Bush launches Homeland Security Department
Democrats, president trade charges on funding
By Sean Loughlin
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Warning of enemies who "could strike anywhere," President Bush on Friday launched the Department of Homeland Security, a move that comes amid increasing partisan squabbling over protecting the nation from terrorism.
About 170,000 federal employees will fall under the new department, coming from about 22 agencies, including the Coast Guard, the Immigration and Naturalization Service, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Creation of the department -- to be led by Secretary Tom Ridge -- represents the largest reorganization of the federal government in more than 50 years and was sparked by the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001.
"Every member of this new department accepts an essential mission to prevent another terrorist attack," Bush told employees, who will formally be assimilated into the new department Saturday. "Your's is a vital and important step in reorganizing our government to meet the threats of a new era as we continue to work securing this country."
Bush criticized Congress, saying lawmakers had failed to fund enough money for so-called "first responders," those emergency and medical workers who would first respond to the scene of any attack or disaster. The president requested $3.5 billion in the current budget for first responders. Congress passed legislation that included $1.3 billion for first responders and another $2.2 in existing grant programs. Democrats had pushed for more money.
Administration officials complain much of that money has too many strings attached.
Democrats, however, maintain they have led the fight to boost funding for first responders.
"Incredibly, incredibly, the president is now blaming others for the budget he himself insisted upon," Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, D-South Dakota, said at a news conference Thursday. "It's time for him to take the next step now and admit that his administration is responsible for the failure to adequately fund homeland security."
Some Democrats are pushing for another $5 billion to go toward first responders.
The question of funding for states and cities dealing with new homeland security needs has become critical. They say they are being burdened with new demands, but the government is not providing enough money to help.
The president defended the administration approach and promised to do more.
"We've provided more than $900 million in support to help state and local responders and emergency managers prepare for terrorist attacks," Bush said. "And we've supported the training of more than 100,000 first responders since September the 11th, 2001."
The bickering over which party is more committed to bolstering homeland security efforts will likely intensify. Several of the Democratic candidates for president are making an issue of the administration's approach to homeland security.
Bush initially resisted the creation of a new Homeland Security Department, first proposed by Democrats. But he later embraced the idea and used the issue on the campaign trail last fall, criticizing Democrats who disagreed with him on how the new department should be managed.