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Dems blast Bush transit security plan

(United Press International circulated the following article on December 12.)

WASHINGTON -- Democrats are blasting a new White House plan for securing U.S. rail and road systems against terrorism, saying Homeland Security was not kept in the loop.

"I am concerned that the Department of Homeland Security may not have had notice regarding this ... release," wrote Democratic Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., the incoming chairman of the House Select Committee on Homeland Security, to President Bush last week about the publication of an executive order on surface transportation security.

"This is unconscionable," wrote Thompson.

Senior Democratic staffers told United Press International that Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff had breakfast with Thompson and other committee members on Tuesday a few hours before the White House's Homeland Security Council published the new policy. The staffers and other congressional sources said some Homeland Security officials felt blindsided by the announcement.

A White House official authorized to speak to the media told United Press International that that the order was the routine end-point of a lengthy multi-agency policy development process.

"There have been regular contacts between the department, (the Office of Management and Budget) and the (White House) Homeland Security Council going back many months ... both at the staff level and very high up," said the official.

Department of Homeland Security Spokesman Russ Knocke told UPI that he did not know whether Chertoff had been specifically informed that the executive order was to be released Tuesday, but said the department had been in the loop.

"There are only so many items you can deal with in a single meeting," he said, when asked why the order had not come up at the breakfast.

Knocke said the order was "a playbook on roles and responsibilities" for the development of a security strategy for the nation's road and rail systems.

Thompson, in his letter to Bush, said immediate action was needed. "It is time to stop making plans to make plans."

He said the new executive order was duplicative of 2004 congressional mandate that "required the administration to develop a National Strategy for Transportation Security."

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

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