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Bush Administration Begins Difficult Task of Building New Homeland Security Department

President Bush got his wish this past week when Congress approved the creation of a new Department of Homeland Security. Now comes the difficult task of actually combining 22 government agencies into one smooth-functioning bureaucracy.

The objective sounds simple enough. In the wake of the September 11 terrorist attacks, combine all those agencies responsible for various aspects of homeland security into one, centralized cabinet department.

The new department will be responsible for an incredibly diverse assortment of homeland security concerns. These include border and port security, protecting the country's infrastructure from terrorists, and coordinating emergency response to terrorist attacks and natural disasters.

The man likely to head the new department is the current director of homeland security, Tom Ridge.

"They will be at the airports. They will be at the border," he said. "They will be in our national [research] labs and now they will all be working in a single agency whose primary mission is homeland security, and we see great opportunities to enhance not only the working relationship that they have together, but also to do some significantly different things to improve security around this country."

But many experts say that combining 22 government agencies and 170,000 government workers into a cohesive department with the singular goal of improving homeland security is likely to take years.

"In the private sector, the merger of two companies is extraordinarily difficult and, indeed, 70 percent of all mergers that occur in the private sector fail," said Ivo Daalder who worked on the National Security Council during the Clinton administration and is now a foreign policy and security analyst at the Brookings Institution in Washington. "And this is not a merger of two companies. It is a merger of 22 agencies with different databases, with different computer systems, with different personnel systems and with very different priorities, not all of which are related to homeland security."

As the new department seeks to constitute itself during the next year, some experts fear the United States could become more vulnerable to attack.

"So in the short term, what you are going to have, paradoxically, is less security, less involvement and focus on the counter terrorist program and threat and dealing with that threat," said former National Security Council advisor Ivo Daalder. "And more on how to make this giant bureaucracy [work] together."

In addition to protecting the nation's borders, ports and infrastructure from attack, the new department will also have responsibility for analyzing intelligence data to determine where, when and how terrorists might strike.

While the CIA and the FBI will still have the job of collecting intelligence information, it will be the responsibility of the new Department of Homeland Security to analyze the data and recommend steps to counter any perceived threat.

Ivo Daalder says that should be an improvement.

"And it is being done in a single place in which all the information collected with regard to terrorist threats to the United States, whether abroad or at home, it is now being analyzed in a single place," he said. "So that for the first time, if there are 'dots' out there [intelligence leads], it is possible to start connecting them in a way that has not happened up to this point."

Establishment of the new Department of Homeland Security will entail the largest reorganization of the federal government since the creation of the defense department in 1947.