In the Jan. 23 Washington in Brief column, an item from Reuters incorrectly reported the number of federal prison inmates who have died from drug overdoses since 1997. Fifty have died. (Published 1/24/03)

Ridge Takes Over as Head

Of Homeland Security Dept.

Tom Ridge took over as homeland security chief yesterday after the Senate unanimously endorsed him -- and sent a strong message that it would be watching carefully as he molds a makeshift operation into one of the government's largest agencies.

"With today's historic vote, the Senate has demonstrated our shared commitment to doing everything we can to secure our homeland," President Bush said after the 94 to 0 vote to make Ridge the first secretary of the new Homeland Security Department.

Ridge, 57, will head a department that originated in legislation signed by Bush in November and won't formally come into being until Friday, when the president plans to swear Ridge into office. The department eventually will be composed of 170,000 civil servants now working at 22 agencies with security-related functions, including the Customs Service, Immigration and Naturalization Service, Secret Service, Coast Guard, Transportation Security Administration and the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Staff Bears Responsibility for

Prison Drugs, Report Says

Illegal drugs are easy to get at federal prisons, and guards and other staff bear much of the responsibility, the Justice Department's inspector general said in a report published yesterday.

The report said more than 2,800 inmates tested positive for illegal drugs each year from 1997 to 2001. The national rate for positive tests averages just under 2 percent of the prison population. But the numbers vary widely among prisons and reach as high as nearly 8 percent at one high-security penitentiary in Beaumont, Tex.

The report said 500 federal inmates have died from drug overdoses since 1997, and the Bureau of Prisons has recorded more than 1,100 "drug finds" in its institutions since 2000. In the 123-page report, the inspector general said visitors, prison staff and the mail were the primary channels for drugs to enter the jails.

President's Budget Proposal

Would Boost Fisheries

President Bush will propose a 16 percent increase in spending to restore and improve the nation's fisheries, Interior Secretary Gale A. Norton said yesterday.

In a speech to employees of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Norton said the budget Bush will propose next month includes $58 million for the National Fish Hatchery System -- up from $50 million in the current budget year. The president also will seek increased spending to combat invasive species such as the voracious northern snakehead found last year and eradicated from a suburban Maryland pond, Norton said.

Elsewhere, the president wants Congress to increase spending on programs that create more affordable housing for low- and moderate-income people, Housing and Urban Development Secretary Mel R. Martinez said yesterday. Bush's budget proposal will seek to raise spending on the HOME Investment Partnerships Program by $113 million to $2.2 billion, Martinez said. The block grant program allows more than 600 state and local housing agencies to choose the best way to create affordable housing.

-- Compiled from Reuters and Associated Press