updated 9/13/2004 1:23:51 PM ET 2004-09-13T17:23:51

Secretary of State Colin Powell and Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge on Monday joined President Bush in endorsing creation of a new national intelligence director to coordinate the nation’s intelligence agencies, telling senators that giving the position real power will help keep America safe.

“A strong national intelligence director is essential,” Powell told the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee at a morning hearing. “That strength is gained by giving the NID full budget authority.”

Bush last week threw his support behind the idea of combining most of the nation’s nonmilitary intelligence agencies under a new national intelligence director, a recommendation that the committee investigating the Sept. 11 attacks pushed strongly in its final report.

The panel also called for the director to have the power to decide how to spend money that Congress sets aside for nonmilitary intelligence work. Bush also supports that idea, as do many members of Congress.

The 9/11 commission said part of the problem before and on Sept. 11 was that the nation’s 15 intelligence agencies were not working properly together, and said creating a strong intelligence director would force those agencies to cooperate.

Ridge said that a strong national intelligence director would also help him do his job.

“The president’s proposal will provide better unity of effort in the intelligence community and improved linkage with law enforcement, which will greatly enhance our ability to do our job of protecting Americans and securing the homeland,” Ridge said in prepared remarks. “The new responsibilities of the CD will ensure that DHS has what it needs from other intelligence agencies and that our efforts are properly integrated in the national intelligence picture.”

The Senate next week expects to start working on final legislation to reorganize the 15 intelligence agencies and create a national intelligence director. House leaders are still working out how that chamber will deal with the Sept. 11 commission’s legislative recommendations.

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