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Background: New Cabinet Office for Homeland Security

June 11, 2002 at 12:00 AM EDT


MARGARET WARNER: At his weekly breakfast with congressional leaders President Bush welcomed assurances he said he had received that Congress would move quickly on his new Department of Homeland Security.

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: What I’ve heard is there’s a commitment to get this done in a way that takes any partisanship out of the issue and at the same time strives for a date certain. Congressman Gephardt suggested that we can get this done or try to get this done by September 11.

MARGARET WARNER: But afterwards, Homeland Security Advisor Tom Ridge noted that reorganizing federal agencies often meets resistance from Congressional chairmen.

TOM RIDGE, Director, Office of Homeland Security: There are committees of jurisdiction that for years have overseen the various departments or agencies that we’re trying to restructure and cobble together to reorganize part of the Executive Branch, to make us safer and more secure as we combat the new threat of the 21st century, but understanding that there’s a great deal of hard work to be done by the members on the Hill.

MARGARET WARNER: The President’s plan would put 22 federal offices and their 169,000 employees into one new cabinet-level department with a budget of $37 billion. Many existing cabinet agencies would lose key divisions to homeland security.

For example, the Treasury Department would give up the Customs service and Secret Service. The Justice Department would lose the Immigration and Naturalization Service and the Border Patrol. And the Transportation Department would have the Coast Guard and the Transportation Security Agency taken away. The new department would organize those agencies into four divisions: Border and transportation security; emergency preparedness and response; chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear countermeasures; and information analysis and infrastructure protection.

The CIA and FBI, which have been faulted for not sharing intelligence before September 11, would remain independent. The House held its first public hearing on the proposal today. Most witnesses, including Democratic Senator Joseph Lieberman, voiced a sense of urgency about the task ahead.

SEN. JOSEPH LIEBERMAN: I, for one, do not accept as inevitable that there will be another September 11-type attack. I think we have it within our capacity… if we organize ourselves to prevent such attacks from occurring again, that certainly should be our goal.

MARGARET WARNER: But Democratic Congresswoman Diane Watson of California urged a lengthy study first.

REP. DIANE WATSON: This taking departments and throwing them all under one head is not going to solve our problem. You’re going to have personnel problems with status and so on. We’ve got to set aside a budget. This is not going to pay for itself by the budgets that already in these departments. So I think moving real quickly to make one huge, massive department called Homeland Security is the wrong way to go.