June 7, 2002
Harman and others on Capitol Hill caution re turf-jealous lawmakers
By TOBY ECKERT
COPLEY NEWS SERVICE
WASHINGTON — Rep. Jane Harman, D-Redondo Beach, and other leading congressional critics of President Bush's homeland security strategy tried for months to get the administration to retool the strategy.
Now that the White House is moving in that direction, the real work
might just be starting.
Harman, the top Democrat on the House homeland security subcommittee, and others on Capitol Hill warned Thursday that Bush's plan to create a new counterterrorism agency might face significant resistance from federal bureaucracies and turf-jealous lawmakers.
“I would say that the war on terrorism has just extended to the war
on turf,” Harman said. “My first reaction is that the plan is bold and
courageous and will require the expenditure of personal political
capital by the president to make it happen.”
Nonetheless, Sen. Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn., said it was imperativeto get homeland security legislation to the Senate and House floors “as soon as possible.”
“This is urgent,” he said.
Harman and Lieberman, who introduced bipartisan legislation last
month to create a cabinet-level homeland security department, said they started getting soundings from White House officials about Bush's proposal early this week.
The proposal coincided with intense congressional scrutiny of
intelligence failures before the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, including
high-profile testimony Thursday from an FBI whistle-blower.
“We've waited too long to get this, but now we have it,” Harman said of the plan.
She and other critics have long maintained that the administration's
domestic counter-terrorism efforts were too fragmented and that homeland security chief Tom Ridge did not have the authority needed to centralize the strategy.
But revamping federal agencies has never been easy, and Bush's plan is likely to be no exception.
“It involves turf, it involves hardworking Americans who enjoy being
in the agencies that they're in who will have to adjust to change,”
White House spokesman Ari Fleischer acknowledged.
Beyond the entrenched bureaucracies at the agencies, there is an army of congressional committee barons always wary of seeing their oversight of the agencies diminished in any way.
“Congress currently has 88 committees and subcommittees with
jurisdiction over homeland security. So clearly, it does raise issues as far as jurisdiction on Congress,” Fleischer said.
A reorganization of congressional homeland security responsibilities
may be an inevitable byproduct of Bush's proposal, Harman said.
“Considering this will change Congress, as well, I think there should
be a thorough (jurisdictional) review,” she said.
Recently disclosed memos about warnings of possible hijackings before Sept. 11 underline that counterterrorism efforts have been hampered for some time, Harman said. She is a member of the joint House-Senate panel that began closed hearings Tuesday into intelligence lapses.
Harman said the hearings should be focused on preventing future
attacks rather than finger pointing.
“I hope they produce the best game plan to prevent the next wave of attacks,” she said.
The House terrorism and homeland security subcommittee is preparing to release its own, more limited report on intelligence gaps.
The panel “is hoping to make concrete recommendations for how to fix some of the problems, the first of which is our information-sharing abilities,” Harman said.
A House Judiciary subcommittee this week approved legislation
co-sponsored by Harman that would require federal intelligence agencies to share more information about possible terrorist attacks with state and local officials.