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Lawmakers Struggle to Meet Deadline for Creating Department of Homeland Security - 2002-07-15

U.S. lawmakers are struggling to meet President Bush's September 11 deadline for creation of a new cabinet-level Department of Homeland Security. Republicans and Democrats alike are trying to chip away at the president's proposal.

The Bush administration's top official on homeland security, Tom Ridge, made his first appearance Monday before a special House committee that has the challenging job of turning the president's plan into a reality.

"Homeland security functions are divided among 100 different departments and agencies," Mr. Ridge said. "We must align these efforts to ensure that homeland security is the top priority of one department and the top priority of everyone who works in that department."

Congressional leaders from both parties support the new department, but working out the details is proving to be a time-consuming and, at times, divisive process. Several lawmakers from both parties have suggested changes to the president's plan. The administration has welcomed some of the recommendations but rejected others.

"I hope the administration will take these recommendations for what they are good faith, bipartisan attempts to improve the president's proposal, and to create a leaner and more efficient Department of Homeland Security," said Congressman Martin Frost, a Democrat from Texas, is a member of the special House committee working on setting up the new department.

For example, some lawmakers have objected to the administration's plan to include the Coast Guard, the Customs Service and the Secret Service in the new Department. Others are concerned that shifting the Federal Emergency Management Agency into the new department will impair FEMA's ability to respond to natural disasters. Some private security experts say the administration is trying to do too much too soon in creating a new Department of Homeland Security. Ivo Daalder co-authored a report for the Brookings Institution and says the Bush plan merges too many different activities into a single department. "How are we going to protect our homeland from terrorist attack? We have this massive reorganization that has, in fact, now become a substitute for strategy, as opposed to a reflection of strategy," he said.

Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge says he is confident the administration can work out its differences with Congress in time to meet the September 11 deadline. But with lawmakers preparing for a lengthy break in August, the pace will have to quicken considerably if they hope to meet that deadline.