"The number one priority of this government and the future governments will be to protect the American people against terrorist attack," said Bush, campaigning for the homeland security bill, told an audience made up of members of Congress, groups of first responders and federal, local and state public officials.
Adding he believes it's important to create a Department of Homeland Security to prepare America for the "permanent duty" of defending the country. "We need this department for one main reason: America needs a group of dedicated professionals who wake up each morning with the overriding duty of protecting the American people."
Bush, however, threatened to veto any homeland security bill that doesn't exempt government workers who are moved into the Department of Homeland Security from collective bargaining laws and civil service rules, claiming such statutes could jeopardize national security.
AFL-CIO President John Sweeney pointed out that the United States "has guaranteed its career employees civil service protections and successfully fought and won wars."
He added, "History has proven that guaranteeing workers their rights does not imperil national security. Congress can and should create a new homeland security department without undermining the basic rights and protection of the thousands of government workers who will continue to serve their country in that new agency."
Bush would not be the first president wants to limit union membership among federal employees or deny some federal workers certain workplace rights available to federal workers in other government agencies or departments. Presidents Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George Bush and Bill Clinton all issued executive orders that prohibited unions from representing employees in several federal agencies and bureaus.
Bush said the Department of Homeland Security will have four primary tasks:
- Will control U.S. borders, and prevent terrorists and weapons from entering the country. "The way I like to put it," said Bush, "is we need to know who's coming in, and why they're coming in, and what they're bringing in with them, and whether or not they're leaving when they say they're going to leave."
- Will work with first responders to enable them to respond quickly and effectively to emergencies. "We need good cooperation between the federal government, the state governments and the local governments," said Bush.
- Will oversee and sponsor research to develop technologies to detect biological, chemical and nuclear weapons, and to discover drugs and treatments to protect U.S. citizens.
- Will identify and assess threats to the country, map those threats against vulnerabilities and act to secure the country.
Bush said his administration is working with Congress to forge a bipartisan bill, adding, "I believe we're making good progress." He added, to much laughter from the crowd, "Being the modest fellow that I am, I'm willing to recognize a good idea, even if it comes from Congress."