Former Defense Secretary says homeland Cabinet post not needed yet

The White House should eventually create a strong Cabinet-level position to oversee federal counter-terrorism efforts, but President Bush's current Homeland Security Office is adequate for now, said former Defense Secretary James Schlesinger in one of his first interviews since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Schlesinger, who served on a federal commission that suggested the creation of a new counterterrorism office earlier this year, said the White House's current czar-like structure will be effective as long as Bush and the public remain focused on the threat of terrorism.

In the short run, agency officials under the preview of Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge will follow his orders obediently because they know "that the czar can go to the President," he said. But the advantages of the czar-like structure are short term.

"When the attention of the President turns to other issues, the power of the czar tends to wane," Schlesinger said. "He may give orders and wave his arms, but the power shifts back to the agency ... It is almost inevitable."

As long as homeland security retains Bush's attention, however, Bush should adopt a framework that best suits his management style, he added.

"Administrations must organize their actions to coordinate with their governing style," said Schlesinger, who also served as the first-ever Energy secretary and was involved in the founding of the Energy Department.

"This President seems highly responsive to people who are close to him in the White House. In light of that style, it many be best to have the person in charge of homeland policy in the White House."

Although the administration may ultimately propose a more far-reaching counter-terrorism department, he said, "whatever they are comfortable with [now] would seem to be the right way in the short run."

Schlesinger said he supports congressional efforts to approve legislation creating a strong executive-level position on homeland security. Legislation, such as bills introduced by Senate Governmental Affairs Chairman Lieberman and Rep. Jane Harman, D-Calif., help to "sustain the option of moving toward greater consolidation," he said.

Schlesinger added: "A reorganization plan is not something that appears overnight.… This is a process of evolution."

As for those who have criticized the administration for moving too slowly on the issue, Schlesinger said, "No one has a right to lambaste the administration as long as they are headed in the right direction."

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