Magazine article Nation's Cities Weekly

Proposals Seek Cabinet Level for Homeland Security Office

Magazine article Nation's Cities Weekly

Proposals Seek Cabinet Level for Homeland Security Office

Article excerpt

Senators Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.) and Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) have proposed a bill, S. 1534, that would elevate the Office of Homeland Security to full federal department status and give the director of that office the same stature in the executive branch now enjoyed by other cabinet level, senate confirmed appointees. The move, spurred by the September 11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, would reorganize the activities of scores of federal agencies that now have a part in combating terrorism.

"We need a robust, executive-level department to carry out the core functions of homeland defense, which are prevention, protection and preparation," Lieberman said.

Specter added, "Governor Ridge can handle the job if he has sufficient authority. As a practical matter, it is impossible for Governor Ridge to go to the president every time there is a turf battle. There is a need for governmental structure in regards to homeland defense. That is the job of the Congress, and this legislation provides that structure."

As his model, Lieberman takes the recommendations put forth by the U.S. Commission on National Security/21st Century, commonly known as the Hart-Rudman Commission, which earlier this year proposed the creation of a cabinet level national homeland security agency that would combine the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), Customs Service, Border Patrol and Coast Guard. The Hart-Rudman commission argued, with particular vehemence, that unless the nearly 50 agencies with some domestic security responsibilities were brought together the United States would remain vulnerable to attack.

Representatives William Thornberry (R-Tex) and Ellen Tauscher (D-Calif.) are sponsoring H. R. 1158, similar legislation in the House. Thornberry called reorganization a "necessary stop." He said people "look at the current arrangements and say they just don't make sense."

Both measures would also consolidate some of the key federal agencies with responsibility for homeland security into a new federal entity, called the National Homeland Security Agency. These agencies include the Border Patrol, Coast Guard, and Customs Service (which are responsible for border security), and FEMA and the National Domestic Preparedness Office (which are responsible for planning for emergencies and responding in time of attacks). …

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