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Bush Signs Bill, Creates New Dept. of Homeland Security

By John Mintz
THE WASHINGTON POST -- WASHINGTON

President Bush Monday signed into law the long-awaited bill to create a new Department of Homeland Security, the cabinet level superagency that will combine 22 separate federal agencies to protect America from terrorism, and nominated former Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge as its secretary.

Ridge, who has advised Bush on homeland defense for the past year as head of the Office of Homeland Security, now faces the mammoth task of melding together federal organizations with unique and at times conflicting mandates, traditions and cultures.

“We’re taking historic action to defend the United States and protect our citizens from the dangers of a new era,” Bush said at a White House signing ceremony moments before he placed his signature on the new law. “We’re showing the resolve of this great nation to defend our freedom, our security and our way of life.”

Ridge will take office on Jan. 24 and begin appointing top subordinates, and on March 1 a number of the component agencies will be transferred into the new department. All the agencies will be merged into the department by Sept. 30, 2003.

Bush nominated two other senior members of his administration to join Ridge in the new agency: Navy Secretary Gordon England to be Ridge’s deputy secretary; and Asa Hutchinson, currently the administrator of the Drug Enforcement Administration and formerly an Arkansas congressman, to head the division that oversees border and transportation security.

Bush initially resisted calls to establish a homeland security department, but changed his mind last summer as congressional pressure grew and as criticism mounted of the performance of the CIA and the FBI before the Sept. 11 attacks. Ridge had said for months that he was not seeking the job of secretary of the new agency, but he, too, reversed course and ended up working for the appointment, government sources said.

Legislation to create the new department was delayed for months by Senate Democrats who resisted demands by Bush for new authority to establish work force rules for the department’s employees. This month’s election, which gave Republicans control of the Senate, guaranteed a victory for Bush and Democrats quickly relented.

The new department will have 170,000 employees and bring together such agencies as the Immigration and Naturalization Service, the Secret Service, the Customs Service, the Federal Emergency Management Administration, the Transportation Security Administration, and the Border Patrol.

It will analyze terrorism intelligence to match it against the nation’s vulnerabilities, develop new technologies to detect threats, coordinate the training and funding of state and local police and fire departments, and scrutinize America’s borders and ports of entry.

A number of the largest agencies -- the Coast Guard, the Secret Service, Customs, the INS and the Transportation Safety Administration -- will transfer to the new department on March 1, according to the master plan. Other agencies will make the move later; the Agriculture Department’s Plum Island Animal Disease Center, among others, will join the department on June 1.