- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 25, 2002

Today, Congress begins floor debate on an unprecedentedly far-reaching bill intended to transform the way our government manages domestic security. The general purposes of this legislation spring from the mandate of our Constitution's preamble: "to insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense … and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity." There can be no more fitting work for the Congress to undertake. Should terror strike again on our soil as almost every expert and high government official believes will happen this legislation's shortcomings will be objectively measurable in the charred flesh and drained blood of our people. It is by this standard of seriousness that members of Congress and the president should judge their decision-making over the coming days and weeks.

In that spirit, these pages start our commentary on the bill. On the opposite page, we have published the policy considerations of three respected think tanks the Brookings Institution, the Heritage Foundation and the Cato Institute to reflect a broad range of thought. Also, on this page we are pleased to publish an important letter from Sen. Joseph Lieberman on his signature issue of intelligence and homeland security.

Whatever legislation is passed after these brief weeks of consideration will not be the final words on the matter. But it is important to get started promptly, and also to do as little initial harm to a current system that, while deeply flawed and inefficient, could be made worse. Nonetheless, the doors to the new department should be opened by the end of the year, with repairs, additions and perhaps subtractions made as unfolding experience dictates.

One issue that has been sensibly sidestepped for the time being is the possible consolidation or re-arrangement of congressional committee jurisdictions. The congressional process simply would have broken down over such a struggle. Likewise, the seemingly intractable challenges of creating a fully integrated and properly centralized intelligence system has been left for another day. Even Mr. Lieberman's proposal helpful as it would seem to be is only a halfway house to an optimal intelligence structure.

The president's willingness, without fuss, to change his mind a few months ago over the need for a department is a useful precedent for Congress. Stubbornly sticking with long-held positions out of pride, closemindedness or personal interest can be as dangerous as a terrorist's plan of attack. It is no longer charming or amusing to see venerable politicians of either party standing athwart the tracks of needed change. The early rounds of congressional activity seem to be following the president's practical approach. If both the president and Congress continue in that spirit, members of both political parties will be able to leave for the August break deserving the respect and gratitude of their prospective electors.

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