- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 23, 2003

The Senate yesterday unanimously approved Tom Ridge to head the new Homeland Security Department and quickly moved to put in place his team to help thwart future terrorist attacks.

"With today's historic vote, the Senate has demonstrated our shared commitment to doing everything we can to secure our homeland," President Bush said.

The 94-0 vote allows the former Pennsylvania governor to begin work as secretary of the new Cabinet department when it officially begins operations tomorrow.

Under the reorganization plan, Mr. Ridge must have 95 percent of employees collected from 22 agencies under his command by March 1. All transfers must be complete by Oct. 1.

The Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee meanwhile held its confirmation hearing for Drug Enforcement Administration Administrator Asa Hutchinson to be undersecretary for border and transportation security.

Republicans put Mr. Ridge's nomination on the fast track, holding his confirmation hearing Friday in the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee and yesterday voting him in unanimously.

"Managing the department will pose extraordinary challenges; fortunately, we have a man of extraordinary capacity in Tom Ridge," said Sen. Susan Collins, Maine Republican and chairman of the committee, before the Senate vote. "The nature of the threat has changed since the end of the Cold War."

Democrats expressed reservations that new employees will not be able to unionize. Of the 170,000 employees, 35,000 will have collective-bargaining rights.

Mr. Ridge was warned by Sen. Robert C. Byrd, West Virginia Democrat, to respect the privacy rights and civil liberties of Americans in the administration's effort to improve intelligence gathering and data mining to catch terrorists.

"Not only is he charged with protecting the American people from overzealous terrorists, but to protect the American people from overzealous bureaucrats," Mr. Byrd said.

The department will include four directorates: Border and Transportation Security; Information Analysis and Infrastructure Protection; Emergency Preparedness and Response; and Science and Technology. The Coast Guard and Secret Service will retain their independence and play key roles in supporting all of these missions.

Mr. Hutchinson was shown wide support from both Democrats and Republicans during his confirmation hearing.

"You are taking on one of the most difficult tasks a new undersecretary will have to deal with," said Sen. Trent Lott, Mississippi Republican. "You have a huge jurisdiction and yours will be the most important and difficult."

Most of the comments and questions focused on border integrity and lax port security.

"We are at the beginning of what will be a very long struggle to protect our nation against terrorism," Mr. Hutchinson said.

Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican and committee chairman, said he hoped to pass Mr. Hutchinson's nomination in the same fast-track manner as Mr. Ridge's and have full Senate confirmation by today.

Mr. Hutchinson would oversee Immigration and Naturalization Service enforcement, Transportation Security Administration, and Customs Service with 100,000 employees. A former congressman, Mr. Hutchinson resigned six months ago to head the DEA.

Mr. Ridge ran for Congress in 1982 and served six terms representing the northwest part of the state surrounding Erie.

He often broke ranks with conservative Republicans and pushed yearly attempts to cut the Strategic Defense Initiative. However, he supported the war on Iraq in 1991, and supported a constitutional amendment against flag desecration.

A Vietnam War veteran, he served in the Army as an infantry staff sergeant and was awarded the Bronze Star.


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