San Diego Union-Tribune
December 5, 2001
Congresswoman says Ridge 'is failing' on homeland security
Director needs more power, she asserts
By OTTO KREISHER
COPLEY NEWS SERVICE
WASHINGTON -- Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge "is failing" in his effort to protect the nation against terrorists because he has no power to force action by the many government agencies involved in domestic security, Rep. Jane Harman, D-Redondo Beach, said yesterday.
To correct that problem, Harman and a bipartisan group of allies are pushing legislation to give Ridge statutory power to make national, state and local governments spend federal money on programs that enhance homeland security.
The advocates will attempt to add that legislation to the intelligence authorization bill during a House-Senate conference committee meeting today, said Harman, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence subcommittee on terrorism and homeland security.
Rep. Curt Weldon, R-Pa., a senior member of the House Armed Services Committee, pledged to support Harman's proposal during a joint appearance at an anti-terrorism forum.
Weldon particularly supported Harman's plan to require federal law enforcement and national security agencies to share intelligence to improve the ability to ward off future terrorist attacks.
"The American government failed the American people" on Sept. 11, Weldon said, "because we saw evidence of what was going to happen and, over the years, Congress and the administration didn't do what was necessary to meet the challenge."
The effort to give Ridge additional power faces an uphill fight because it is strongly opposed by Ridge and President Bush.
But Harman argued that although Ridge, a former congressman and Pennsylvania governor, has "good experience, a fabulous relationship with the president" and good access, he has "little staff, no budget and no power."
"I think we must, by statute, provide him more power or we're going to see him fail. . . . I think he is failing now," she said.
The legislation would require Ridge to produce a national threat assessment and a national homeland security strategy and would give him the authority to compel federal, state and local agencies to support the strategy within their budgets.
Harman also stated her support for two additional controversial actions -- creating a national identity card for all Americans and giving Attorney General John Ashcroft statutory authority to try terrorism suspects in military tribunals. Many Democrats opposed both of those steps.
The fact that most of the Sept. 11 terrorists were in the country in violation of their student or visitor visas reinforces the need to crack down on visa violations, Harman said.
One way to do that would be to create a tamper-proof national identity card, she said. If all citizens and legal residents were required to have one, it would avoid the complaints about racial profiling, Harman said.
"It's necessary in the 21st century that the people in the United States are here lawfully and that everyone, if necessary, can prove they are here lawfully," she said.