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 Saturday, 18 January, 2003, 00:56 GMT
Ridge tells US to stay vigilant
US President Bush, with Tom Ridge behind
President Bush pushed hard to create the department
The man tasked with managing the greatest upheaval of the US Government for 50 years has warned of a long road ahead.

Tom Ridge moved a step closer to becoming the head of the new Department of Homeland Security on Friday when a Senate committee approved his nomination.

Governor Tom Ridge, proposed Secretary of Homeland Security
[The new department] will not... be able to stop all attempts by those who wish to do us harm

Tom Ridge
His appointment is expected to be confirmed by a full meeting of the Senate early next week.

Mr Ridge told senators that the United States was safer now than it had been before the 11 September attacks on New York and Washington.

It was those attacks - and the failure of the intelligence community to predict or stop them - that led to the creation of the department.

It will bring together 170,000 employees from 22 separate agencies in the largest reorganisation of government in the US since the defence department was formed after World War II.

'Safer'

Mr Ridge submitted a written statement to senators at the start of the hearing, saying that the nation was "undoubtedly safer" than in September 2001.

But he warned the new department "will not in and of itself be able to stop all attempts by those who wish to do us harm".

Mr Ridge, a former governor of Pennsylvania, was appointed to head an office of homeland security inside the White House a month after the 11 September attacks.

The new department's three stated aims are to:

  • Prevent terrorist attacks inside the US
  • Reduce the US' vulnerability to terrorism
  • Minimise damage from any attacks that do occur

Senator Arlen Specter said: "This is definitely a job that needs to be done."

He said he believed the 11 September attacks could have been prevented if one organisation had been focused on stopping terrorism.

Almost every independent assessment I have come across says that in almost every way, America is as vulnerable today as we were on 11 September

Joseph Lieberman, senator

Senator Joseph Lieberman first proposed the idea of the department in the wake of the attacks on in 2001.

He said he believed Mr Ridge understood the "enormity of the task ahead".

Mr Lieberman criticised the administration's response to the threat of terrorism as "too weak, its vision has been too blurry and its willingness to confront the status quo, including with resources, has been too limited".

He questioned Mr Ridge's statement that the US was more secure than at the time of the attacks.

"Almost every independent assessment I have come across says that in almost every way, America is as vulnerable today as we were on 11 September," he said.

Bureaucratic shake-up

The Department of Homeland Security will have nearly 170,000 employees and merge the functions of 22 existing agencies - which have a combined budget of about $40bn.

Its formation was first discussed in the wake of the 11 September attacks which showed up failures by the intelligence services.

President Bush opposed the idea when it was proposed by Senator Lieberman, a Democrat.

But he later offered his own version, and made the department the cornerstone of his counter-terrorism policy.

It was also a key policy battleground in last November's mid-term elections when Mr Bush and his Republican Party made gains over their opponents.

The new department will include the Coast Guard, Secret Service and the Border Patrol, but not the CIA or the FBI - the two departments most heavily criticised for not preventing the attacks.


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See also:

25 Nov 02 | Americas
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