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Friday, 7 June, 2002, 08:02 GMT 09:02 UK
Challenge for new US super-agency


The super-agency created by President George W Bush to oversee homeland security will have a $37bn budget and a staff of 170,000 - second in size only to the Defence Department.

Ted Kennedy
Kennedy: Bush 'shifting deck-chairs on the Titanic'
Members of Congress had called on the president to create such a department and even Democrats welcomed the move and predicted a quick passage, although changes will almost certainly be made along the way.

Despite Congressional support, the Department of Homeland Security will still be vulnerable to inter-agency turf battles.

They have hampered US intelligence and domestic security efforts both before and after 11 September.


The new secretary of homeland security will still face a challenge in taming the red tape

Criticisms have intensified in recent weeks that the FBI and CIA failed to pick up and pass on clues leading to the plan to attack New York and Washington.

Congressional support

It was clear that Tom Ridge, President Bush's Director of Homeland Security, was losing momentum.

Congress was complaining that Mr Ridge would not come to Capitol Hill and give a full account of his efforts and he had lost key bureaucratic battles, such as a bid to remake US border control efforts.

Democrats and even members of his own party had called for Mr Bush to create a cabinet-level position for homeland security because the Office of Homeland Security lacked the power to get the job done.

The sceptics have pointed to the timing of the announcement, saying it is an effort to limit the damage from the testimony of FBI whistleblower Coleen Rowley.

Senator Ted Kennedy wondered whether this was just a shuffling of the deck-chairs on the Titanic, but most members of Congress have lined up to support the plan.

Democrats were eager to see the details of the plan but pledged to work with the president.

"My hope is that we can effectively and expeditiously receive this plan from the president, work it through the Congress and try to make it a reality as quickly as possible," said Richard Gephardt, the Democrat leader in the House of Representatives.

Byzantine bureaucracy

It was clear that something needed to be done.

As FBI whistleblower Coleen Rowley said in testimony before a Senate committee that the bureau was weighed down by seven to nine layers of bureaucracy.

In the case of a chemical or biological attack, some 20 to 30 federal agencies are responsible for some part of the response, said Claudine McCarthy with the Henry L Stimson Centre.

The agencies are spread across different departments with different jurisdictions.

These agencies are jealous of their turf and are afraid for their existence

former Pentagon counter-terrorism director Patrick Lang

"It's like herding cats," she said.

White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said that the new department would draw from eight existing governmental agencies.

But while there is wide agreement in the US that domestic counter-terrorism efforts must be streamlined and coordinated, the new secretary of homeland security will still face a challenge in taming the red tape.

"This is going to set off a tremendous turf battle," said Stephen Hess with the Brookings Institution.

In intelligence-gathering alone, some 14 or 15 different agencies are responsible for different parts of intelligence picture, former Pentagon counter-terrorism director Patrick Lang told the BBC.

"These agencies are jealous of their turf and are afraid for their existence," he said. "This has been a big problem."

If the plan creates a position close to the president with real power to analyse intelligence and assign tasks to these various agencies, it is an important development, Mr Lang said.

However, if, as looks likely, the agency merely duplicates present efforts, then it will fail to deliver, he added.


Key stories

European probe

Background

IN DEPTH
See also:

07 Jun 02 | Americas
06 Jun 02 | Americas
06 Jun 02 | Americas
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