Proposal for beefed-up homeland security agency spurs debate

The creation of an agency to handle domestic security would result in bureaucratic turf battles among the many federal agencies that handle domestic and international terrorism, Virginia Gov. James S. Gilmore said Friday at a hearing before the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee. The hearing came a day after President Bush announced the creation of a new Cabinet-level Office of Homeland Security during his address to Congress and the nation Thursday night. Many current and former government leaders are calling on the administration and Congress to create a Cabinet-level domestic security agency, not just a White House office. Gilmore, who is chairman of an advisory panel studying the domestic response to weapons of mass destruction, said that his commission supports the new White House office, but does not favor making it a separate federal agency that "competes for turf against other agencies and even Cabinet Secretaries." "Many state and local officials believe that federal programs intended to assist at their levels are often created and implemented without sufficient consultation," Gilmore said. He said the "current bureaucratic structure" of the federal government lacks the authority and accountability to coordinate federal, state, and local agencies against terrorism. More than 40 federal agencies have some role in fighting domestic and international terrorism. But, Gary Hart, a former Democratic senator from Colorado and Warren Rudman, a former Republican senator from New Hampshire, said the creation of a separate agency is necessary to coordinate the disparate anti-terrorism efforts of so many federal agencies. "No homeland 'czar' can possibly hope to coordinate the almost hopeless dispersal of authority that currently characterizes the 40 or more agencies or elements of agencies with some piece of responsibility for protecting our homeland," Hart said. Hart and Rudman are co-chairs of the U.S. Commission on National Security/21st Century, which was created in 1998. Commonly referred to as the Hart-Rudman Commission, the panel released a report in September 1999 that concluded domestic terrorism was a real and impending threat. The commission's third report, released in January, called for the creation of a National Homeland Security Agency, and a director with Cabinet-level status. "The President and Congress must create a department to focus on these activities," Rudman said. "Without a budget and without accountability, nothing in [the] government ever works very well." Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, introduced legislation to create such an agency earlier this year. It would include the Customs Service, Border Patrol, Coast Guard and the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which would act as the "nucleus" of the department, according to Rudman. "Customs, the Coast Guard, and the Border Patrol all originally had different functions, but the nature and functions of these agencies have changed," Hart said. "It does not make any sense for them to be located where they are now." Customs is located in the Treasury Department, the Coast Guard is part of the Transportation Department and the Border Patrol is part of the Immigration and Naturalization Service, which is part of the Justice Department.

Gilmore called for a national strategy, as opposed to a federal one, saying the bureaucratic federal environment would undermine the government's efforts to work effectively in combating terrorism with state and local agencies. "The state and local agencies are really the cops on the beat," Gilmore said. He praised FEMA for working well alongside state and local agencies in the aftermath of the Pentagon attack, noting that the working relationship among federal agencies is not always so seamless. Despite their differences, both the Gilmore Commission and the Hart-Rudman Commission agreed the national homeland security office, whether housed in an agency or established as a White House office, would require a budget, accountability, and a strong focus on border security. Gilmore, Hart, and Rudman also said the military should play a subordinate role in the coordination of homeland security activities to preserve civil liberties. "The national homeland security agency should not be a military or intelligence collection agency; it should be the central coordinating mechanism for anticipating, preventing, and responding to attacks on the homeland," Hart said. Gilmore also cautioned against giving the military a lead role in coordinating strategies to combat terrorism in the United States. "Although it is generally accepted that events could occur where the military needs to be engaged, particularly the National Guard, nonetheless, we have expressed an abiding caution about deploying a military response to a domestic situation and only then in support of a civilian federal agency like FEMA," Gilmore said.

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