Bush discusses new department (photo courtesy of White House)

Launching the biggest federal reorganization in more than 50 years, President Bush has signed into law a bill that establishes a Cabinet department to coordinate the government's homeland security efforts. He also announced he would nominate Tom Ridge, the current White House Homeland Security Advisor, to be the new department's secretary.

In signing the legislation on Nov. 25, Bush said the measure "takes the next critical steps in defending our country. The continuing threat of terrorism, the threat of mass murder on our own soil will be met with a unified, effective response."

It will be many months, however, before the mammoth new organization is in place. It encompasses some 170,000 workers from more than 20 current agencies or parts of departments, including the Coast Guard, Transportation Security Administration, Federal Emergency Management Agency and U.S. Customs Service.

Besides announcing his choice of Ridge, the former Pennsylvania governor, to head the department, Bush said he would nominate Navy Secretary Gordon England as deputy secretary and Drug Enforcement Administration chief Asa Hutchinson as under secretary for border and transportation security.

Bush said the new entity "will also end a great deal of duplication and overlapping responsibilities. Our objective is to spend less on administrators in offices and more on working agents in the field--less on overhead and more on protecting our neighborhoods and borders and waters and skies from terrorists."