Bush stumps for Homeland Security Department
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- President Bush Wednesday defended the need for a Homeland Security Department, saying, "This isn't a Republican idea. This isn't a Democrat idea. This is an American idea that makes sense for all Americans."
Speaking to an audience of federal employees and Cabinet members at Constitution Hall in Washington, Bush said the legislation sent to Congress last month establishing the department is "the most significant reorganization since 1947," when President Truman revamped the Defense Department.
The proposal calls for all or parts of various government agencies to be pulled together under the umbrella of a single department committed to protecting the nation from terrorist attacks. The proposed department would have nearly 170,000 employees, and a budget of $37.4 billion.
Tom Ridge, the president's homeland security adviser, is expected to head up a new office that will oversee the transition and planning for the new Cabinet-level agency, the Department of Homeland Security.
Currently, Bush said, "there is a dispersal of authority and a lack of accountability" as well as an "overlap of administration."
Essential federal agencies need to unite and work together, and all levels of government throughout the country -- local to federal -- "must work together," he said.
"That's why I did what I did," Bush said, referring to the legislation. "There is an overriding and urgent mission here in America today, and that's to protect our homeland."
He said the new department would "foster a new culture in the nation's capital and it will be a culture of cooperation."
"For the first time," he said, the "capability to identify and assess threats to the homeland" will be merged "under one roof."
Bush said Congress has reacted positively to the initiative, but must give the executive branch the "flexibility necessary to achieve our objectives."
"I call it freedom to manage," Bush said. "The new department must be able to get the right people in the right place at the right time with the right pay."
Bush said that lawmakers and federal workers and officials should look at the passage of a bill creating such a department from the standpoint of posterity. People would be able to look back 20 years from now and realize they were part of an effort to win the war against terror and leave a lasting legacy of a "more secure homeland," he said.
"History has called us into action," Bush said. "History has put the spotlight on America."
Bush has said that he would like to see the legislation passed before this session of Congress adjourns, and a White House official said it is a "congressional prerogative" to push for an early passage.
House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt, for instance, has proposed a target date of September 11 to mark the anniversary of the terrorist attacks on the Pentagon and the World Trade Center.
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