- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 13, 2002

President Bush yesterday signed bioterrorism legislation calling for $4.3 billion to stockpile vaccines, improve food safety and increase security for water systems.

Meanwhile, negotiations to create a Cabinet-level Department of Homeland Defense began yesterday in the House with presidential adviser Tom Ridge briefing Republicans and Democrats, who were drawing battle lines to claim part of the legislative turf it would create.

"Terrorist groups seek biological weapons. We know some rogue states already have them. It is important that we confront these real threats to our country and prepare for future emergencies," Mr. Bush said in a Rose Garden ceremony with House and Senate sponsors of the bill.

The new bioterrorism law, passed by Congress with an overwhelming majority, will authorize spending of $640 million to produce and stockpile smallpox vaccines for vast numbers of Americans. It also expands availability of potassium iodide for communities near nuclear plants to treat radiation poisoning.

The law-signing ceremony followed the inaugural meeting of Mr. Bush's Homeland Security Advisory Council.

"We're under attack; just the way it is. The more we love freedom, the more we espouse values that are decent and honorable the more this enemy is going to try to hit us," Mr. Bush told the newly appointed panel of intelligence specialists and public officials.

The 16-member council is charged with developing ways to secure the homeland and improve communication among federal, state and local governments. It includes former FBI and CIA Director William Webster, former Defense Secretary and CIA Director James Schlesinger, former Rep. Lee Hamilton, Indiana Democrat, and D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams.

Mr. Ridge's House briefing was conducted during a rare, closed-floor session.

While there was some disagreement as to how the agency, which would combine 22 agencies, should be structured, Mr. Ridge, homeland security director, said "it was done in a very respectful way and with a goal toward working our way through points of disagreement to a final product."

"The president thought it was very important that before we even began to testify, that we started the interaction and the discussion with the members of the House and the Senate as we work our way with a shared vision of making America safer ," said Mr. Ridge, who will address the Senate today. Congress will determine the fate of the president's proposal.

House leaders met late yesterday to decide whether the House Governmental Affairs Committee would take the lead and parse out specific tasks to a dozen other oversight committees, or create a select committee to oversee the monumental task.

"Congress deserves the ability for everyone to be involved in input to try to perfect the proposal and make it as good as it can be," said House Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt, Missouri Democrat.

Mr. Bush told advisory council members earlier that the stakes in the war against terrorism were high and acknowledged that communication among U.S. intelligence agencies had fallen short. He called on the panel to come up with improvements.

"We need an analytical capacity within a department that can take all the intelligence that's gathered, not only by the FBI or the CIA, but all throughout our government, and analyze it so we have a better feel for what the terrorists might be thinking, and then how to respond," he said.

Mr. Bush said he will travel the country to make his case for the Cabinet-level agency before the American people.

"I'm going to take my case beyond Washington to the real influence-peddlers," Mr. Bush said a day after a speech in Missouri in which he called on Americans to make their views known to their elected officials. Recent polls show three out of four Americans support the president's proposal to create an umbrella department.

The bioterrorism law also provides $1.6 billion in grants to states for hospital preparedness and assessments of the vulnerability of local water systems, and will pump more money into the National Pharmaceutical Stockpile, secret stashes of medicine at locations throughout the United States.

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