The U.S. Senate has passed by a 90 to 9 vote sweeping legislation creating a homeland security agency in a major legislative victory for President Bush in his war on terrorism. The measure now goes to Mr. Bush for his signature.
The new cabinet-level homeland security department, proposed in the wake of last year's September 11 terrorist attacks, will bring together 170,000 employees from more than 20 federal agencies. It will require the largest reorganization of the federal government in half a century.
Democratic Senator Joe Lieberman of Connecticut was a chief sponsor of the bill. "This is a substantial accomplishment, an historic day in the new age of insecurity we entered as a people after September 11, 2001," he said. "It should give the American people hope and confidence that we are working together, and most important of all, we are going to establish an agency that will better protect them."
Republican Senator Susan Collins of Maine says the new agency will have an important role in coordinating government efforts on homeland security. "The new agency will work to secure U.S. borders, ports, and critical infrastructures. It will synthesize and analyze intelligence from multiple sources, lessening the possibility of the kinds of intelligence breakdowns that appeared to have occurred prior to September 11," she said.
But some lawmakers say the bill does not go far enough in protecting the nation from a number of threats, including those against nuclear power plants. Democratic Senator Hillary Clinton voted for the measure, but has reservations about it.
"Now while the homeland security bill creates a new department, it does not adequately address the real threat of terrorist capabilities and desires to destroy our nuclear power plants," he said.
Democratic Senator Robert Byrd of West Virginia voted against the bill, saying it provides a false sense of security. "The people are being offered a bureaucratic behemoth, complete with fancy top-heavy directorates, officious new titles, and noble-sounding missions, instead of real tools to help protect them from death and destruction," he said. "How utterly irresponsible! How utterly callous! How cavalier!"
The bill, which passed by the House last week, has been stalled in the Senate for months amid partisan wrangling.
Democrats had opposed President Bush's demands for authority to hire and fire agency workers. But many reversed course after the Democrats' lost control of the Senate in this month's election in a loss attributed partly to the homeland security battle.
Lawmakers cleared the way for the bill's passage after defeating Democratic efforts to rid it of Republican-backed provisions, which Democrats said favored special interests. In a compromise, Republican leaders agreed to drop some of the provisions after a new Congress is sworn in next year.