America's Widening Security Net ; from a National Lab to Intelligence-Gathering on US Soil, Bush Plan Unveils Major National Security Changes

Article excerpt

President Bush's newly released national strategy for homeland security is an ambitious outline for vast change in many aspects of American life.

The plan, which Mr. Bush unveiled Tuesday, follows on the heels of a White House proposal to create a new Department of Homeland Security.

But its development began months ago - long before the administration decided to try to add a security Cabinet seat - and it is essentially a broad antiterror vision that could profoundly alter everything from the nation's commercial by-ways to its military, intelligence, and scientific communities.

"This is what we've been looking for," says Juliette Kayyem, who runs the domestic preparedness program at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government. Although the specifics aren't new, she says, "What is new is a sense of prioritizing and crystallizing issues."

It's unlikely to be implemented as is. The debate in Congress over these issues is in many ways just beginning.

But "it becomes the starting point" for debate about how to deal with terrorism - as well as for election campaigns and politics, for federal budgeting, and many other issues, says Dave McIntyre of the Anser Institute of Homeland Security.

Among the strategy's proposed changes: * Bush hopes to harness the research-and-development power of private industry and government to develop as-yet undreamed of technologies to help in such critical tasks as remote detection of smuggled biological and chemical weapons. For instance, he would create a homeland-security national laboratory akin to the Los Alamos lab, which pioneered America's first nuclear bomb.

* Bush wants to have more flexibility to move government personnel from agency to agency as security needs dictate - a change which, in essence, could lessen the oversight power of Congress.

* The plan calls for a long-term review of the laws that prevent the military from engaging in domestic law enforcement.

* In aiming to get various sections of government to talk to each other, he aims to demolish many bureaucratic barriers at the federal, state, and local levels. He would start simple - by getting all first responders on the same communications network.

* In international cooperation - not often seen as a Bush strength - the plan lays out a rationale for engagement with other nations. A major element of US foreign policy will now be helping other countries fight terrorism, getting them to combat passport fraud, and more.

In a broader sense, the document becomes a standard for Bush himself to live up to - and be judged against. It will likely impact election campaigns, as opponents measure Bush's ability to meet the plan's goals. "He expects to be judged by whether or not he is able to carry out his own strategy," says Mr. McIntyre.

It's a tall - and often controversial - order. …