Bush brass testify on homeland security
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Four top Cabinet members sat side by side before a House panel Thursday and told lawmakers they back the formation of a new Cabinet department for Homeland Security.
Secretary of State Colin Powell, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, Secretary of Treasury Paul O'Neill and Attorney General John Ashcroft appeared before the House Select Homeland Security Committee which is in the process of organizing the new Homeland Security Department in response to the Bush administration's war on terror.
Ashcroft said the CIA and FBI -- which would not be part of the new agency under President Bush's proposal -- would share their intelligence. Ashcroft said the establishment of the new department would "begin a new era of cooperation and coordination in defending America's homeland."
"For the first time, Americans will have under one roof the capacity for government to work together. To identify and assess threats to our homeland, to match these threats to our vulnerabilities, and to ensure our safety and security," Ashcroft said.
Rumsfeld, who made comments at the hearing and also spoke to reporters outside the hearing room, said the idea is a "good one for the country."
"My hope is that they do get it done in good time and to the extent it requires adjustments later, obviously that can be done," Rumsfeld said.
The committee will develop a bill from Bush's proposal and ideas from lawmakers and other government officials.
Powell said he looks forward to working with the Department of Homeland Security to balance the protection of America with the country's openness.
"Our goal will be reached when our friends around the world can lead their lives free of fear from terrorist attacks," he said.
Already several House committees have voted on parts of President Bush's bill to create the department, and a final version of the bill is expected to come to a vote before the full House this month.
On Wednesday, Bush defended the need for a Homeland Security Department, saying, "This isn't a Republican idea. This isn't a Democrat idea. This is an American idea that makes sense for all Americans."
Speaking to an audience of federal employees and Cabinet members at Constitution Hall in Washington, Bush said the legislation sent to Congress last month establishing the department is "the most significant reorganization since 1947" when President Truman revamped the Defense Department.
Bush's proposal calls for all or parts of various government agencies to be pulled together under the umbrella of a single department committed to protecting the nation from terrorist attacks. The proposed department would have nearly 170,000 employees and a budget of $37.4 billion.
Former Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge, the president's homeland security adviser, is expected to head up an office that will oversee the transition and planning for the new Cabinet-level agency.
Currently, Bush said, "there is a dispersal of authority and a lack of accountability" as well as an "overlap of administration."
Essential federal agencies need to unite and work together, he said, and all levels of government -- from local to federal -- "must work together."
Bush has said that he would like to see the legislation passed before this session of Congress adjourns, and a White House official said it is a "congressional prerogative" to push for an early passage.
House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt, D-Missouri, has proposed a targeted passage date of September 11 to mark the anniversary of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon.