Most homeland security agencies to move by March

The White House released its initial plan for organizing the Homeland Security Department on Monday, including a time frame for moving agencies to the new department.

Pending Senate confirmation, Homeland Security Secretary-designate Tom Ridge will take office on Jan. 24, and nearly all of the agencies slated to move to the department will transfer on March 1. All agency transfers will be completed by Sept. 30, 2003 according to the plan, which was required under the Homeland Security Act that President Bush signed Monday.

The plan does not state whether any employees will move offices when their agencies are transferred. The White House is looking for office space in the Washington area, and District of Columbia politicians, including Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C., have argued the new department's headquarters should be in the District. Northern Virginia offers additional sites for the potential headquarters, according to Rep. James Moran, D-Va. "Because we built more than in Maryland and the District, we have more office space and you can get very good prices," he said in a recent interview with Government Executive.

The first milestone for the department will be Jan. 24, when several new offices will be created, including the Office of the Secretary, the Bureau of Border Security and the Homeland Security Advanced Research Projects Agency, the new department's research and development arm.

On March 1, the department will assume authority over nearly every agency transferred to the department, including the Transportation Security Administration, Coast Guard, Customs Service, Federal Emergency Management Agency, Secret Service and most of the Immigration and Naturalization Service, which will be split up in the new department. INS functions dealing with the care of unaccompanied alien children will transfer from the Justice Department to the Health and Human Services Department.

The Agriculture Department's Plum Island Animal Disease Center is slated to move to the Homeland Security Department by June 1.

The department will tap $140 million in the continuing budget resolution (H.J. Res. 124) to pay for the initial reorganization, according to the plan. A transition office at the Office of Management and Budget is managing the reorganization, with heavy input from officials in the Office of Homeland Security.

The Bush administration has committed to integrating accounting and computer systems in the new department. Officials have pledged to unveil a common e-mail system and merge more than 55 terrorist watch lists on Jan. 24, when the department starts operating.

Shane Harris contributed to this report.

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