President George W. Bush spoke at Argonne National Laboratory on Monday in an effort to emphasize the role of technological development in the war against terrorism. After an extensive tour of the facilities, Bush delivered an address outlining his plans for the creation of the cabinet-level Department of Homeland Security. The version of the bill currently on the Senate floor may face presidential veto since it does not follow Bush's plan for employee management.
"The new secretary of Homeland Security must have the freedom and the flexibility to be able to get the right people in the right job at the right time," Bush said. "We need the freedom to manage. We don't need to be micro-managed."
Bush called Monday for Congress to create an executive department able to move money and resources quickly. Those resources include the products of national laboratory research.
"We're in a new kind of war today." Bush said. "In this new war, we will rely on the genius and creativity of the American people. And that's why I'm here, to look in the eyes of those who possess the genius and the creativity of the American people. Our scientific community is seated on the front lines of this war, by developing new technologies that will make America safe."
The President viewed advanced technologies developed by Argonne and several other national laboratories to protect Americans. "Argonne showed three different detectors," said Donna Pelkie, media consultant at Argonne. "One that detects neutrons that can pinpoint hidden nuclear material, a chemical sensor that can locate chemical weapons, and a computer chip that can examine biological materials."
Although Argonne, run by the University of Chicago, is an offshoot of Enrico Fermi's nuclear reaction research, it is not a defense laboratory, and Bush's visit is the first of any President to any of the national laboratories. After calling Argonne "a place where smart people work," Bush suggested that the research of the national laboratories, while not defense research per se, would often fall under the jurisdiction of his proposed Department of Homeland Security.
"We will harness our science and our technology in a way to protect the American people," he said. "We will consolidate most federally funded homeland security research and development to avoid duplication, and to make sure all the efforts are focused."
Argonne officials were unsure of exactly how the new agency would affect their research. "It's not exactly clear if Argonne will be part of the Department of Homeland Security," Pelkie said. "But we will contribute in any way possible."
Bush said the reason he chose Argonne as the site to push for the new department is that technology resulting from research at national labs is essential to the country's protection. "The American people need to know we've got a lot of brain power working on ways to deal with the threats that we now face as we head into the 21st century," he said.
Bush was joined on his visit by Director of Homeland Security Tom Ridge, Governor George Ryan, and Illinois Attorney General Jim Ryan. Senators Dick Durbin and Peter Fitzgerald and House members Judy Diggert, Jerry Well, and Mark Kirk were also present. "I look forward to giving them a lift back to Washington," joked the President.
The remainder of the address primarily focused on legislation regarding the Department of Homeland Security. "I asked congress to join me in creating a single, permanent, cabinet-level Department of Homeland Security with an overriding and urgent mission, with this primary focus: to secure the American homeland," said Bush.
However, yesterday the homeland security bill was backed by committee and sent to the entire Senate after debate over personnel issues. Republicans and Democrats bickered over who would have the ability to evaluate and, if needed, fire the 170,000 employees of the proposed department. And although the President proposed the department only a month ago, White House spokesman Ari Fleischer suggested yesterday that the President would veto the bill creating it as it now stands.