- The Washington Times - Friday, June 7, 2002

Democrats and Republicans on Capitol Hill yesterday enthusiastically endorsed President Bush's plan to create the Department of Homeland Security as a key step toward protecting the nation from terrorists.

The wide bipartisan support ensures the president's proposal will be put into legislation and approved by the Senate quickly.

Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott said the proposal should be enacted immediately.

"For months, our armed forces have been fighting to win the war on terrorism in Afghanistan and other parts of the world. Our nation deserves to have one organization dedicated to protecting our country and helping American families feel safer," the Mississippi Republican said.

"I believe this will be an efficient and effective approach to address the many challenges America has encountered since the tragedy of September 11," Mr. Lott said.

The proposal would realign the patchwork of government activities and agencies into a single department run by a Cabinet secretary who is nominated by the president and approved by the Senate.

Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle agreed that domestic security should be coordinated under a Cabinet-level position.

"It is encouraging that President Bush recognizes the need for a fundamental overhaul of the way in which we approach America's homeland security," the South Dakota Democrat said.

"The American people need to know their government is doing everything possible to prevent future attacks," Mr. Daschle said.

The department would be in charge of securing borders, analyzing intelligence from multiple sources and coordinating communications with state and local government and private industry.

It would coordinate federal emergency-response activities and help train and equip for rapid response to terrorist attacks.

Sen. Edward M. Kennedy said he supports the new department and that the Senate needs to ensure it has the mandate and tools to address the country's complex national-security issues.

"We need a well-organized, efficiently run office that works in coordination with existing law-enforcement and intelligence agencies, not another bureaucracy," said Mr. Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat.

House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert said Mr. Bush and his advisers carefully reviewed the government structure and concluded the nation needed one department whose primary mission would be to protect the American homeland.

"All too often, homeland security has fallen through the cracks of an overlapping bureaucracy," said Mr. Hastert, Illinois Republican.

"The goal with the Department of Homeland Security is not to simply create more bureaucracy, the goal is to create a more effective government response to threats upon our homeland," Mr. Hastert said.

Sen. Olympia J. Snowe, Maine Republican, called the Cabinet-level designation "absolutely crucial" to fighting the war against terrorism.

"When you don't have the resources and you don't have the power, then it's much more difficult to overcome the hurdles that are essential to fulfilling this responsibility," Mrs. Snowe said.

"You have to be established in statute that's where you get your recognition and from there you get your power. Otherwise, people ignore you," Mrs. Snowe said.

Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr., Delaware Democrat and chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, agreed.

"Unless you give this person Cabinet-level status, unless you give them some budgetary responsibility, unless they are able to interface with these other agencies and take a piece of their jurisdiction, then it's just another staffer," he said.

The new department will eliminate duplication and put more law-enforcement officers on the ground to stop terrorists, said House Majority Whip Tom DeLay.

"Putting homeland security into one structure and under one roof will be extraordinarily difficult. However, the things that are the most difficult in life are often the things that most need to be done," the Texas Republican said.

To coordinate with the new agency, Rep. J.C. Watts Jr. of Oklahoma wants Congress to create compatible committees.

"Just as the new Department of Homeland Security will be the focal point in the administration, Congress must act responsibly and follow suit," said Mr. Watts, House Republican Conference chairman.

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