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October 1, 2001
Volume 79, Number 40
CENEAR 79 40 p. 17
ISSN 0009-2347
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New White House office to combat terrorism, beef up preparedness


President George W. Bush has created a new Cabinet-level Office of Homeland Security with a broad mandate to protect the American public against terrorism, and has named Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge (R) as its first head. Bush created the office by executive order, eliminating the need for Senate confirmation and new legislation.

In his Sept. 20 address to a joint session of Congress, Bush said Ridge would report directly to him and would "lead, oversee, and coordinate a comprehensive national strategy to safeguard our country against terrorism, and respond to any attacks that may come." Ridge will not take the helm of the office until after he resigns from his governorship on Oct. 5.

At a press conference following the announcement, Ridge said he sees his role as coordinating efforts to prevent and respond to terrorist attacks. "It is offense and defense," he explained.

Many experts say that to be effective, Ridge will have to assume powers now controlled by different federal entities--not an easy task. Ridge is to coordinate the activities of about 40 federal agencies and departments and their interaction with state and local governments, but how he will do so has yet to be decided. A White House spokesman tells C&EN that "right now the White House is working out the details with Gov. Ridge." Among the details are the size of his budget and staff and how he will interact with a yet-to-be-named deputy national security adviser for counterterrorism.

As White House spokesman Ari Fleischer describes the new office, it seems likely to have less power than some in Congress have envisioned. To ensure it is subject to congressional oversight, however, Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Bob Graham (D-Fla.) and House Government Reform & Oversight Committee Chairman Dan Burton (R-Ind.) have called for legislation to give it statutory guidelines. And Senate Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Joseph I. Lieberman (D-Conn.) has suggested the need for legislation that would make the new office a permanent government entity and give it budget authority.

At a hearing last week, Lieberman insisted Congress has to help determine the specifics of the office's structure, operations, and goals. And former Sen. Warren B. Rudman (R-N.H.) urged Bush to create an independent agency separate from Ridge's office that would consolidate the functions of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Coast Guard, the Customs Service, and the Border Patrol. This was one of the key recommendations of the commission that Rudman and former Sen. Gary Hart (D-Colo.) chaired earlier this year.

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