of the visa sales or any other problems reported in the press.
Mr. Bush's plan already calls for the State Department to transfer oversight of visas to the new department, which will absorb dozens of existing federal agencies.
For now, Mr. Powell said the State Department is correcting the Qatar situation, and, though he didn't address the other revelations, he said that, overall, consular officers do a good job.
"From time to time, you have someone who does not live up to their responsibilities yes, that has occurred. When we find it, we go after it, as we are doing in the current case at Doha. But do we also have officers who do a brilliant job of spotting someone who is trying to hide, trying to defeat the system? Yes, they do," he said.
House Majority Leader Dick Armey, Texas Republican and chairman of the committee, said Mr. Powell's comments were "reassuring."
But another panel member, Rep. Robert Menendez, New Jersey Democrat, said he wasn't satisfied that the proposed transfer of authority would solve anything.
"He had the role of setting the policy direction on visas, and I am sure I would hope that among the policy direction [Mr. Powell] gave his consular officers was that national security was a significant consideration to be included in a visa," Mr. Menendez said. "I'm not sure what a secretary of homeland security is going to do any differently than he had the power to do."
A handful of House committees are working on rewriting the president's proposal.
Yesterday, one committee rejected moving the Coast Guard from the Transportation Department to the proposed DHS, and another committee voted to keep the Federal Emergency Management Agency separate from DHS.
The committees are scheduled to complete their action today and turn over their work to the Homeland Security Committee, which will write its own version of the bill.
Meanwhile, Sen. Robert C. Byrd, West Virginia Democrat, is threatening to slow Senate action on the president's proposal to make sure the Senate isn't "stampeded" into hasty action that could compromise Congress' traditional check on executive power.
Mr. Powell said the State Department has already taken steps since September 11 to tighten the visa-issuing process, including doubling the size of the database that consular officers use to cross-check a visa applicant's name for eligibility.
He said that in 2001, the department received 10 million applications for visitors' visas and approved 7.5 million of them.
"There is no entitlement to a visa. The judgment is that you are not entitled to a visa unless you can establish you're coming here for a legitimate purpose," he said.
Still, he said, consular employees must be the people issuing the visas.
"It's difficult to shred out simply the visa-issuing responsibility from these other consular activities that take place at our various facilities," Mr. Powell said.
Mr. Powell was joined at yesterday's hearing by Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill, Attorney General John Ashcroft and Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld.
The four were present to show a united front from the administration on the president's plan.
One House aide said Mr. O'Neill was essentially pulled off a plane, delaying a planned business trip to Asia, and Mr. Rumsfeld was pulled out of bed, where he was recuperating from hand surgery.
They encouraged the panel to allow the proposed secretary flexibility to shift resources among the agencies he will be assigned.
"I think simply collecting the organizations that have been named under one new title is not what we need to do," Mr. O'Neill said. "We need to deploy the resources that are going to be made available in a way that's consistent with a mission that needs to be performed, and I would submit to you, it is not simply a continuation of the missions as they have been performed in the past."
This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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