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Senate Panel Approves Ridge

032502, story, Tom Ridge Homeland Security, JM
CBS/AP
Tom Ridge won unanimous approval Friday from the Senate panel considering his nomination to head the new Cabinet-level Homeland Security Department.

Confirmation by the full Senate was expected to come quickly so Ridge would be in place when the department is officially established next week.

The vote followed a four-hour hearing by the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee during which Ridge warned that the new agency, charged with defending America against terrorist attacks, will face a "hate-filled, remorseless enemy."

Ridge said that while much has already been accomplished, a lot more still has to be done to protect America against terrorism.

"We are only at the beginning of what will be a long struggle to protect our nation from terrorism," Ridge said in prepared remarks.

"We face a hate-filled, remorseless enemy that takes many forms, has many places to hide and is often invisible," said Ridge, nominated to lead a department that represents the largest federal reorganization since the Defense Department was set up in 1947.

There was no real opposition to Ridge taking over the massive new department that will combine 22 federal agencies and 17, 000 employees. But Sen. Joe Lieberman, the committee's top Democrat, used the opportunity to take a slap at President Bush.

Lieberman, D-Conn., said that the administration's response to the threat of terrorism has been "too weak, its vision has been too blurry and its willingness to confront the status quo, including with resources, has been too limited."

Several other senators, including Republicans, also focused on failures prior to Sept. 11 and the need to do better, reports CBS News Correspondent Bob Fuss.

Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, in her first assignment as the new chairman of the committee, praised Ridge, the president's current chief adviser on domestic security, as "an extraordinary leader" up to meeting the extraordinary challenge.

She asked Ridge not to overlook the 2 million state and local officials around the country on the front line of the war on terrorism, noting that the legislation creating the agency "offers no assurance that the new department will coordinate and communicate effectively with state and local first responders."

The former Pennsylvania governor was named by Mr. Bush in November when he signed the legislation creating the department. It will combine nearly two dozen agencies with 170,000 employees in an attempt to better coordinate anti-terrorism efforts at home.

Folded into the department will be the Secret Service, Coast Guard, Customs Service, Immigration and Naturalization Service, Transportation Security Administration, Federal Emergency Management Agency and the General Services Administration's federal protective services.

Ridge, 57, winner of a Bronze Star for valor in the Vietnam War, was elected to Congress in 1982 and served for 12 years. He was elected governor in 1994. After the Sept. 11 attacks, Bush asked Ridge to head the new White House Office of Homeland Security.

In that job, Ridge won praise for improving communication between Washington and local governments. He got mixed reviews for devising of a color-coded national warning system to help Americans understand the seriousness of terrorist threats.

Senate Democratic leader Tom Daschle said Ridge's experience qualifies him for the new post and it was likely that Ridge would be confirmed by a large margin.

But Daschle, D-S.D., said he first wanted Ridge to set out "a definitive set of goals that we can gauge progress against as time goes by" and an update on anti-terrorism efforts.

"There is an anxiety, an anxiousness in the American spirit right now," and Ridge can address that anxiety by explaining what progress has been made, Daschle said.

Daschle said he wanted Ridge's assessment of the financial resources needed for the department to organize and carry out its mission.

On Thursday, Senate Democrats, arguing that the administration had failed to provide the funds needed to meet the nation's increased security needs, unsuccessfully tried to add $5 billion for security-related programs to a $390 billion spending bill for this budget year.