Homeland security director could get more power
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Saying White House Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge does not have the tools to do his job, Sen. Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn., and Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., introduced bipartisan legislation Thursday to give him a budget and Senate approval as the head of a new Department of Homeland Security.
"He has a very difficult task before him," Lieberman said of Ridge. "I fear that as an adviser who lacks statutory mandate, Senate confirmation and budget confirmation and budget authority, he will not be as effective as we need him to be."
The legislation, also being introduced in the House, would bring the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Customs Service, the Border Patrol, the Coast Guard and other offices responsible for critical infrastructure under the new cabinet-level agency.
"Clearly appointing a homeland coordinator with only advisory authority is not enough. We need a robust agency to carry out the core functions of homeland defense," said Lieberman, who added he hopes the legislation will be approved before Congress adjourns for the year.
The Bush administration has resisted the proposal, saying that Ridge, who was sworn in Monday, has the power and resources he needs, and will be effective because he has the ear of the president.
Specter said the problem is that although Ridge has a good relationship with the president, "the next person who heads up the office may not have a close personal relationship with the president."
"Regrettably, you need homeland security, and I think you are going to need it if not forever, for the foreseeable future," Specter said.
The sponsors said that although many are reluctant to create another layer of federal bureaucracy, the American people want and need the government to be more organized and involved at all levels of defense at home.
They also argued that coordinating key agencies like the Coast Guard, Border Patrol and Customs under one department could minimize bureaucracy by eliminating overlap.
Lieberman said he will hold a hearing on the issue Friday before the Governmental Affairs Committee he chairs.
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