Over Thanksgiving break, President Bush signed legislation that formed a new Department of Homeland Security – but not before a fierce Senate debate.
Former Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge, who has acted as the White House domestic security coordinator since September 2001, was appointed as secretary of the new Department of Homeland Security.
The newly formed department was put together after both Republicans and Democrats agreed that national security needed to be addressed differently after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. It is the largest reorganization of the federal government on the cabinet level since the days of President Harry Truman.
The bipartisan agreement noted that the United States needed to do more to protect American citizens. But the measure underwent a lot of controversy in the Senate recently – both parties agreed on a need for change, but could not agree on exactly how to pass the bill and it was stalled for months.
The Democrats’ primary problem with the legislation involved union protections for government workers. They wanted to maintain current policies regarding the right of certain government laborers to organize, and the White House argued that the president needed more authority in order for the department to function properly.
Under Bush’s plan, more than100 different government organizations will come together, including the Coast Guard, the Secret Service and customs and immigration.
Democrats and some Republicans also took issue with the inclusion of the Immigration and Naturalization Service, claiming it is already in dire need of reorganization and shuttling it over to another area of the government would only exacerbate the problem.
“America needs a single, unified homeland security structure that will improve protection against today’s threats and be flexible enough to help meet the unknown threats of the future,” Bush wrote in a report on homeland security.
The new department’s aims include improving security on the borders and coasts while strengthening the ability of federal, state and local authorities to respond to an attack; focusing research into nuclear, chemical and biological threats; and more rigorously assessing intelligence about terrorists.
Bush believes this will make the country safer because of the focus on security being placed under one department. The Homeland Security Department would be in charge of homeland preparedness, training and equipping the first responders in a crisis and managing federal emergency response activities.
Analysts have predicted it will take a year before the department will be completely organized and ready for operation. Bush would like to see everything put together by March 1, 2003.
The legislation also brought about controversy throughout the nation as people began to question the restraints it might place on American civil liberties.
“The passing of Homeland Security is the end of our private lives,” said Aaron Pinsker, a junior science engineering major. “I understand the need for it, but going into our private lives and knowing everything isn’t the way to go.”
Some of the department’s new powers will include increased surveillance, in several forms, with the intent of searching for and locating potential terrorists. But some Americans fear intrusion into private lives if the government takes its powers too far.
The types of information that could be government-monitored have not yet been decided.