President Bush on Thursday called on Congress to pass the stalled bill authorizing the creation of the Department of Homeland Security, saying the measure should be the legislators top priority.
"The single most important piece of unfinished business on Capitol Hill is to create a unified Department of Homeland Security that will vastly improve our ability to protect our coasts and our borders and our communities," Bush said in a news briefing. "Its imperative that the Congress send me a bill that I can sign before the 107th Congress ends."
Security experts and vendors are watching the process closely, as the proposed bill includes a provision that would combine nearly all of the federal governments information security assets under one roof. Many observers expect this reorganization to greatly improve the information-sharing process among the various organizations.
In the interim, top officials from the Federal Computer Incident Response Center, the National Infrastructure Protection Center, the Critical Infrastructure Assurance Office and other organizations have begun meeting and coordinating their activities. But until the new department is up and running—which some government officials say might not happen until late spring or early summer—there is little more they can do.
The Homeland Security bill has been delayed in the Senate for several months as lawmakers bicker over civil service rules contained in the proposed legislation. Congress is due to return from its recess next week and will take up a number of appropriations bills, including the Homeland Security legislation.
And, given this Congress lame-duck status, even Bush wasnt entirely optimistic about the chances of all of the key legislation passing before the current session ends, likely by the end of the year.
"Given the amount of time theyre likely to be here, thats a pretty big agenda," Bush acknowledged. "We got a good bill out of the House and they need to get a bill out of the Senate, into conference and to my desk. I dont know how much time thats going to take, but having watched the debate prior to the election, it may take some time. But it doesnt matter how long it takes, they need to get it done.
"The most important thing to get done, I want to emphasize, is to get the Department of Homeland Security finished," Bush added. "[There are] some rumors moving around that…we may not be too keen on getting that done. I want it done. Its a priority."