State Journal Register

June 8, 2002

Illinois lawmakers welcome new Cabinet-level department


WASHINGTON - Central Illinois lawmakers Friday welcomed President Bush's proposal to create a new Cabinet-level department for homeland security.

"I think it's needed to give assurance to the American people that our government is doing all that it can to secure the homeland," said U.S. Rep. Ray LaHood, R-Peoria.

LaHood is part of a bipartisan group of lawmakers that has been pushing the Bush administration since last fall to create a Cabinet-level agency to coordinate domestic security. A member of the House Intelligence subcommittee on terrorism and homeland security, he has co-sponsored a bill similar to Bush's proposal.

"I think it will be well-received by Congress," LaHood said of the president's plan. "I have no doubt that it will be approved quickly and overwhelmingly."

Senate government affairs chairman Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., author of a bill similar to the one LaHood has co-sponsored, has said speedy congressional action on the proposal is imperative. He will discuss the concept with emergency responders in Chicago Monday.

However, others warned that the plan could face resistance from federal bureaucrats and turf battles in Congress, which now has 88 committees and subcommittees with jurisdiction over homeland security.

On Friday, Bush invited key members of Congress to the White House to urge them not to let jurisdictional battles undermine the plan.

Until he made his proposal in a nationally televised speech Thursday night, Bush had resisted the idea. After Sept. 11, he named then-Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge to head the Office of Homeland Security, a White House position that critics including LaHood said lacked the clout to be effective.

"I think Ridge has done a pretty good job of working with governors to make sure that the average state has a plan in place in the event that some calamity would take place," LaHood said. "But to really do a job effectively, he's got to have the resources and the capability to have all these different agencies working with the same goal."

The proposed Department of Homeland Security would be the 15th Cabinet agency, the first since the Department of Veteran Affairs was created in 1988.

Rep. Lane Evans, D-Rock Island, also supports the Bush proposal.

While many details remain to be worked out to make sure a new department could function smoothly, "it's a shift in the right direction," said Evans' aide Steve Vetzner, noting Bush's earlier opposition.

Rep. Tim Johnson, R-Urbana, said his first impression is a positive one. "I think this is progress. It will mean efficiency, effectiveness, coordination, which to a large extent has been lacking in this whole
process for many, many years," Johnson said.

Rep. John Shimkus, R-Collinsville, called the president's proposal "timely."

In addition to the jurisdictional fight, Shimkus said another major challenge will be to determine the details of how the proposal would be implemented. "Are all the pieces that they identified, are those the right pieces to go under the new federal agency?" Shimkus asked.

Rep. David Phelps, D-Eldorado, and Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., couldn't be reached for comment.

Sen. Peter Fitzgerald, R-Ill., is reviewing the proposal and hasn't taken a position, spokesman Brian Stoller said.