Office of Homeland Security needs more power, lawmakers say

The new White House Office of Homeland Security lacks the budgetary authority and staff resources to coordinate the efforts of the dozens of agencies that play a role in protecting the nation against terrorism, several members of Congress and public administration experts said Tuesday. Under an executive order signed by President Bush Monday, Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge can review the budgets of programs involved in homeland security and introduce legislation that will help agencies fight terrorism. But Ridge has no legal authority to alter or reject agency anti-terrorism budgets, meaning he has less formal control over counter-terrorism budgets than former drug czar Barry McCaffrey wielded over the government's drug control budget. According to Rep. Jim Gibbons, R-Nev., Ridge must have the power to develop his own budget for homeland security or the White House will be unable to enforce its anti-terrorism strategy across government. "White House czars have historically been toothless, unable to control the activities of Cabinet bureaucracies," said Gibbons on the House floor Tuesday. "To be effective as homeland security czar, Ridge will need…influence over the budgets." Gibbons has joined with Rep. Jane Harmon, D-Calif., to introduce a bill (H.R. 3026) that would allow Ridge to create a national budget for homeland security. Carl DeMaio, director of government redesign at the Reason Public Policy Institute, said Ridge needs more budgetary authority than McCaffrey enjoyed. "Given the nature of the task he has in front of him, he should have more [budget] authority," said DeMaio. "Without that statutory authority of the budget, Tom Ridge will go off and try to fight terrorism with one hand tied behind his back." Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, believes the President's executive order essentially grants Ridge the authority to craft a homeland security budget. But Thornberry, who introduced legislation (H.R. 1158) to create a new federal agency for homeland security earlier this year, believes Ridge's office should be responsible only for setting an anti-terrorism policy. The new agency envisioned in his bill should be responsible for carrying out that policy, Thornberry said. Implementing a homeland security policy across government is simply too much work for Ridge and his 100-person staff, he said. "If you look at the executive order, [Ridge] is going to have enough responsibility to keep him busy," said Thornberry. "He can't worry if radios at the Customs Service talk to Border Patrol radios, but somebody needs to." Thornberry's proposed homeland security agency would oversee the day-to-day operations involved in preventing terrorism. It would unite under one department the border security, cyberterrorism prevention and emergency response activities currently performed by the Customs Service, Border Patrol, Coast Guard and Federal Emergency Management Agency. Sen. Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn., will introduce legislation that would create a similar homeland defense agency on Thursday. Like Thornberry, Lieberman believes his agency could work in tandem with the White House Office of Homeland Security, according to John Tagami, Lieberman's communications adviser. The Lieberman legislation does not address the issue of how much budget authority Ridge should have, Tagami said. The Senate Governmental Affairs Committee will hold a hearing on a proposed homeland security agency on Friday. President Bush on Monday also created a Homeland Security Council that will coordinate federal policy on counterterrorism. The Council will be led by Bush and includes the Vice President, attorney general, director of Homeland Security, the secretaries of Defense, Treasury, Health and Human Services and Transportation, and the directors of the FBI, CIA and FEMA. The Bush administration released about $25 million in emergency funds to set up the Office of Homeland Security last week.
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