President Bush wants a new cabinet-level agency to coordinate homeland security and oversee intelligence gathering on terrorist threats. He announced the move in a nationwide address Thursday evening.
The biggest government reorganization in more than 50 years will create a new agency responsible for border and transportation security, emergency preparedness, information analysis, and measures to counter chemical, biological, or nuclear attack.
President Bush says the move, which requires Congressional approval, is part of what he calls " a titanic struggle against terror."
"I ask the Congress to join me in creating a single permanent department with an overriding and urgent mission: securing the homeland of America and protecting the American people," he said.
The president is asking Congress to create a Department of Homeland Security with 170,000 employees drawn from parts of eight cabinet departments and cabinet-level agencies including the Departments of Justice, Energy, Commerce, and Health and Human Services.
The new agency will take over the work of the Immigration and Naturalization Service, Customs, the Coast Guard, Border Patrol, and the Secret Service which provides presidential security.
President Bush emphasized the reorganization will better protect Americans against future terrorist attacks. "This new department will review intelligence and law enforcement information from all agencies of government, and produce a single daily picture of threats against our homeland," he said. "Analysts will be responsible for imagining the worst, and planning to counter it."
The president's announcement comes as Congress begins investigations into why U.S. officials failed to coordinate various pieces of intelligence before September 11 which now appear to indicate that a terrorist attack was in the works.
President Bush says he supports the Congressional review of law enforcement, saying the suspicions and insights of some intelligence agents did not get enough attention before September 11.
"We need to know when warnings were missed or signs unheeded, not to point the finger of blame, but to make sure we correct any problems, and prevent them from happening again," he stressed. "Based on everything I have seen, I do not believe anyone could have prevented the horror of September 11. Yet we now know that thousands of trained killers are plotting to attack us, and this terrible knowledge requires us to act differently."
One of those differences will be the information analysis division of the new agency which will act as a clearinghouse for intelligence information on terrorist treats from agencies including the CIA and FBI.
Mr. Bush says the new agency will not require new funding as its $37 billion budget will come from existing departments whose work the new agency is taking over.
"By ending duplication and overlap, we will spend less on overhead and more on protecting America," explained. "This reorganization will give the good people of our government their best opportunity to succeed, by organizing our resources in a way that is thorough and unified."
President Bush created the Office of Homeland Security following the September 11 attacks, but many in Congress said the office lacked the authority or resources to reorganize existing agencies.
By asking Congress to create a cabinet-level post before the end of the year, Mr. Bush says it will unite essential agencies that he says "must work more closely together" to strengthen homeland security.