Senator agrees to shelve bill boosting powers of Homeland Security Office

Responding to a personal appeal from President Bush, Senate Intelligence Chairman Bob Graham, R-Fla., said Wednesday he would table for this year legislation to give Office of Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge greater authority.

Graham, who spoke following a White House meeting with Bush, Ridge and more than a dozen House and Senate lawmakers with purview over domestic defense issues, said Bush should, for at least the next few months, be given a chance to make the new position work.

Graham did not indicate that he concurred with the President's view of how the office should be structured. But he said that during the current crisis is not the best time to change the office.

"After your ship has just taken a heavy blow, [it] is not the time to be reorganizing the crew," Graham said.

Ridge has indicated that he does not have direct authority over other agency officials involved in responding to acts of terrorism. He and the White House have suggested his role will be to coordinate the response and identify weaknesses in the system while drawing up a long-range plan. Ridge's authority, he and other Bush aides have said, will derive from his access to the President.

Graham's legislation would establish Ridge's post by law and make it a confirmable position.

Under Graham's bill, Ridge would be responsible for developing an anti-terrorism strategy and permitted to "oversee" other agencies' implementation of the plan. Ridge would have statutory authority to review agencies' anti-terrorism budgets and to certify whether the budgets were consistent with the strategy his office had developed.

During the meeting, Bush promised to revisit the issue.

Graham said Bush agreed to "review the operation of the office over time and make subsequent recommendations on, for instance, statutory authority, greater budget authority, possibly even some agency consolidation."

On the other hand, Graham said there was "no reason to delay" examining how to restructure the intelligence community.

"I think that should be a high priority," Graham said, noting that upcoming studies from within and outside the intelligence community will "give us a roadmap" for reform.

But Graham indicated he was already convinced that the intelligence agencies need a stronger central authority to coordinate their various missions.

Graham also expressed satisfaction with the intelligence information the administration is now providing to his committee.

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