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Background: Homeland Security Plan

July 16, 2002 at 12:00 AM EDT

KWAME HOLMAN: President Bush invited several members of the Senate and House to the Rose Garden this morning. The gesture illustrated the cooperation the President hopes for and expects from Congress as it considers the complex legislation needed to execute his new national homeland strategy.

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: There are a lot of tough decisions that will be made as we develop and discuss and debate how to move forward, but I’m confident that members of both parties and members of both chambers know that the security of our nation is the goal.

KWAME HOLMAN: The President’s ideas for homeland security were contained in a 90-page document sent to Congress today.

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: This comprehensive plan lays out clear lines of authority and clear responsibilities– responsibilities for federal employees, for governors and mayors and community and business leaders and the American citizens. With a better picture of those responsibilities, all of us can direct money and manpower to meet them.

KWAME HOLMAN: The President’s strategy targets six so-called mission areas: Intelligence and warning, border and transportation, domestic counterterrorism, protecting critical infrastructure, defending against catastrophic terrorism, and emergency preparedness and response.

The plan relies on the coordinated efforts of federal, state, and local governments — more than 87,000 different jurisdictions in all, with cost- sharing determined by the function involved. For instance, intelligence gathering and border security are federal responsibilities, whereas first response to any emergency most likely would come from state and local officials. But the key to the President’s plan is the creation of a new Department of Homeland Security, merging 22 federal agencies under one cabinet-level structure.

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: And by acting together to create a new and single Department of Homeland Security, we’ll be sending this world a signal that the Congress and the Administration will work together to protect the American people and to win this war on terror.

KWAME HOLMAN: Immediately after the Rose Garden session, members of the House Select Committee on Homeland Security reconvened to hear from four cabinet secretaries who, under the President’s plan, would lose funding, resources, and responsibilities to the new department.

SPENCER ABRAHAM: Mr. Chairman, I believe the President’s proposal will ensure greater security for all Americans. Our ability to identify, deter, and if necessary, respond to threats to our security will be enhanced. And the Department of Energy will stand ready to assist, as it does today, in any way it can.

KWAME HOLMAN: Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson was questioned by Ohio Republican Deborah Pryce.

REP. DEBORAH PRYCE: What changes will we see as this new law is implemented in how our local hospitals are going to be prepared?

TOMMY THOMPSON: In the upcoming budget for fiscal year 2003, there’s an additional $518 million for hospitals to implement those plans that were being planned this year. And so that’s an additional $518 million to do several things– to strengthen the emergency wards; to have coordination between the first responders and the police and fire departments in a community; to have a regional capacity this year… to have a surge capacity of 500 beds, to be upgraded to 1,000 beds next year; to have a place where if there was a smallpox epidemic that would need thousands of beds, that they would have some place in a large city or a large area that people could communicate. And we’re strengthening the laboratory capacity; we’re strengthening the communication and all of that. Now, that is going to be… the money is going to be transferred over to the new Department of Homeland Security.

KWAME HOLMAN: Meanwhile, at a Senate Health Committee hearing, Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge was answering similar questions.

SEN. BILL FRIST: In the response component, when you have a Secretary of Homeland Security acting through the Secretary of Health and Human Services, if there is a disagreement, if there is — these two secretaries, in terms of either a response-responding to emergency, a bioterror attack, which could have an impact greater than a nuclear weapon – at the end of the day, how are disputes resolved between those two?

TOM RIDGE: There’s an assistant to the President for homeland security and that is a coordination role and from time to time a monitoring role and a decision-making role, there’s a specific process. Again, we don’t want to get bogged down in process if you have to make quick decisions, but I think there is a decision-making capacity within the White House if there is a dispute that cannot be resolved between the principals to move this along as quickly as possible. More often than not, it may end up the assistant to the President getting it done.

You mentioned and I recall you and I having lengthy conversation when we were dealing with the anthrax challenges confronting the Congress of the United States, and we know there were good, thoughtful, well-intentioned voices, but there were a lot of them. We know that there wasn’t a great deal of coordination at the outset generally around this country. And I think the President’s vision is that you work with HHS to direct some of this research. But if an incident like that occurred, the Department of Homeland Security would be the coordinator, but the medical and scientific response would still be through Health and Human Services.

The investigative work would continue to be through the FBI and traditional law enforcement. So we would finally have one agency, one person accountable for coordinating the public response, public information, and overseeing the medical work, the medical work, the law enforcement work that might be necessarily associated with that. It is not designed to replace the scientific or medical expertise that HHS and NIH bring to public health generally or to a bioterrorism incident.

KWAME HOLMAN: Though more questions remain to be answered, Congressional leaders today said they’re aiming for a homeland security bill that will be approved quickly and overwhelmingly.