Ridge backs idea for DHS committee

House Select Committee on Homeland Security

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Tom Ridge, secretary of the Homeland Security Department, said today he would support the creation of a permanent House authorization committee on homeland security that would oversee funding for such needs.

A streamlined process of oversight and accountability would do the executive and legislative branches "a world of good," Ridge said, in testimony before the House Select Committee on Homeland Security.

That committee was created early last year, but it has no authorizing or appropriations oversight. There is also a Homeland Security Subcommittee under the House Appropriations Committee.

Curt Weldon (R-Pa.), a vocal advocate for a permanent committee, previously said the select committee is simply a coordinating agency without power. He said there is a good deal of support for making it a standing committee by the next session of Congress. Ridge, who was responding to one of Weldon's questions, said answering to many people is difficult and that "some form of consolidation" would be welcome.

As he has done all week, Ridge defended his department's proposed fiscal 2005 budget priorities and answered questions about what lawmakers see as ongoing problems, including cargo screening, port security, the color-coded threat system and interoperable communications.

Two topics lawmakers stressed today were increased and timely funding to first responders, and the urgency of completing a national threat and vulnerability assessment. Several cited a Washington Post editorial in today's paper that supported a better analysis of potential threats and vulnerabilities to help target money more effectively.

Ridge said the department is progressing toward a national threat and vulnerability assessment. States recently submitted their strategic plans, which outlined their critical infrastructure security needs. The Office for Domestic Preparedness is reviewing and evaluating those plans and intends to distribute funds by May 1, according to an official with that office.

Ridge also said the next step is to get the private sector to pay for some of the security upgrades because about 85 percent of the country's critical infrastructure is in private hands.

He said he's aware that many local governments aren't getting the money from their states because no standard delivery mechanism exists. The process varies from state to state, and that's something DHS will address, he said.

"The federal government is ready to cut the checks," he said. "The logjam is between the states and the locals."

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