Homeland to tap agencies' IT

Ridge's testimony

Tom Ridge told senators at his confirmation hearing today that the new Homeland Security Department would be able to build its infrastructure by tapping the information technology budgets of agencies folded into the department.

Ridge, nominated by President Bush to head the new department, said he has looked at the IT budgets of the 22 agencies that will become part of department, and determined that "there are sufficient dollars in the appropriations to wire us together."

"I think we have enough money to do that," Ridge told the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee.

Nevertheless, Ridge said he faces a Herculean job in integrating agencies that include the U.S. Customs Service, the Immigration and Naturalization Service, and parts of the Coast Guard, among others.

"We still have a long journey to undertake," Ridge said.

Ridge said the department must figure out the most effective way to coordinate with state and local governments to make sure they get information about potential threats and that first responders have enough money to do their jobs.

While grants were made available after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, Ridge said, "We'd like to make it easier for state and local governments to access those dollars."

Ridge appeared before the committee in what was expected to be a quick confirmation process. The former Pennsylvania governor and Bronze Star winner for valor during the Vietnam War had been in charge of the Office of Homeland Security that was set up after the terrorist attacks.

He told the panel that the new department had no intention of misusing its authority to gather information and spy on Americans, an issue that has become increasingly contentious.

A Pentagon project called Total Information Awareness has come under fire because it would gather massive amounts of information from databases about Americans, including their buying habits, in an effort to identify potential terrorist activities.

"Any new data-mining techniques or programs to enhance information sharing and collecting must and will respect the civil rights and civil liberties guaranteed to the American people under our Constitution," Ridge said.

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