President Bush announced plans Tuesday to counter weapons of mass destruction through a new Office of National Preparedness at the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Bush ordered FEMA Director Joe Allbaugh to create the new office, which will coordinate all federal programs dealing with terrorist threats and incidents involving weapons of mass destruction. Vice President Dick Cheney will oversee the effort. "Prudence dictates that the United States be fully prepared to deal effectively with the consequences of such a weapon being used here on our soil," the President said. In February, FEMA teamed up with five federal agencies to develop the Interagency Domestic Terrorism Concept of Operations Plan, which outlines how the federal government intends to respond to terrorism, particularly acts that involve chemical or biological weapons. It also provides guidance for federal, state and local agencies on preparing for and dealing with potential threats and incidents. The FBI and the Departments of Defense, Energy and Health and Human Services, along with the Environmental Protection Agency are also involved in the plan. The development of the new office will have no direct impact on the Concept of Operations Plan, according to Marc Wolfson, a spokesman on domestic terrorism for FEMA. "The vice president has been asked to lead this effort and they are going to be looking at everything," Wolfson said. "I'm sure they will be looking at that plan." On Tuesday, the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, State and the Judiciary began a series of hearings to examine the efforts of more than 40 different federal agencies with responsibility for combating domestic terrorism. In a written statement released prior to the hearings, Sen. Judd Gregg, R-N.H., the committee's chairman, expressed concern about the nation's level of preparedness for such attacks. "Our lack of preparedness stems in part from the inability, and sometimes unwillingness, of the federal agencies to coordinate their efforts," Gregg said. The General Accounting Office released a report in March that found that government agencies are better prepared to respond to terrorist attacks because of FEMA's guidance.
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