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Congress Addresses Concerns About Information Sharing in New Department of Homeland Security - 2002-06-26

Congress has heard more testimony about plans to establish a new government department devoted to homeland security. Lawmakers have many questions about the department's size, organization, and how information will be shared in the future to help prevent terrorist attacks.

In a full day of hearings, homeland security director, Tom Ridge, faced a range of questions about how the new security department will cooperate with existing intelligence agencies. Lawmakers want to know not only how the new department will handle information on terrorist threats, but how it will make sure the information gets to authorities in states and cities.

Mr. Ridge says the new department will not be collecting information itself. That function will remain with the FBI and CIA. However, he says, there will be a new level of cooperation with states and localities to prevent terrorism.

"We do not have a place in the federal government now where someone looks at the threats, has done a vulnerability assessment, puts the two together, and then gives some direction to the efforts that should be undertaken by other levels of government, other federal agencies, or the private sector, to harden targets," Mr. Ridge said.

Lawmakers are worried that the new department, which will combine functions of many existing government agencies, will be ineffective. As Democratic party Senator Dianne Feinstein put it, "We have the FBI now, getting into the intelligence business, and you are getting into the intelligence business. My concern is that rather than improve the communication and interrelationship, and expedited movement of data, we are going to slow it down."

Underscoring the concern about information flow, the House of Representatives overwhelmingly approved legislation requiring more information sharing between federal intelligence agencies, and state and local authorities. Its key sponsor is Republican Congressman Saxby Chambliss, who said, "The intelligence community of the federal government does a great job of gathering information on terrorist activity, but we do a very poor job of sharing that information, both horizontally and vertically, within our federal agencies and with state and local officials."

In his testimony Wednesday, Mr. Ridge said the new security department presents an opportunity to think differently about how government can best be organized to protect the nation's security.

But lawmakers have a long list of questions, and intend to call Mr. Ridge, FBI director Robert Mueller, CIA director George Tenet, and others back to Capitol Hill to help answer them.