Committee votes for counterterrorism czar
The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Wednesday approved creating a White House Office of Terrorism Preparedness to help coordinate federal, state and local efforts against biological, chemical or nuclear attacks.
The panel approved by voice vote a bill (H.R. 4210) creating a position for an anti-terrorism coordinator analogous to that of the White House drug czar.
"The question is not whether we will have terrorist attacks in this country, but when and where," said Committee Chairman Bud Shuster, R-Pa.
The measure's sponsor Rep. Tillie Fowler, R-Fla., introduced the bill to remedy what she has described as "fragemented and overlapping" federal programs. There are more than 800 anti-terrorist initiatives peppered throughout the federal system, lawmakers said, ranging from simple single page memos to intense training courses.
The bill enjoyed bipartisan support, with ranking Democrat Rep. James Oberstar, D-Minn., bemoaning the federal government's "lack of strategy" and "duplication."
But Oberstar also addressed the White House's concerns that the bill would force on them an operational role rather than the policy role they have traditionally enjoyed.
Oberstar suggested using the bill to "focus the White House and Office of Management and Budget more intently" on fixing the problem before the bill is brought to the floor.
Under the bill, an Office of Terrorism Preparedness would be created in the White House, headed by a director subject to confirmation by the Senate. The director would work directly for the President.
The director's duties would include drafting a five-year anti-terrorist plan within 180 days after taking office; reviewing state and federal programs every two years; and coordinating activities of the various agencies and state and local programs. The office would be funded at $9 million in fiscal 2001 and such sums as Congress may appropriate thereafter.