- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 12, 2002

KANSAS CITY, MO. President Bush yesterday urged Americans to express their support for the creation of a Homeland Security Department to their elected representatives "to remind the turf fighters not to be nervous."
Taking his message on the road, the president said Congress could fight his proposal to consolidate more than 100 federal offices into a single department if lawmakers fear the new agency would infringe on their jurisdiction.
"I need the help of the American people to remind the turf fighters not to be nervous, because we're talking about doing what's right for America," Mr. Bush said in a speech at Oak Park High School.
"I don't care who gets the credit for putting this thing in. I just want it done right, and I want it done on behalf of the American people as quickly as possible," he said.
Polls released yesterday show three out of four Americans support the idea of consolidating offices responsible for homeland security into one department.
Mr. Bush used his speech to explain how the new department would operate and to make his case for its creation, which would for the first time establish a chain of command for homeland security that stops with the president.
"One reason I believe in accountability is because I understand who the American people are going to hold accountable if something happens. Me. And therefore, I'm the kind of fellow who likes to pick up the phone, and say, 'How we doing?'"
Earlier in the day, Mr. Bush met with congressional leaders at the White House, where he pressed for cooperation on his proposal to create the new department.
"What I've heard is there's a commitment to get this done in a way that takes any partisanship out of the issue, and at the same time strives for a date certain" for approval, Mr. Bush said in the Cabinet Room after the meeting.
"My message here is we want to work as closely as we can with the Congress to achieve this significant change, and to leave behind a legacy for future presidents and future Congresses, the legacy of a department that will work in close coordination to secure the homeland," the president said.
The president echoed the call by House Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt of Missouri to pass the proposal by September 11.
Lawmakers were noncommittal about the prospect. "That's certainly an area that we'd like to aim to get done," said House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert.
In a more vague endorsement, Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle said the proposal raises many questions, but he was optimistic "that at some point in the not-too-distant future we're able to answer them with greater confidence than we can today."
In Kansas City yesterday, Mr. Bush toured a water treatment facility with Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge and Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Christie Whitman. Later at Oak Park High School, the president said: "We're pleased to see how secure the plant is."
Mr. Bush said that "eventually" there will be grant money available to help water plants address security vulnerabilities.
Bush spokesman Ari Fleischer said yesterday the proposed department would be "as close to budget neutral as possible," which was different from his earlier statement that consolidating nearly 100 offices into the new department would be "budget neutral."
Mr. Fleischer defended the earlier statement, saying: "I said that there would be some transition costs, depending on the decisions that are made by the Congress."

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