WASHINGTON – CIA Director George Tenet and FBI Director Robert Mueller on Thursday embraced the proposed homeland security department, pledging to share all vital intelligence to win the war against terrorism.
Tenet called the department a "safety net," saying that without it the CIA and FBI would have to be "flawless" in their performance.
Mueller promised that the FBI would apply "whatever level of resources, the entire aga protective system when we lack tactical warning," said Tenet. "The nation very much needs the single focus that this department will bring to homeland security."
Tenet and Mueller appeared before the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee, chaired by Sen. Joseph Lieberman.
Lieberman, D-Conn., said Congress would "move forward to strengthen" Bush's blueprint as it relates to intelligence gathering and analysis, but he did not say how.
During multiple hearings Wednesday and Thursday on Capitol Hill, lawmakers raised questions about the plan, ranging from whether the State Department should still process visas in foreign countries to the wisdom of having the new agency oversee farm programs such as boll weevil eradication.
Rep. Sherwood Boehlert, R-N.Y., said the House Science Committee he chairs would push to include a separate office within the new agency dedicated entirely to research and development in such areas as computer security. The president's plan, he said, "simply does not give R&D a high enough profile."
The doubts prompted White House homeland security chief Tom Ridge to assure lawmakers that Bush does not view his plan for the new Cabinet agency as set in stone.
"By definition, it's a work in progress," Ridge told the House Judiciary Committee.
After appearing in a Senate hearing Wednesday to support keeping the Immigration and Naturalization Service intact under the new agency, Ridge told a later panel that Bush still supports splitting it into separate border control and citizenship pieces, as the House voted to do earlier this year.
That seemed to mollify House Judiciary Committee Chairman James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., who said that otherwise the government would be left with "the same old, same old INS ... which will bring along its incompetence."
Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said the new department must be subject to whistle-blower protection laws and the Freedom of Information Act, which critics say the plan omits.
"What this does is put the new department above the law," Leahy said.
Ridge said the agency would be subject to the whistle-blower law, which protects employees who disclose wrongdoing and corruption from reprisals.
Exactly which agency should control issuance of visas in foreign countries emerged as another sticking point. Rep. Dave Weldon, R-Fla., said the new Homeland Security Department should take that duty away from the State Department, which he said is unable to screen out terrorists.