Bush expands on homeland strategy

WASHINGTON -- President Bush's homeland security strategy says the United States faces grave threats of terrorism and needs broad new powers to fight back -- from possible domestic use of military forces to presidential authority for transferring money without congressional approval.

The 90-page document released Tuesday describes a shadowy, omnipresent threat of terrorist attacks from al-Qaida and other extremist groups. America faces "a new wave of terrorism, potentially involving the world's most destructive weapons.... It is a challenge as formidable as any ever faced by our nation," it says.

The threat must be met with a coordinated new approach, including creation of the Homeland Security Department now being considered by Congress, beefed-up spending in key areas and even changes in state laws, the strategy says.

Some of the more fundamental changes would involve the military. Bush suggests that Congress perform a "thorough review" of the Reconstruction-era "posse comitatus" law that bars use of the military in civilian law enforcement.

The document does not say in precisely which situations such a change might apply, saying the "threat of catastrophic terrorism" makes it necessary to "determine whether domestic preparedness and response efforts would benefit" from military involvement.

The strategy also contemplates giving the federal government greater authority to deploy the National Guard, which is now under state control. This would be coordinated under the new U.S. Northern Command, which is to "update plans to provide military support" -- including maintaining order or loaning equipment -- in cases of terrorist attacks or natural emergencies.

The blueprint advocates changes in state laws, including tighter uniform rules for obtaining a driver's license, updated quarantine plans in case of a bioterrorism attack and making terrorism insurance available for businesses and property owners.

Under a section titled "the costs of homeland security," the strategy notes that Bush asked Congress for $29 billion this year and will ask for $38 billion next year for the new Homeland Security Department. These totals, the document says, "must be viewed as down payments to cover the most immediate security vulnerabilities."

The strategy seeks authority for the president to shift money within departments to meet evolving threats. In the case of the Homeland Security Department, Bush has asked for the ability to move up to 5 percent between programs without congressional approval.

"This comprehensive plan lays out clear lines of authority and clear responsibilities -- responsibilities for federal employees and for governors and mayors and community and business leaders and the American citizens," Bush said, flanked in the White House Rose Garden by lawmakers at work on his proposal for a new agency.

"With a better picture of those responsibilities, all of us can direct money and manpower to meet them," the president said.

Bush is unlikely to get all the new powers or spending he wants. For example, the House Appropriations Committee flatly rejected the president's request for budget transfer authority within the new Homeland Security agency without a green light from Congress.

The main purpose of the strategy, eight months in the making, is to provide the underpinnings for the new agency and to buttress Bush's arguments for increased spending in such areas as securing international shipping containers, bolstering the Coast Guard, boosting the FBI's analytical capabilities and improving technology for detection of nuclear materials and weapons.

"There's not a lot new here," said Sen. Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn., chairman of the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee that is considering Bush's Homeland Security Department. "But it's a valuable statement. It's a charter for action by the Congress."

That committee's top Republican, Sen. Fred Thompson of Tennessee, said the strategy would enable lawmakers to ensure "our goals are consistent with the means by which we want to get there."

Release of the strategy came on a third day of hearings on the new agency proposal before the House Select Committee on Homeland Security, which will write legislation for the full House to consider next week.

Several House committees have recommended changes in Bush's plan, such as excluding the Coast Guard and Federal Emergency Management Agency from the new department.

Four Cabinet members -- Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman, Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham, Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson and Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta -- appeared before the select panel Tuesday to lobby for Bush's plan.

"It is needed, and it is needed now," Mineta said.

Much of Tuesday's hearing focused on Bush's proposal -- mirrored in the strategy -- that would give the Homeland Security secretary greater flexibility in deploying personnel and resources.

Democrats, backed by labor unions, say this threatens the civil service system and its benefits and protections, including those for whistleblowers who speak out against agency wrongdoing.

"Homeland security should not mean insecurity for the employees," said Rep. Robert Menendez, D-N.J.

Kay James, director of the Office of Personnel Management, insisted the flexibility proposals would not threaten workers or their unions -- and she said failure to approve the proposal was tantamount to helping terrorists.

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