Bush wants broad 'Homeland Security' overhaul
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- President Bush called on Congress to set up a Cabinet-level homeland defense agency Thursday to protect the nation amid "a titanic struggle against terror."
In a televised address from the White House, Bush told the nation that a sweeping reorganization of the federal government is needed to improve domestic security.
"Tonight, I ask the Congress to join me in creating a single permanent department with an overriding and urgent mission -- securing the American homeland and protecting the American people," Bush said.
The centerpiece of his proposal is a Department of Homeland Security, which would consolidate duties now spread across nine federal departments and include a central clearinghouse for analyzing intelligence information. With an estimated 169,000 employees and a $37 billion budget, the new agency would be second only to the Defense Department in terms of size.
"Thousands of trained killers are plotting to attack us," said Bush. "Employees of this new agency will come to work every morning knowing that their most important job is to protect their fellow citizens."
Congressional leaders in both parties applauded Bush's plan to create the new agency and vowed quick legislative action to make it happen. (Full story)
The White House estimated the new agency's budget at $37 billion, which the administration says would be paid for through savings achieved by eliminating redundancies among current agencies.
"By ending duplication and overlap, we will spend less on overhead, and more on protecting America," Bush said. "This reorganization will give the good people of our government their best opportunity to succeed, by organizing our resources in a way that is thorough and unified." (Transcript)
Change of heart
Since creating the Office of Homeland Security after the September 11 terrorist attacks, Bush had resisted calls to make it a Cabinet-level agency, rather an executive office within the White House.
Senior aides said the president had a change of heart after observing homeland security efforts over the last nine months and hearing recommendations from administration officials who looked into their effectiveness, including White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card and Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge.
"We are now learning that before September 11, the suspicions and insights of some of our front-line agents did not get enough attention," Bush said in his address.
White House officials said no personnel decisions have been made. But Ridge, the former Pennsylvania governor and a close Bush ally, is a leading candidate to head the new department.
Ridge told CNN the new agency would sort through the "suspicions and insights" Bush mentioned and decide which ones call for more scrutiny.
"We'll want them to pull in all that information and sort it out between rumor and suspicion and fact and speculation and misinformation and do an assessment, do an analysis and then communicate it -- if it's a real threat -- communicate that to state and local governments," Ridge said.
Administration officials also brushed aside suggestions that the timing of the announcement -- made on the same day FBI whistleblower Coleen Rowley testified on Capitol Hill about shortcomings within the bureau related to information about the September 11 attacks -- was designed to deflect attention from her remarks. (Rowley's testimony)
Money, staff and turf
Bush said the proposal was the largest reorganization of the federal government since the 1947 National Security Act that created the Defense Department, the National Security Council and the CIA. He urged people to encourage their representatives to have the new department in place by the end of the year.
White House aides conceded that the proposed restructuring, which would shift entire agencies from where they are now to the new department, would be difficult. More than 80 different congressional committees have jurisdiction over some aspect of the planned overhaul.
"Reorganizing the government is never easy," said White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer. "It involves turf."
But the initial reaction from both Republicans and Democrats in Congress has been positive.
Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Massachusetts, said the reorganization is "a positive step long awaited by many of us in Congress."
"We need to ensure that this new office has the mandate and the tools to address our country's complex national security issues," he said. "We need a well-organized, efficiently-run office that works in coordination with existing law enforcement and intelligence agencies, not another bureaucracy."
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