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Bush Promotes Homeland Security Plan at N.J. Port

Defense: He tells Coast Guardsmen and others reorganization would make their jobs easier.

June 25, 2002|EDWIN CHEN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

NEWARK, N.J. -- President Bush toured the largest marine cargo terminal on the East Coast on Monday as he sought support for his plan to create a Cabinet-level Department of Homeland Security--the centerpiece of a reorganization effort that he said would make the federal government more effective in protecting Americans against terrorism.

"It'll make your jobs easier for those of you involved with the agencies I'm talking about," Bush told hundreds of Coast Guardsmen and workers at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which lost scores of employees in the Sept. 11 attack on the World Trade Center. Earlier, Bush met with many of their loved ones.

The president spoke on a sweltering morning in the shadows of towering cargo loaders here before attending a fund-raiser for Rep. Mike Ferguson (R-N.J.), a first-term congressman locked in a tough reelection campaign. Then Bush returned to Washington, where he announced his peace plan for the Middle East.

The president's proposal to create the department enjoys strong support on Capitol Hill, but impending turf battles could complicate the plan's passage; Bush said Monday that more than 100 existing agencies are involved with homeland security. At the same time, many lawmakers question whether the proposed reorganization would truly bring about better collaboration among the array of agencies charged with gathering intelligence, including the FBI, CIA and National Security Agency.

But the president sought to dispel such skepticism.

"...If cultures need to be changed within agencies, we'll change the cultures," he said.

Bringing homeland security under one authority, Bush added, will create "accountability and responsibility in Washington, D.C."

Such an agency, he told the Coast Guard personnel and port authority workers, would "make your jobs easier."

Bush also took note of a panoply of improvements at ports of entry to ensure that only safe cargo is allowed in. But Gordon Johndroe, a spokesman for Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge, conceded that, even now, only 2% of the 3,500 containers arriving daily at New York-area ports are screened, due to insufficient resources.

However, Johndroe added, "That percentage is slowly but surely increasing."

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