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Ridge makes case for Cabinet-level department

Tom Ridge  

By Suzanne Malveaux
CNN Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- White House Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge on Tuesday presented to congressional leaders the Bush administration's proposal to make his office a Cabinet-level department.

The presentation occurred during a ceremony in the Rayburn Room on Capitol Hill, where Ridge handed off the Bush administration's proposed legislation to the leadership of the House and Senate.

White House Homeland Security Department bill  

The meeting with the bipartisan group was meant to underscore both the urgent need for the bill's passage and the support it has received from Democrats and Republicans.

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House and Senate leaders hope to expedite the bill so it can be passed by September 11, the anniversary of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

A panel has been created to shepherd the initiative through Congress this summer. It is a tight timetable for action, considering Congress is expected to be in recess for a week in early July, as well as much of August.

Ridge, a former Pennsylvania governor named by Bush last fall to head the new Office of Homeland Security, will make the administration's case for the bill's passage. In a reversal from the White House's initial position, he will testify before Congress if asked.

The proposal calls for dozens of government agencies to be brought under the umbrella of a single department committed to ensuring domestic security. The proposed department would have nearly 170,000 employees, and an initial budget of $37.4 billion.

Legislators are expected to address issues of cost, jurisdiction, bureaucracy, and union representation of employees, among other things, before voting on it.




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