BUSH wants FEMA to deal with terrorism

Tuesday, May 8th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ President Bush has directed the agency that normally deals with floods and tornadoes to tackle terrorism as well.

In a statement Tuesday, Bush ordered the Federal Emergency Management Agency to establish an Office of National Preparedness to coordinate a ``seamlessly integrated, harmonious and comprehensive'' response to biological, chemical or nuclear weapons.

``Prudence dictates that the United States be fully prepared to deal effectively with the consequences of such a weapon being used here on our soil,'' the president said.

Joe Allbaugh, the FEMA director, told senators the new office will coordinate efforts by several dozen federal agencies responsible for dealing with terrorist acts. The office will serve as organizer to make sure local and state agencies are prepared for terrorism and to ``bring clarity to the 46 agencies that have a piece of the pie,'' he said.

``We are not in the intelligence business,'' Allbaugh added.

Vice President Dick Cheney will lead a new administration working group on terrorist threats to, in his words, ``figure out how we best respond to that kind of disaster of major proportions that in effect would be manmade or man-caused.''

Cheney's group is expected to report to Congress by Oct. 1, Allbaugh said, with the recommendations to be reviewed by the National Security Council.

Cheney said in a CNN interview: ``The threat to the continental United States and our infrastructure is changing and evolving and we need to look at this whole area oftentimes referred to as homeland defense.''

At a Senate hearing Tuesday, Allbaugh and other administration officials told Congress that combating terrorism has grown more difficult because of new technology and growing economic connections between nations.

``Terrorism is a part of the dark side of globalization,'' Secretary of State Colin Powell said. ``It is a part of doing business in the world, business we as Americans are not going to stop doing.''

Powell and Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill were the leadoff witnesses as the Senate began three days of hearings into how well the federal government was coordinating its efforts to battle terrorism. Allbaugh was scheduled to testify later Tuesday.

Several senators expressed unhappiness that not enough is being done in the face of growing threats.

``There must be better organization at the federal, state and local level,'' said Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan. ``It is critical that we address issues of civil liberties, agency jurisdiction, public education , industry privacy concerns and community medical capabilities.''

Concerns in Congress were raised last year when a training exercise to gauge capabilities to respond to a terrorist detonation of a weapon of mass destruction found that Cincinnati's hospitals, police and other services were woefully unprepared for such an attack.

Powell told the joint hearing of members of the Senate Armed Services, Appropriations and Intelligence committees that the State Department was seeking increased money to boost security at U.S. embassies but that the United States should never give in to terrorism.

``If we adopted this hunkered down attitude, behind our concrete and our barbed wire, the terrorists would have achieved a kind of victory,'' Powell said. ``At the end of the day, what America is to the world is not only what we say or do, it is who we are. And we are not helmeted giants huddling in our bunkers awaiting the enemy.''

O'Neill told the committee that his agency has significantly upgraded its work in the wake of the bombings of the World Trade Center in New York City in 1993 and the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City in 1995.

``As guardians of our borders, our leaders and our financial institutions, Treasury plays a central part in preventing terrorist attacks on the United States,'' O'Neill said. ``We have seen major advancements in technology and rapid globalization making our job of combating terrorism more difficult.''

Sen. Judd Gregg, R-N.H., chairman of the Senate Appropriations subcommittee responsible for oversight in this area, said that 18 government officials would testify over the next three days of hearings as the Senate seeks answers on the issue of coordination

Gregg said he had become concerned after reading ``numerous reports that detail the difficulty federal agencies face in determining what their responsibilities in dealing with terrorism are.''