- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 20, 2002

The homeland security legislation that passed the Senate by a 90-9 vote last night is the largest reorganization of the federal government in 50 years, consolidating 22 agencies with 170,000 employees into a new department that will cost nearly $40 billion to create.

The law goes into effect 60 days after President Bush signs it, but could take three years before the new department is fully operational.

Mr. Bush is planning to name top officials to the department during the official bill signing, including his choice for secretary of Homeland Security, a White House spokesman said.

Tom Ridge, former governor of Pennsylvania, currently serves as Mr. Bush's homeland security adviser. Mr. Ridge is considered the leading candidate to fill the Cabinet-level post to head the new department, but his spokesman declined to comment.

"The governor has said he will serve in the capacity the president would like him to serve," said Gordon Johndroe, spokesman for the White House Office of Homeland Security.

Mr. Bush created a transition planning office in the summer to oversee construction and the consolidation of the new department. Computer systems are already being inventoried for compatibility, and a number of locations in the region are being looked at to house the department, Mr. Johndroe said.

"We will let them determine what physical space they need in the long run," he said.

The administration has one year to transfer all personnel into the new department, but full integration of all systems will occur over the next two years.

Major agencies consolidated into the new department include the Coast Guard, Customs Service, Border Patrol, Federal Emergency Management Agency, Secret Service, Transportation Security Administration, the border inspection part of the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, and Immigration and Naturalization Service.

The legislation survived several last-ditch efforts by Democrats to strip provisions on tort reform and to deny the president flexibility he asked for to deal with labor unions despite the fact Democrats retain control of the Senate until January.

Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott said it "is not a perfect bill" and that fine-tuning will be required when the next session returns in January.

"We're going to find out that some of the provisions in here are not good," said Mr. Lott, Mississippi Republican.

Republicans fought back Democrat efforts yesterday to strip seven provisions from the legislation, but suggested they may rework language on three of the measures next year. The three include:

•Creation of a university-based homeland-security research center at Texas A&M University. Democrats call it a pork project for retiring Sen. Phil Gramm, Texas Republican.

•Reduce lawsuits against pharmaceutical companies that produce vaccines, and instead pay through a federal compensation program.

•And bar U.S. companies established overseas to take advantage of offshore tax cuts from being awarded government contracts.

Provisions that survived yesterday's debate will allow an advisory committee in the Homeland Security Department to avoid existing laws and meet in private on sensitive information.

They would make it easier for the Transportation Security Oversight Board to issue regulations and protect companies that provide passenger and baggage screening in airports from lawsuits. The board could offer similar legal protection to producers of anti-terrorism technologies.

Causing a stir but remaining intact is a provision creating the Homeland Security Advanced Research Projects Agency (HSARPA), which will fund research and development of technologies to promote domestic security.

Critics fear HSARPA will fund programs to develop technology that would allow the government to snoop on Americans in its hunt for terrorists. Sponsors say the bill does not create a program to monitor Americans, and actually contains several safeguards to protect privacy rights.

One heated issue to survive the final rewrite is language allowing firearm-trained pilots to carry a gun in the cockpit. However, the creation of a special commission to investigate the events leading up to the September 11 attacks was scrapped.

The bill maintains worker protections, but at the request of Mr. Bush it creates a flexible work force that can respond to shifting threats to protect the country from terrorists. The compromise agreement allows for union negotiations, but if negotiations fail, there is a process for the secretary to implement changes in policy.

Democrats accused Republicans of playing politics with the new department's creation and using it as a tool to weaken labor unions.

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