Bush creates homeland defense agency

In an address to Congress and the nation Thursday night, President Bush announced the creation of a new Cabinet-level Office of Homeland Security. The new office, Bush said, will "lead, oversee and coordinate a national strategy to safeguard our country against terrorism and respond to any attacks that come." The new office will be headed by Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge. Bush noted that currently, several different federal agencies have responsibility for aspects of homeland defense, and said Ridge would work to manage their efforts. Despite his Cabinet-level status, the director of the Office of Homeland Security will not need Senate confirmation and his office will be based within the White House, White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer said Friday.

Fleischer said the new office will be established by executive order and compared it to the Office of Faith-Based Initiatives. Pennsylvania GOP Gov. Tom Ridge, who will head the new office, will serve as an assistant to the President, not as an agency chief.

Some members of Congress have pushed for the creation of a single agency to be responsible for homeland defense. Such an agency would embrace some combination of the Border Patrol, the Immigration and Naturalization Service, the Drug Enforcement Agency, the Customs Service, the Coast Guard, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and possibly others. Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, introduced legislation to create such an agency earlier this year. In his speech, Bush said the United States is "a country awakened to danger and called to defend freedom." He pledged to launch an all-out assault on terrorists and the nations who harbor them. "We will direct every resource at our command," Bush said. The effort, the President said, would not be like the ground war against Iraq or the recent air war over Kosovo, but would be "a lengthy campaign unlike any we have ever seen." In remarks directed to military service members, Bush said, "the hour is coming when America will act, and you will make us proud."

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