- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 8, 2003

The new Congress is moving quickly to establish oversight authority over the Homeland Security Department, and nominee Tom Ridge's confirmation is on the fast track in the Senate.

Broad oversight responsibility in the Senate is expected to go to the Governmental Affairs Committee, which will be led by Sen. Susan Collins, Maine Republican.

The committee will share jurisdiction with other committees but will have lead responsibilities to confirm President Bush's nominations to the department.

Miss Collins told The Washington Times yesterday that the new department faces "an ambitious time frame," and that she hoped to schedule Mr. Ridge's confirmation hearing as early as next week. He is expected to be confirmed easily.

"I want to help the new department get up and running as quickly as possible," Miss Collins said.

Mr. Bush last night formally submitted the Ridge nomination to the Senate and also sent to Capitol Hill his nomination of Navy Secretary Gordon England as Mr. Ridge's deputy.

"It's very important for the Senate to confirm Tom as quickly as possible and to confirm his team so they can get doing the work of the American people," Mr. Bush said Monday after the year's first Cabinet meeting.

Miss Collins called the creation of the new department a "massive reorganization of the federal government" that will require "a lot of oversight." Her first priority will be to strengthen port security.

"It is ultimately up to the Congress on how they choose to organize, but any effort to streamline the way the new department will interact with Congress is certainly welcome," said Brian Roehrkasse, spokesman for the White House Office of Homeland Security.

Miss Collins, who was sworn in yesterday for her second term, rose quickly through the ranks to the No. 3 slot on the committee. She gained the chairmanship with the retirement of Sen. Fred Thompson of Tennessee, and the desire of the second-ranking Republican, Ted Stevens of Alaska, to retain his chairmanship of the powerful Appropriations Committee.

The department consolidates 22 federal agencies, including the Immigration and Naturalization Service, Border Patrol, Coast Guard and Secret Service into one department of 170,000 employees in the most sweeping government reorganization since the Defense Department was created in 1947. It is expected to take two years to create.

Oversight in the House will be given to a new select committee of powerful House members. The new panel will consist of eight chairmen and ranking members or their designees of other committees, including Judiciary, Government Reform, and Transportation and Infrastructure. The chairman of the new committee will be House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, Illinois Republican, or his designee.

Leadership aides say they expect Mr. Hastert to appoint a designee, but no front-runner has emerged. Rep. Christopher Cox of California and Rep. Rob Portman of Ohio are the first choices of most Republican members, but an aide said neither of the men are interested in the job.

Amy Fagan contributed to this report.

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