Bush signs Homeland Security bill
Ridge nominated to head department
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Citing "the dangers of a new era," President Bush signed into law legislation Monday creating a Cabinet-level Department of Homeland Security -- a move that sets into motion the largest reorganization of the federal government in more than half a century.
Bush named Tom Ridge, who has been director of the White House Office of Homeland Security for nearly a year, as his nominee to lead the vast, new department.
"He's the right man for this new and great responsibility," Bush said of Ridge, during the signing ceremony in the East Room of the White House.
The president also tapped Navy Secretary Gordon England to be Ridge's deputy, and he nominated Asa Hutchinson, currently the administrator of the Drug Enforcement Agency, to serve as undersecretary for border and transportation security.
Ridge will have the challenge of demonstrating he can use his new authority to put together an 170,000-employee agency to better protect the United States from terrorist attacks and make the American public feel secure.
The department is a direct result of the September 11, 2001, 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. (Fact sheet)
Bush initially resisted the idea of a new department, which had been championed primarily by Democrats in the wake of the attacks. But Bush embraced the concept in June and used the issue effectively on the campaign trail this past fall, criticizing Democrats who differed with him over the issue of labor rights within the new department.
At the White House Monday, Bush said the department will reduce America's vulnerabilities and help the country respond better to any future terrorist attacks.
"The continuing threat of terrorism, the threat of mass murder on our own soil, will be met with a unified, effective response," Bush declared, pointing out that the agencies responsible for border, coastline and transportation security will be under one roof.
The legislation calls for the $40 billion department to be up and running within a year, but White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said the complete transition "will take a couple years."
Critics of the new Homeland Security Department say it creates overlap, taking employees from 22 existing agencies such as the Immigration and Naturalization Service, Coast Guard and the Border Patrol -- departments that critics believe should simply be strengthened.
Over the weekend, 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."
Others said the department will do the opposite.
"I don't buy the argument that in the short run, the creation of this department is going to somehow inhibit us in the war against terrorism or in the protection of homeland security," Sen. Joseph Lieberman, D-Connecticut, said after Bush signed the bill. "In fact, I think it will help us immediately."
Lieberman was an early advocate of the department, and he -- along with other lawmakers and labor leaders -- attended the White House ceremony.
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.
Still, the creation of the department faces other criticism. Several mayors say the bill is missing a key component: providing money to cities to fight terrorism.
Creation of the new department is the biggest reorganization in the federal government since the Department of Defense was created in 1947.