U.S. President George W. Bush has signed legislation creating a new federal Department of Homeland Security. Mr. Bush says Tom Ridge, his homeland security advisor, is his choice to head the cabinet-level department.
Surrounded by lawmakers who shepherded the bill through Congress, the president signed the Homeland Security Act into law.
"With the Homeland Security Act, we are doing everything we can to protect America," said Mr. Bush. "We are showing the resolve of this great nation to defend our freedom, our security and our way of life."
The new cabinet department will absorb 22 existing federal agencies with combined budgets of about $40 billion a year and almost 170,000 employees.
The goal, said the president, is to make the government's response to the terrorist threat more efficient, and better protect Americans from attack. "The continuing threat of terrorism, the threat of mass murder on our own soil will be met with a unified and more effective response," he said.
It is the biggest government reorganization since 1947, when the Department of Defense was created. And it will take more than a year, perhaps two, to complete.
The man President Bush wants to oversee the process is Tom Ridge, the former Governor of Pennsylvania who currently is head of the White House Office of Homeland Security. "He's the right man for this new and great responsibility," said the president.
The new Department of Homeland Security will have several important functions. It will coordinate intelligence gathering, research new ways to protect Americans from the effects of biological and chemical weapons, enhance border security, and bolster emergency preparedness.
Some critics have warned that the months, perhaps years, that it will take to officially organize the new Cabinet-level Department may actually weaken homeland security. But White House officials insist that all the agencies involved will continue to function during the transition process and the result will be enhanced domestic security for all Americans.