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Bush to sign Homeland Act Monday

The president and first lady Laura Bush wave to reporters as they head to church Sunday.
The president and first lady Laura Bush wave to reporters as they head to church Sunday.

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- When President Bush signs the Homeland Security Act Monday, he will create a department that will be the largest reorganization in the federal government in 55 years.

Signing is scheduled for 1:20 p.m. in the East Room of the White House.

The department is a direct result of the September 11 terrorist attacks, which exposed security lapses and intelligence failures, and led to calls for sweeping changes to the nation's defense, intelligence and law enforcement sectors.

Critics of the new Homeland Security Department believe it creates needless overlap, borrowing employees from 22 existing agencies such as the Coast Guard, the Border Patrol, the FBI and the CIA -- departments that critics believe should simply be strengthened.

Sen. Jim Jeffords, I-Vermont, said creating the new department will only divert resources from the fight against terrorism and "give the American people a false, false sense of security."

Those who managed to push the bill through Congress said it will focus greater attention and resources on security the United States, and will in fact minimize overlapping or conflicting missions.

Boston Mayor Thomas Menino, president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, said the coordination of municipal services in his city is proof that it can be done and succeed.

"Yes, you have a few bumpy roads, but it works better. There's better communications between departments when you have an emergency in your city," he told CNN's "Late Edition."

"It's not a Democrat-Republican issue, it's how we get the job done. And I think, by this consolidation, we'll be able to get the job done."

Orlando Mayor Glenda Hood, chairwoman of the Florida Domestic Security Advisory Panel, said the department will establish "clear lines of authority," enabling intelligence information to reach local law enforcement more quickly and efficiently.

The bill passed over Democratic objections that it was loaded with provisions having nothing to do with homeland security, such as liability protection for vaccine manufacturers and exemptions to the Freedom of Information Act.

Rep. Dan Burton, R-Indiana, threatened to hold up the bill Friday because of the vaccine provision. He decided in the end to let the bill pass, promising to join the efforts of three moderate Republicans in the Senate to strip it from law next year.

Hood and Menino complained the bill is missing a key component: providing federal money to cities to fight terrorism.

Menino said American cities have spent about $2.6 billion on the cause since last September and have not received federal financing to meet the costs.

D.C. Mayor Anthony Williams, a member of the Homeland Security Advisory Panel, agreed.

"Congress has the duty to see that local government, your first line of response, has the resources to help the federal government execute a homeland security strategy," Williams told CNN. "You can't do that with nothing."

The new department will have 170,000 employees and is the biggest reorganization in the federal government since the Department of Defense was created in 1947.

Tom Ridge, who has been director of the White House Office of Homeland Security for nearly a year, is expected to be nominated Monday to lead the new department.

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