WASHINGTON – The man responsible for federal response and recovery in New York City after the World Trade Center attacks has been appointed to coordinate homeland security efforts in the Washington area, according to the Department of Homeland Security.
Michael Byrne of New York was named the director Monday of National Capital Region Coordination for Emergency Response.
Byrne's duties have not been explicitly written out and area congressmen said they are not familiar with him, but they were still happy to have him at time of heightened terror alert.
"I am pleased that the administration is moving forward on this front," said Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md. "It's important to focus on the region due to the heightened threats that we face because this is the nation's capital and, symbolically, an important target for many terrorists.
"The action is overdue, but I'm glad they have done it," he said.
The regional position was called for in the Homeland Security Act of 2002.
Byrne, who has been working since November 2001 as the senior director for response and recovery for Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge, is to help the region prepare for a terrorist attack
Byrne's new responsibilities include allocating resources among Maryland, Virginia, the District of Columbia, 17 local jurisdictions and regional authorities. The legislation also calls for Byrne to ensure adequate planning, information sharing and training and to serve as liaison between federal, state and regional officials and private companies that operate critical communication and electrical infrastructure.
How exactly he plans to do this for a region that houses approximately 340,000 federal workers and more than 231 federal agencies, has not been specifically drawn out, according to the department.
"Mr. Byrne's experience will come in handy," said David Merrin, a spokesman for Rep. Tom Davis, R-Va. "The Washington, D.C., area is unique and faces a unique threat."
No other region in the country has a department officer dedicated to it like Washington, even though New York pushed for one.
After this month's heightened security alert, many area congressmen expressed concern that the new position be filled as soon as possible. Previous news articles have identified Byrne as a 20-year veteran of the New York City Fire Department who was a high-ranking official of the New York City region of the Federal Emergency Management Agency prior to Sept. 11, 2001.
While they do not personally know Byrne, area congressmen said his resume leads them to believe he should be able to take on the position.
Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C., wants Byrne to testify before the Government Reform Committee on how he plans to do his job, adding that she is concerned with the recent heightened alert and its effect on the region.
"The country at-large did not engage in some of the responses as did the region," said Norton, citing the disappearance of duct tape at area stores. She said Byrne has his work cut out for him with the terror alert still at the "high" level.
"I have confidence in him," Norton said. "His direct involvement in World Trade Center tragedy and work already done with the Homeland Security Department shows he has the capabilities to do the job."