Lieberman drums up support for homeland defense bill

Lieberman drums up support for homeland defense bill

The Critical Infrastructure Assurance Office and the National Infrastructure Protection Center would be included under a new Homeland Security Department proposed by Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.).

Lieberman, chairman of the Governmental Affairs Committee, plans to introduce a bill that would create a department which would centralize at the cabinet level the government's many homeland security functions.

The proposal also would bring the Border Patrol, Coast Guard, Customs Service, Federal Emergency Management Agency and National Domestic Preparedness Office under the aegis of this department.

Lieberman yesterday held a hearing to discuss the plan and found support from witnesses, which included three Senators and three House members.

The office's director would be presidentially appointed and confirmed by the Senate.

The bill also would create a White House Office of Combating Terrorism to assess threats, develop and oversee a national terrorism strategy, and determine how to best allocate funds to fight terrorism.

The current structure of the Office of Homeland Security was set up to be part of the White House and provide advice to the president. It has no budget authority, and director Tom Ridge recently has refused to testify publicly about the office's $37.7 billion request for fiscal 2003.

'If statutory and budget authority are not conferred upon the director of homeland security, the homeland defense of this nation always will be less than what it should be,' Lieberman said. '[The director] needs the power to knock heads to overcome bureaucratic resistance, to eliminate wasteful duplication of effort and to target precious resources.'

Lieberman and Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) introduced a similar bill last October that never made it out of the Governmental Affairs committee.

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