As more details emerged about President Bush's proposal to create a new Cabinet Department of Homeland Security, Bush invited congressional leaders to the White house on June 7 to start lobbying for their support.

Under Bush's plan, which he discussed in a June 6 televised address, parts or all of 11 current federal agencies would be merged into the new department. They include the Transportation Dept.'s Coast Guard and newly established Transportation Security Administration, as well as the Treasury Dept.'s Customs Service and Secret Service and the independent Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Bush addresses nation on homeland security plan. (White House photo by Paul Morse)

The White House says all the components now have a total full-time workforce of more than 169,000 and total funding of $37.5 billion, as measured by the amount Bush proposed for them in fiscal 2003.

The plan requires congressional approval. Some key lawmakers' initial reactions were favorable to the idea, but with reservations.

House Appropriations Committee Chairman C.W (Bill)Young (R-Fla.) said, "The threat to America's homeland is real and will be there for a long time. President Bush is to be commended for placing the security of the homeland as the nation's top priority. I support the concept of providing a greater focus on homeland security in the Executive Branch and I look forward to reviewing the President's proposal."

Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairman James M. Jeffords (Ind.-Vt.) said, "I applaud the President for putting forth an ambitious proposal for the Dept. of Homeland Security, but there are many details still to be worked through."

Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Robert C. Byrd Jr. (D-W.Va.) said that "making the Office of Homeland Security a Cabinet-level department will allow the new secretary to stand toe-to-toe with other departments, to fight for funding and to implement critical new strategies to protect Americans from terrorist attacks." But Byrd added, "I hope that this new status for the Office of Homeland Security amounts to more than just reshuffling the deck chairs on the Titanic."

Transportation Secretary Norman Y. Mineta, who would lose a sizable piece of his organization under the plan, says he fully supports Bush's proposal. If Congress does approve the plan, it will not come swiftly. Mineta told reporters June 7, "No matter what's happening, we still have our job to do....We've got to stay focused, including with TSA, on doing our business. We still have to stand up the [TSA]. So we have to stay focused on our job no matter what's going on, on the Hill or in other parts of the administration as they try to sell this program."

Mineta adds, "We are not going to be distracted by what is going on relating to this new reorganization, though we are very, very supportive of what the President is doing."