U.S. lawmakers say they support President Bush's proposal to create a cabinet-level Homeland Security Agency, but they are voicing concerns about a key aspect of the plan. They made their concerns known to Homeland Security chief Tom Ridge, who testified Thursday on Capitol Hill.
Senator Carl Levin, a Democrat from Michigan, was one of several lawmakers at a Senate Governmental Affairs committee hearing who said Mr. Bush's plan to reorganize homeland security does little to encourage information sharing among U.S. intelligence agencies. "Where is all the relevant information properly gathered about...terrorist threats going to be coordinated, or 'used' as you put it?" Senator Levin asked, "I do not see that this language does it."
Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge defended Mr. Bush's decision to exclude intelligence agencies from the new department, but said they would be required to share crucial information needed to stop terrorist threats. "[It is] the president's belief that the CIA and FBI should provide reports, assessments of their analytical work, to the new department of homeland security," Mr. Ridge contended, "but in addition to that information, that the new secretary be in a position to aggregate all of that information and, if required, act upon it."
A joint House-Senate intelligence committee is investigating intelligence lapses prior to the September 11 attacks, including reports the FBI and CIA did not share information about potential terrorist activity.
Mr. Ridge, who testified later Thursday before the House Government Reform committee, urged Congress to move quickly to approve the new homeland security agency.
The government reorganization would be the largest in a half century. The agency would have an annual budget of $37 billion and about 170,000 employees. Lawmakers would like to send the legislation to President Bush for his signature by the one-year anniversary of the September 11 attacks, although they admit it may take longer to complete work on the bill.
At the White House Thursday, President Bush signed an executive order calling on the Office of Management and Budget to set up a transitional planning office to help set up the new agency.