In a legislative victory for President Bush, the Senate has overwhelmingly approved a bill to establish a Cabinet-level homeland security department. The Senate vote on Nov. 19 was 90-9. The measure, which Bush had called his top priority in the lame duck session, next goes to the President's desk for his signature.

Bush hailed the Senate's action as "an historic and bold step forward to protect the American people." He also said the reorganization laid out in the bill would be the biggest since the 1940s, when President Truman proposed merging the Depts. of War and the Navy into a new Dept. of Defense.

The homeland security department would combine about 20 different existing agencies or parts of current Cabinet departments. Those units' current workforces total approximately 169,000. Among the components of the new entity would be the Transportation Security Administration, Coast Guard, U.S. Customs Service and Federal Emergency Management Agency.

The impact on construction from the reorganization will not be immediate. For one thing, it will take months to carry out the daunting task of setting up and staffing the huge new department. The construction programs at the agencies slated to be moved to the homeland security organization can be expected to continue, at least for now.

But those agencies face short-term funding questions. Because Congress has approved none of the non-defense appropriations bills for fiscal 2003, the homeland security agencies will be running at 2002 budget levels at least through January.

Bush's success in campaigning for GOP candidates in the November elections clearly gave a boost to the homeland security legislation. The House had passed Bush's plan virtually intact in July, but it was stalled in the Senate for months as Democrats there, supported by organized labor, balked at Bush's desire for more "flexibility" in personnel matters.

After the election, Bush told Congress he wanted the homeland security bill passed during the lame duck session. That sparked a quick compromise on personnel provisions and cleared the way to Senate passage.