WASHINGTON, July 9 (UPI) -- Leaders of several key security agencies Tuesday expressed support for President Bush's plan to consolidate several federal agencies for the protection of homeland security, but told Congress that their agencies should not be split up.
"The greatest danger top any Coast Guard mission would be to fracture the Coast Guard. The Coast Guard has always met its full set of responsibilities, regardless of departmental locations," Coast Guard head Adm. Thomas Collins told the House Judiciary Committee.
The House subcommittee on crime, terrorism and homeland security also heard testimony from the heads of the Secret Service, Transportation Department and Customs Service on how to design the new department.
Bush proposed the consolidation of dozens of federal agency operations under the new agency in an effort to streamline and centralize security functions in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks. Each of the testifying agencies would see some or all of their functions moved to this new cabinet level agency, but each expressed concern that their operations would be Balkanized under the auspices of restructuring.
Brian Stafford, director of the Secret Service, supports moving his service over to the new department, but also implied that it was important to move all of the functions, not just ones related to homeland security.
"For over a century, the Secret Service has maintained investigative and protective missions; the cornerstone of our agency," he said. "They are inseparable and complimentary, and each has a multitude of connections to the mission of homeland security and the objectives of the new department."
Commissioner Robert Bonner of the Customs Service does not want to separate the inspection functions from the trade compliance functions, as some have suggested or proposed, because those personnel "are the same personnel who perform inspections for security and other purposes." He added that the information developed from trade inspections is also frequently used to develop security assessments.
"Recognizing the synergies and efficiencies that exist from the way Customs currently carries out its dual mission, the president has proposed that the entire Customs Service move in its entirety to the new Department of Homeland Security," he said.
Although the administration has proposed legislation of its own, the final details will be crafted in the House and Senate by lawmakers. The House committees -- with several have holding hearings on various aspects of the plans -- have until this Friday to finish their work.
After Friday, the House will use a special select committee headed by Majority Leader Dick Armey, R-Texas, to finalize the legislation. The committee expects to hold public hearings at the end of July.
The Senate has already passed a homeland security bill introduced by Sen. Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., and expects to re-examine that bill, or to work with the House in a conference committee to finish the bill and send it to the president.