Everyone leads with President Bush’s call for the creation of a Cabinet-level Department of Homeland Security to fight terrorism. The department would have around 169,000 employees and $37.4 billion in budgets from the numerous agencies it would absorb, including the Coast Guard, the Secret Service, and the INS. The administration and the papers call the proposal the biggest federal overhaul since the 1940s, when the War and Navy Departments were folded into the Defense Department and the CIA was created.
The papers also use a lot of front space discussing the coincidence of Bush’s announcement with yesterday’s televised hearings on 9/11 intelligence failures, tucking subheads about testimony by Minneapolis whistle-blower Coleen Rowley under banner headlines on the Bush speech.
As envisioned by the Bush administration, the new department would have four main subdivisions: “border, transportation and security; emergency preparedness and response; chemical, biological, nuclear, and radiological countermeasures; and information analysis and computer protection” ( USA Today). The creation of the department would require congressional approval, which, according to the papers, it has: The Wall Street Journal says “the president’s plan is seen by many lawmakers as an effort to catch up with their ideas.” A Washington Post story headlined “A BID TO REGAIN THE INITIATIVE” notes that measures to create a Cabinet-level anti-terrorism department, spearheaded by Democratic lawmakers like Joseph Lieberman and Robert Byrd, have been gaining support on the Hill since Bush rejected the idea last fall.
All the papers discuss the obvious bureaucratic headaches that the restructuring will entail, but the USAT says it best with this understatement: “Combining everything from border patrols to smallpox preparedness under a mammoth $37 billion department could be a management challenge.”
Everyone mentions that two agencies won’t be affected by the change: the FBI and the CIA. The New York Times notes that “raw reports”—like hints of the 9/11 attacks “will remain under the jurisdiction of the C.I.A., the F.B.I., the National Security Agency and other federal agencies.” The WP echoes the administration’s description of the department as “a customer” of the FBI and the CIA.
Speculation abounds as to who will head the agency. “Bush advisors” tell USAT that current Homeland Security chief Tom Ridge is Bush’s “first choice,” but the president would try to recruit a “high-profile figure” (Rudy Giuliani is mentioned) if Ridge declines. The WSJ and NYT say it’s unclear whether Ridge will be chosen.
The WP’s “senior officials” think Bush will tap Ridge, but the paper says Bush’s failure to name a secretary in his speech constitutes “a conspicuous omission.” (Ridge’s stock is apparently falling fast at the WP: In an earlier online edition of the story, sources were “virtually certain” that Ridge would get the nod.)
Most of the stories hint that the timing of Bush’s announcement was intended to eclipse yesterday’s public testimony by Coleen Rowley, where she repeated her criticisms of the FBI’s bureaucracy. The WSJ has the best backup for this claim: “Earlier this week, a senior White House official said Mr. Ridge’s plan wouldn’t be ready for the president’s review before next month.” The NYT story about the hearings describes senators frustrated by the timing of Bush’s announcement and details a “heated” exchange between Sen. Joseph Biden, D-Del., and FBI head Robert Mueller about Mueller’s involvement in planning Bush’s proposal.
The papers touch on the aftermath of Israel’s assault on Arafat’s Ramallah compound, mentioning Arafat’s claims that the Israelis were trying to kill him, and an army spokesman’s widely quoted response: “If there had been any intention of harming Arafat, it would not have been a problem.”
The papers find some hope in the Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage’s trip to Pakistan, where President Musharraf told him that Pakistan “won’t be the one to initiate a war” with India. Armitage heads to Delhi today.
The WP also fronts the French Open: Venus and Serena Williams will face each other in the women’s finals and will be ranked 1 and 2, respectively, in the tour rankings, the first time sisters have held both top spots.
The papers stuff the death of Ramones bassist and songwriter Dee Dee Ramone, from an apparent drug overdose, at age 50.
Speaking of restructuring: Readers of the Beijing Evening News learned earlier this week that U.S. lawmakers were threatening to leave D.C. for Memphis or Charlotte unless they received a new, state-of-the-art Capitol building. According to the Los Angeles Times, a reporter for the newspaper lifted the item from a U.S. paper without checking out the story. Unfortunately, that paper was The Onion, where the story ran next to an item warning that “Sexual Tension between Arafat, Sharon Reaches Breaking Point.”