Bush Outlines Proposal for Cabinet-Level Department of Homeland Security
President Bush yesterday outlined a proposal to create a new Cabinet-level Department of Homeland Security, which would oversee the government's response to disasters and "tighten the nation's domestic defenses," the Washington Post reports. Although Bush last fall created the White House Office of Homeland Security, such a defense structure was deemed "unworkable" by White House officials because Director Tom Ridge had no "clear authority over the agencies charged with homeland protection" (Allen/Miller, Washington Post, 6/7). If approved by Congress, the new department would absorb operations, employees and funds from existing federal agencies. Under Bush's proposal, the department would have an annual budget of $37.5 billion and 170,000 employees (Bumiller/Sanger, New York Times, 6/7). The department would have four main divisions: Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear Countermeasures; Emergency Preparedness and Response; Information Analysis and Infrastructure Protection; and Border and Transportation Security (Ricks, Washington Post, 6/7).
In the new department, a division would be tasked with protecting against chemical, biological and nuclear threats, assuming control of public health, defense and research operations currently handled by HHS and the Energy and Agriculture departments (Robbins et al., Wall Street Journal, 6/7). The CDC's Bioterrorism Preparedness and Response Program, which distributes funds to the states, and National Pharmaceutical Stockpile Program likely would be shifted to the new department, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports. The transfer of those two programs means that the CDC would lose about 300 employees and $4 billion from its budget (McKenna, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 6/7). The emergency response division would be responsible for responding to an attack involving weapons of mass destruction, absorbing responsibilities held by HHS' Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear Response Assets operation. The new department's border and transportation division would absorb the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (Ricks, Washington Post, 6/7). In a televised speech to outline his plan, Bush said the new department would "bring together our best scientists to develop technologies that detect biological, chemical and nuclear weapons." He added that it would "discover the drugs and treatments to best protect our citizens" (Bush speech text, AP/New York Times, 6/7). The Times reports that Bush hopes to have the new department running by Jan. 1, 2003 (New York Times, 6/7). It remains uncertain if Bush will nominate Ridge to head the new department (Wall Street Journal, 6/7).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.