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Homeland Defense Legislation: 'We Must Act,' Bush Says

By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, July 16, 2002 – President Bush today noted the need for debate on the establishment of the Department of Homeland Security and thanked legislators who are examining his proposed plan.

However, the president implied at a Rose Garden press briefing here that the nation's security dictates that discussion not take too long, especially since the annual month-long congressional summer recess begins in August.

Bush has proposed creating the Cabinet-level department to unify the efforts of about 100 government entities whose responsibilities include some aspect of homeland security. He noted to reporters he had just met with a bipartisan group of congressional leaders about his plans.

"All of us agree that protecting Americans from attack is our most urgent national priority and that we must act on the priority," Bush said to reporters, in describing the morning meeting.

The president's strategy calls for federal, state and local officials -- and the private sector -- to use a "single roadmap" for guidance in developing their individual security strategies.

The proposed national strategy would also assist communities in making better decisions when allocating resources, officials said. Additionally, duplicative efforts could be eliminated.

The president's homeland defense strategy is predicated on six critical mission areas:

o Improving U.S. intelligence and warning capabilities.

o Toughening U.S. border and transportation security.

o Strengthening anti-domestic terrorism efforts.

o Protecting critical infrastructure.

o Defending against weapons of mass destruction.

o Improving America's ability to respond to emergencies.

The strategy discusses leveraging new technologies to bolster homeland protection and stepping up research and development in the fields of bioterrorism and detection of weapons of mass destruction.

Some current topics of debate include whether the U.S. Coast Guard and Federal Emergency Management Agency should be absorbed by the new department or continue to contribute as separate entities.

The president noted his agreement with legislators that debate should occur over particulars of his homeland security plan before Congress' August recess.

Bush praised the bipartisan legislators from the Senate and the House of Representatives, noting they "have shown a strong commitment to get something done."

The president noted that over the past two weeks senior congressional committee members have queried key government officials on their opinions about the proposed Department of Homeland Security.

Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld, Attorney General John Ashcroft and Secretary of State Colin Powell testified July 11 at the House Select Homeland Security Committee hearing on transforming the federal government to protect America from terrorism.

The Defense Department welcomes the creation of a Homeland Security Department "as a partner that can bring together critical functions in a new and needed way," Rumsfeld told the committee that day. "Working with the other agencies charged with U.S. national security, we will accomplish our common goal of ensuring the security of the American people, our territory and our sovereignty."

Rumsfeld also repeated Bush's contention that a unified effort would provide clear lines of responsibilities for critical homeland security challenges.

After the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, Bush asked then-Gov. Tom Ridge of Pennsylvania in October to create and implement a national strategy to protect America. To effectively quarterback the effort, Ridge became director of the Office of Homeland Security. In creating the new security strategy, thousands of federal, state, local and private sector officials -- including first responders, law enforcement officials and mayors and governors -- were consulted.

Bush proposed the creation of the Department of Homeland Security on June 6, roughly five weeks prior to the publication of the 100-page-long strategy. His proposal preceded the strategy because work on the organizational issue was finished first and because Bush wanted to deliver the proposal to Congress in time for action during the current legislative session.

Key components of the national strategy have already been unveiled:

o The president's fiscal 2003 budget included critical funding increases for first responders, border and aviation security, and protections against bioterrorism.

o The administration has taken aggressive steps to reform the way intelligence agencies collect and share critical homeland security information.

Now, Bush noted today in the Rose Garden, members of Congress are charged with reconciling the work of numerous committees who acted this past week and face a significant challenge in combing through the details and information.

He noted his confidence that "they'll meet the challenge, because they, too, want to do what is right."

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