91/11/2001: The Day That Changed America
Homeland Security
By Charlie Keenan

Director of Homeland Security Tom Ridge presents the Homeland Security Advisory System to the media last March. The Homeland Security department was made into a cabinet-level agency by law this summer. (Photo Courtesy The White House)

To better coordinate America's domestic defense, President George W. Bush wants to create a Department of Homeland Security. The new cabinet-level organization would have control over 22 current independent agencies, including the Coast Guard, Immigration and Naturalization Service, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Only the FBI and CIA would remain independent.

"America needs a group of dedicated professionals who wake up each morning with the overriding duty of protecting the American people," Bush said.

Homeland Security would employ 170,000 people with an operating budget of $37.4 billion budget. By contrast, the Department of Education has a bigger budget ($54 billion), but a smaller staff (4,900).

The head of the department would serve on the President's cabinet, on the same level as the Department of Defense, the Department of Justice, and Department of Health and Human Services. That level is the highest rank for an agency in the executive branch.

Last year, on a much smaller scale, the White House created the Office of Homeland Security. The office is led by former Pennsylvania Governor Tom Ridge, and has a staff of 100 people. Because Ridge has no budget control over other agencies, and agency heads don't have to answer to him, he has not been able to accomplish his mission. Bush wants to remedy that lack of power by creating the cabinet-level Department of Homeland Security.

The Republican-led House passed a bill approving Bush's proposal in July, before the summer recess for Congress. The Democrat-controlled Senate wants more time to debate the proposal. The Senate will take up the issue when Congress reconvenes in September.

"If ever there was a need for the Senate to throw a bucket of cold water on an overheated legislative process that is spinning out of control, it is now," says Senator Robert Byrd, Chairman of the Appropriations Committee and Democratic Senator from West Virginia.

One sticking point: Federal unions representing 50,000 workers in the government are against the idea, saying it would take away their ability to bargain for wages and protect themselves from discrimination. That's because Bush is proposing that executives in the new department have more freedom to hire, fire, and transfer workers — a power he says is important to protect national security.

The President is lobbying hard, trying to overcome the Democrats who are wary of the proposed changes in hiring practices. "It is important in times of war to have flexibility," Bush says. "I need flexibility to be able to run this department."