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Bush Campaigns for Homeland Security Dept. - 2002-06-24

U.S. President George W. Bush is continuing his push for a new federal Department of Homeland Security which he says will better protect the country against terrorist attack. The president spoke with border control officials Monday at the biggest port on America's East Coast.

The president told workers at Port Elizabeth, New Jersey, that the new homeland security plan will make their jobs easier and make the nation safer.

The plan now before Congress would merge several federal agencies responsible for keeping dangerous cargo out of the nation's ports.

The Bush Administration last week announced more than $92 million in grants to improve safety at 51 ports. The president Monday praised the stepped-up security at Port Elizabeth which, along with the neighboring port of Newark, handles more cargo than any facility on the Atlantic coasts of North or South America.

Mr. Bush says improvements already in place include more surveillance cameras and new equipment to better detect weapons of mass destruction. Coast Guard inspectors are now boarding more ships before they enter the port. "The whole purpose is to push out our maritime borders, giving us more time to identify threats and more time to respond," he said.

The Coast Guard is just one of the agencies involved in the largest government reorganization in more than 50 years. Customs, Immigration, Border Patrol and the Secret Service would all be folded into this new agency along with the Coast Guard. President Bush says it will establish more accountability among the more than 100 government agencies now involved in the fight against terrorism. "I think it is vital that the federal government reorganize, so that we have people involved in homeland security under a cabinet office dedicated to homeland security," he said. "You see we have got to change our priorities. We have got to focus our priorities. We have got to set clear goals. If cultures need to be changed within agencies, we will change the cultures."

The president again called on Congress to approve this new cabinet-level agency by the end of the year, urging legislators to put their political differences behind them for the good of the nation.

No matter what his administration does at home, Mr. Bush says the best way to protect the country is to continue pursuing those responsible for the September 11 attacks wherever they try to hide.