The president called the new department a “unified, effective response” to the threat of terrorism.
“No department of government can completely guarantee our safety against ruthless killers who move and plot in shadows, yet our government will take every possible measure to safeguard … our people,” Bush said at the White House signing ceremony.
The president also announced the nomination of his current homeland security chief Tom Ridge to head the department and Navy Secretary Gordon England as his deputy.
The new Cabinet-level department absorbs 22 existing agencies and will employ some 170,000 workers. The budgets of the department’s components total about $40 billion, however Congress has yet to appropriate money to fund the merger.
Ridge says he will talk to the heads of large corporations that have previously merged to try to avoid the pitfalls of combining large, independent organizations — each with its own traditions and cultures.
White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said the department will not be fully operational for at least a year, but said that the administration has been working on transition plans for months and will probably not need the 60 days listed in the bill before the president gives Congress his organizational plan.
After the plan is submitted, the administration must wait at least 90 days before the first agency can be transferred.
The reorganization was first proposed last June, however the bill became snarled in disputes on Capitol Hill, with Democrats protesting the broad powers sought by the president to hire, fire and move workers in the new department.