President Bush plans to nominate a close aide to Secretary of State Colin Powell to run the State Department's consular affairs bureau, a post that has taken on added importance over the past year because of its role in issuing visas. 

Maura Harty, a veteran foreign service officer who has been a special assistant to Powell since May 2001, will be nominated, a senior official said Thursday on condition of anonymity. 

Harty, who joined the Foreign Service in 1981 and served as the No. 2 official in the Consular Affairs Bureau between 1999 and 2001, would replace Mary Ryan, who was forced out by Powell earlier this month amid controversy over visa issuing practices. 

There is some support on Capitol Hill for turning over the consular office's visa functions to the proposed Homeland Security Department. 

Fifteen of the 19 airplane hijackers responsible for the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks received their visas from the U.S. consular office in Saudi Arabia. 

The State Department has defended the decision to issue those visas, contending that it had no information from U.S. law enforcement agencies on which to reject the applicants. 

Amid widespread complaints from members of Congress, the State Department has ordered a review of procedures at all 207 U.S. posts worldwide that issue visas. 

The department also wants to send special inspection teams this fall to visa-issuing posts in countries linked to terrorism. 

In addition, the department has substantially raised the number of visa applicants who must be interviewed by consular officials. This step was taken following congressional criticism that too many applicants have not been properly screened. 

Between assignments in Washington, Harty has served tours of duty in Mexico, Colombia, Spain and Paraguay.