Committee OKs Ridge for post

Published: Saturday, January 18, 2003 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, January 18, 2003 at 1:07 a.m.

WASHINGTON - Tom Ridge sailed through Senate confirmation hearings Friday on his way to becoming the nation's first Homeland Security Department chief and taking on the task of harnessing a giant federal bureaucracy responsible for protecting America from terrorist attack.

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Homeland Security Secretary-designate Tom Ridge testifies Friday on Capitol Hill before th U.S. Senate Governmental Affairs Committee hearing on his nomination.

(AP Photo)

``The inertia of the old way of doing things will be enormously difficult to change,'' Sen. Robert Bennett, R-Utah, told Ridge before the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee unanimously approved him for the new Cabinet post.

The full Senate is expected to vote on the nomination Tuesday.

Ridge, in a hearing before the committee Friday morning, said ``terrorism directly threatens the foundations of our nation'' and eradicating that threat will be ``a long struggle.''

Lawmakers said the fight should not come at the expense of civil rights or the free flow of commerce.

Ridge spoke of the ``enormity of our task'' of bringing together 22 federal agencies with 170,000 employees to lead the security campaign. The new department, he said, ``will not in and of itself be able to stop all attempts by those who wish to do us harm.''

The department will officially come into being on Friday, although it won't assume operational control of the agencies until March 1. The government has yet to decide where the headquarters will be.

Ridge is a former congressman and governor of Pennsylvania who since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks has been President Bush's chief adviser on homeland security.

While there was no dissent over Ridge's qualifications for the job, senators used the four-hour hearing to question the administration's anti-terrorism policies and ask how the focus on homeland security could affect civil liberties.

``Overall it's been too weak,'' Sen. Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., a presidential hopeful, said of the administration's record on homeland defense. ``Its vision has been too blurry and its willingness to confront the status quo, including with resources, has been too limited.''

Lieberman's comment came a day after the Senate rejected a Democratic attempt to add $5 billion to this year's budget for homeland security, primarily to pay for programs at the state and local levels. ``I hope that this administration will not give us a hollow homeland security,'' Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., said at the hearing.

Ridge said there would be additional money in the 2004 budget for first responders and others on the ground floor of the fight against terrorism.

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