Deal saves homeland legislation - Senate OKs landmark bill; extra
provisions to be revisited
WASHINGTON -- After months of partisan wrangling and frantic 11th-hour
deal-making, the Senate approved Tuesday the creation of a Cabinet-level
Department of Homeland Security, clearing the final legislative hurdle
for the huge new bureaucracy designed to thwart terrorism.
Bush initially opposed creating a new anti-terror agency. But a string of leaks about how intelligence agencies missed important clues leading up to the Sept. 11 attacks forced his hand, and he outlined plans for the new department June 6.
At first, it looked as though the department wouldn't encounter much opposition. The House passed two versions of the homeland bill with relatively little trouble. But it bogged down in the Senate.
Ultimately, Senate Democrats and Republicans had to craft compromises on two major sticking points that at times threatened to scuttle the homeland security bill:
- Union eligibility for many of the department's 170,000 employees: The compromise requires the president to inform Congress 10 days before invoking his authority to waive collective bargaining agreements. It also requires the new department to go through 30 days of mediation before changing employee conditions over union objections.
- Provisions added by Republicans, including limits on liability for companies that make a mercury-based preservative in childhood vaccines and firms that make anti-terrorism technology: The provisions were left in the bill, and Senate Republican leaders promised to change some of them.
The formation of the new department will create the biggest reshuffling of government in half a century and is being hailed as an important step toward preventing a repeat of the Sept. 11 attacks.
While the agency will technically be in place within 60 days of the Bush signing and some changes will be immediate, it will take at least a year to have it up and running and much longer to work out the inevitable bugs of such a major reorganization.
Bush, flying to Prague for a NATO summit, thanked GOP lawmakers during a conference call for their "great work."
Sen. Phil Gramm, R-Texas, said the bill passed because of the losses Democrats suffered in the Nov. 5 congressional elections.
"This was not a consensus that was easy to come by," he said. "In the end it took an election. Elections have consequences."
The new department would have four basic missions: securing borders and transportation; preparing for and responding to emergencies; protecting against chemical, biological and nuclear attacks; and analyzing intelligence information and protecting critical infrastructure such as ports, computer networks and water supplies.
This will require almost unprecedented communication across the 22 existing agencies that will make up the new department, including the Coast Guard, the Immigration and Naturalization Service, the Customs Service, the new Transportation Security Administration and the Federal Emergency Management Agency, to name a few.
About 15 percent of the new homeland security employees work in the Washington, D.C., area. Most are patrolling waters, borders and airports across the country with no existing lines of communication or detailed knowledge of what other potentially related agencies do.
Voices of caution
A Brookings Institution study released in July, after most of the major structural work on the homeland department plan was done, said it merges too many entities and threatens to get bogged down in administrative details.
During debate on the legislation, Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., cautioned that the new department could "create a false sense of security among Americans."
The homeland security legislation does little to fix the first line of defense against terrorism: the nation's intelligence agencies, which came under heavy criticism for missing vital clues leading up to the Sept. 11 attacks.
Those agencies -- primarily the CIA, FBI and the National Security Agency -- are being reassessed by a special House-Senate intelligence committee.
On the Web
U.S. Senate: www.senate.gov
H.R. 5005, the Homeland Security Act: http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/bdquery/z?d107:H.R.5005:
Office of Homeland Security: www.whitehouse.gov/homeland