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Bush: Homeland Security Is Government's 'Permanent Duty'

By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, July 26, 2002 – "America needs a group of dedicated professionals who wake up each morning with the overriding duty of protecting the American people," President Bush said today at the White House.

That's why he's creating a Cabinet-level Department of Homeland Security to unite the efforts of about 100 government entities whose responsibilities include some aspect of homeland security.

"For the first time, this new department will merge under one roof the capability to identify and assess threats to the homeland, to map those threats against vulnerabilities, and then to act to secure America," the president said.

The agencies within the new department will have other duties, he noted, but no higher responsibility than homeland security. "Protecting American citizens from harm is the first priority, and it must be the ruling priority of all of our government," he said.

The Homeland Security Department must prepare the American people for the "permanent duty" of defending the homeland, he said. "The No. 1 priority of this government and of future governments will be to protect the American people against terrorist attack."

The Homeland Security Department will control U.S. borders, preventing terrorists and weapons from entering the country. "We need to know who's coming in and why they're coming in and what they're bringing in with them, and whether or not they're leaving when they say they're going to leave," the president said.

The new department also will work with state and local first responders. "We need to be able to respond quickly and effectively to emergencies," he said. "We need good cooperation between the federal government, the state governments and the local governments."

The nation, Bush stressed, needs to bring the best scientists together to develop technologies that will detect biological, chemical and nuclear weapons and to discover drugs and treatments to protect U.S. citizens. "We need to harness the great genius of the American people to make sure that it's focused on the true threat of the 21st century," Bush said.

Drawing on the knowledge and experience of every sector in America, he said, the new department "will work in a collaborative way with the people who care about America, and that's the American leadership -- at all levels of government -- and the American people."

The administration is now working with Congress to forge a bipartisan bill establishing the Homeland Security Department. "I believe we're making good progress and, of course, being the modest fellow that I am, I'm willing to recognize a good idea, even if it comes from Congress," the president said, drawing laughter from the audience of government leaders and first responders.

"Yet, it's important to understand this: I'm not going to accept legislation that limits or weakens the president's well-established authorities ... to exempt parts of government from federal labor management relations statute when it serves our national interests," he stressed.

"Every president since Jimmy Carter has used ... this statutory authority, and a time of war is the wrong time to weaken the president's ability to protect the American people," he said.

The new department must have the managerial flexibility to get the job done right, the president declared. "We can't be micromanaged.

Bush said he some unions in Washington believe that creating the new department is an administration attempt to undermine workers' basic rights. "I reject that as strongly as I can state it," he said.

"Flexibility" will not undermine federal workers' basic rights, the president said. Workers would retain whistle- blower protection, collective bargaining rights, and protection against unlawful discrimination.

"The new secretary must have the freedom to get the right people in the right job at the right time and to hold them accountable," Bush said. "He needs the ability to move money and resources quickly in response to new threats. We have all kinds of bureaucratic rules and obstacles, and when we face unprecedented threats like we're facing, we cannot have business as usual."

Bush said the nation must get the bill right, and leave "a legacy that will allow future senators, and future members of the House and a future president to say, 'I can better protect the homeland, thanks to what was done in the year 2002.'"

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