- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 11, 2002

President Bush urged members of Congress and federal employees yesterday not to engage in a turf battle over his proposal to create a Homeland Security Department, as five House committees prepared to vote on their portions of the Cabinet-level agency.

Mr. Bush told 3,700 federal workers gathered at the Daughters of the American Revolution's Constitution Hall that they would play a pivotal role in the consolidation of agencies responsible for domestic security.

"Twenty years from now, if we're still standing individually, that is you can look back and say, 'I was part of not only winning the war on terror, but I was part of working together to leave behind a legacy, a legacy of a more secure homeland,'" Mr. Bush said.

"This is a historic moment, a fantastic opportunity. History has called us into action, history has put the spotlight on America."

The president said no one is to blame for the unwieldy bureaucracy that has evolved, separating crucial agencies and hampering communication.

"Despite everybody's best intentions and hard work and sacrifices, there is a dispersal of authority, a lack of accountability, and the truth of the matter is, a needless drain on critical resources," the president said.

As Congress begins work on creation of the department, Mr. Bush asked that lawmakers give the agency maximum flexibility and avoid territorial battles about oversight.

"Congress, as they work with us, must give us the flexibility necessary to achieve our objectives. I call it freedom to manage. The new department must be able to get the right people in the right place, at the right time, with the right pay. We need to be able to reward excellence and ensure accountability for individual performance."

All federal workers, Mr. Bush said, share a goal.

"I understand it's hard to make changes in Washington, D.C. I understand that people kind of get set in their ways, want to guard turf, and I know that. But there is an overriding mission here in America today. And that's to protect our homeland," he said.

"See, this isn't a Republican idea, this isn't a Democrat idea. This is an American idea that makes sense for all Americans."

Mr. Bush and congressional leaders have agreed to try to establish the department by the September 11 anniversary of the terrorist attacks on America.

Under his proposal, all or parts of 22 existing agencies would be combined into the proposed department, which would have 170,000 employees and a $37 billion budget. White House officials say little additional taxpayer money will be needed to combine the agencies.

Mr. Bush assured federal workers that they would keep the same pay, benefits and union representation if they are moved to the new department.

House leaders are aiming to have the Homeland Security Department bill ready for a floor vote next week. Democratic leaders in the Senate say they hope to have a bill on the floor before Congress' August recess.

Meanwhile, applications for visas that let millions of foreigners enter the United States each year would be screened for terrorist threats by the department under legislation approved yesterday by two House committees.

The visa plan was among several changes recommended by House committees, with more panels set to consider other parts of the proposal today. Mr. Bush had made no recommendation on visas.

It is far from certain, however, whether any of these changes will remain in the legislation as it moves through Congress.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.


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