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Bush Signs Homeland Security, Names Ridge Director

Monday, 25 November 2002 12:00 AM

The Department of Homeland Security brings 22 government agencies, with a combined annual budget of some $40 billion, under one administrative umbrella.

"Today we're taking historic action to defend the United States and protect our citizens against the dangers of a new era," Bush said at a White House ceremony. "With my signature, this act of Congress will create a new Department of Homeland Security, ensuring that our efforts to defend this country are comprehensive and united."

The signing ceremony in the East Room of the White House, watched in person and on closed-circuit television by 357 guests, was the culmination of months of rancorous debate in Congress over the department's creation. It marked the start of a one-year organizational effort to bring the new entity into full operation.

The establishment of the Department of Homeland Security is the biggest reorganization of the federal government since creation of the Department of Defense in 1947.

"I think its going to take at least a year given the fact all the agencies have to be assigned there within a year," White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said earlier. "And just like the creation of any entity, there are going to be growing pains ... it has to be anticipated in the creation of this department.

"There is no question there will be growing pains, wrinkles that have to be ironed out."

Among the 22 agencies scheduled for inclusion are the Coast Guard, Border Patrol, Secret Service, Federal Emergency Management Agency and the recently created Transportation Security Agency, which is responsible for airport security.

Those agencies will continue to perform their duties before they completely join the new agency and will continue to do so after the transition period.

Bush was flanked in the ceremony Monday by Sen. Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., who proposed the department. Other Republican and Democrat legislators shared the stage.

Bush spoke of the progress America has made since al-Qaeda terrorists hijacked aircraft and crashed them into the World Trade Center and Pentagon, killing about 3,000 people.

Bush said terrorists had been hunted down, their finances cut off, and Afghanistan's Taliban regime had been toppled.

"Yet because terrorists are targeting America, the front of the new war is here in America," he said. "Our life changed, and changed in dramatic fashion, on September the 11th, 2001. In the last 14 months, every level of our government has taken steps to be better prepared against a terrorist attack.

"The Homeland Security Act of 2002 takes the next critical steps in defending our country. The continuing threat of terrorism, the threat of mass murder on our own soil will be met with a unified, effective response."

Bush's signing of H.R. 5710 sets in motion a number of benchmarks that must be met in the new agency's creation.

Within 60 days, the White House must submit to Congress a detailed plan for creation of the department, and within 90 days of that, the first agency transfers can begin. Within a year, all agencies must have been included in the new entity, which should be fully operational.

Bush said he had chosen former Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge to head the new entity, and Navy Secretary Gordon England would be the department's deputy secretary.

Ridge, who heads the White House's Office of Homeland Security, would need Senate confirmation before assuming his new duties, as would England.

Calls for the department arose from the rubble of the World Trade Center and the Pentagon after the attacks Sept. 11, 2001.

Lawmakers, members of the administration and others argued the 80 disparate agencies responsible for some piece of national security created a situation if which coordination and cooperation were difficult at best.

Initial calls for the Homeland Security Department to include elements of the FBI and CIA were knocked back.

"This new department will analyze intelligence information on terror threats collected by the CIA, the FBI, the National Security Agency and others," Bush said Monday. "The department will match this intelligence against the nation's vulnerabilities, and work with other agencies, and the private sector, and state and local governments to harden America's defenses against terror."

Fleischer said administration efforts on organizing the department have been taking place behind the scenes for months.

The department will have about 170,000 employees. Among provisions in the legislation signed into law Monday is one allowing pilots of commercial airliners to carry firearms. A number of airports around the country were also given an extension for obtaining special equipment for screening all baggage and cargo for possible explosives.

In addition to prevention of terrorism, the department would work with state and local authorities on measures and coordinated responses to any acts of terrorism.

"The secretary-designate and his team have an immense task ahead of them," Bush said. "The effort will take time, and focus, and steady resolve. It will also require full support from both the administration and the Congress. Adjustments will be needed along the way. Yet this is pressing business, and the hard work of building a new department, begins today."

Copyright 2002 by United Press International.

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The Department of Homeland Security brings 22 government agencies, with a combined annual budget of some $40 billion, under one administrative umbrella. "Today we're taking historic action to defend the United States and protect our citizens against the dangers of a new...
Monday, 25 November 2002 12:00 AM
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