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Ridge Is Urged to Publicly Discuss Security Needs

April 12, 2002|From Reuters

WASHINGTON — Homeland security chief Tom Ridge met with members of a congressional panel behind closed doors for the second time in as many days Thursday as lawmakers pressed him to publicly discuss the administration's $38-billion request for homeland security.

"Given the bearing of his work on the lives of every man, woman and child living within our borders, he needs to work with Congress, in public, to fully explore these issues, to flesh out his successes, to describe his difficulties and to discuss his needs," said Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (D-Conn.), who had invited Ridge to testify before the Senate Government Affairs Committee on Thursday.

Ridge declined to appear before the committee chaired by Lieberman, but he met privately with the Government Reform Committee in the Republican-controlled House. Ridge spoke Wednesday at a private meeting of a House appropriations subcommittee.

For more than a month, Ridge and congressional lawmakers have been in a standoff over whether the homeland security chief should have to testify publicly about his activities.

Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota said Ridge's closed-door meetings with Republican-led panels in the House were "absolutely not acceptable."

Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Robert C. Byrd (D-W. Va.) wrapped up a two-day hearing on homeland defense by saying the nation was still in danger of terrorist attacks and renewing his call for Ridge to testify before his panel.

"The American people are entitled to hear what Director Ridge has to say," Byrd said.

Daschle said seeking a subpoena to force Ridge to testify openly before Congress remained an option, as well as legislation that could compel such testimony.

The legislative option would turn the office of homeland security, created by President Bush after the Sept. 11 attacks, into a congressionally established agency whose chief would have budget authority and have to be confirmed by Congress.

As such, Ridge could be required to testify on Capitol Hill. Bush contends Ridge cannot be forced to do so now and that such an appearance would compromise his role as a presidential advisor.

Ridge echoed that view at an open meeting with the American Society of Newspaper Editors on Thursday, following his private talks with lawmakers.

"There's a constitutional tension at play here and there's a principle at play," Ridge said. "It is a separation of powers issue."

Still, Ridge said he would be accessible to members of Congress and plans to confer with more of them in private in coming weeks.

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