House Passes Homeland Security Bill


As the House of Representatives passed legislation last night establishing a new Department of Homeland Security, the Bush administration is pressing ahead with plans for a tightly choreographed sequence of actions starting in late January or early February to create the new agency, reports the Washington Post.

Working from a 500-page playbook, government officials are preparing for an explosion of activity 60 days after President Bush signs the bill, when they will begin consolidating 22 separate agencies into a new federal agency with 170,000 employees.

The reorganization, the largest in government since the creation of the Defense Department in 1947, is intended to fashion a single agency that would protect America—along with its seaports, nuclear plants, energy pipelines and other infrastructure—by using intelligence information. The new agency also would train police officers, firefighters and health workers to respond to terrorist attacks and develop new technologies to detect threats.

In the House last night, the bill passed by a vote of 299 to 121. Voting yes were 87 Democrats and 212 Republicans; voting no were 114 Democrats, 6 Republicans and 1 independent.

With the Senate poised to pass the homeland security bill in coming days, administration officials said Bush was likely to name a secretary for the new Cabinet-level department within weeks after the bill is signed, so the nominee can be confirmed by the Senate and on the job at the moment of the agency’s birth.

The front-runner for the job appears to be Tom Ridge, head of the interim homeland security office, who had told colleagues for months he did not want the job, well-placed sources said. Working out of a White House office, he has coordinated domestic security activities since October 2001, when Bush persuaded him to leave his position as governor of Pennsylvania.

Other names have been mentioned for the secretary job as well, but they are considered longer shots, sources said.

Under the legislation being considered by Congress, once the new department is up and running it will have one year to consolidate the agencies it will house. They include the Coast Guard, the Customs Service, the Secret Service, the Immigration and Naturalization Service, the Border Patrol, FEMA and the recently formed Transportation Security Administration.

“We’re ready and waiting to move on this,” Gordon Johndroe, spokesman for Ridge’s Office of Homeland Security.

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