Agencies begin transfer to Homeland Security

Wednesday, February 26, 2003

WASHINGTON -- In a day marking the transfer of agencies to the Homeland Security Department, many lamented on Tuesday a bittersweet episode in American history that was spurred by a greater need for protection.

The Secret Service, Customs Service and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms were among Treasury Department agencies transferred during a ceremony commemorating their move and their new enforcement responsibilities. Some of the agencies date back 200 years.

"Their history will not be lost on us," Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge said at George Washington University's Lisner auditorium. "Their lessons will help us."

Moving 175,000 workers

Altogether, 175,000 people throughout the government will be coming together in the biggest government reorganization since creation of the Defense Department in 1947.

Ridge joined Treasury Secretary John Snow and Deputy Attorney General Larry Thompson to commemorate the transfer of the agencies, including the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center. The transfer takes place March 1.

"The war on terrorism ultimately involves cooperation of every agency of government at every level," said Secret Service director Ralph Basham.

Earlier, the Coast Guard marked its transfer to the department according to military tradition, with a change-of-watch ceremony replete with color guard, speeches, silent drill team and John Philip Sousa marches.

The Coast Guard on Saturday will formally become about one-fourth of the new department. The Coast Guard moves from the Transportation Department, where it's been for 36 years.

The Coast Guard's mission will continue unchanged, though it is taking on added responsibilities for securing ports and in the potential conflict in Iraq. About 1,500 active Coast Guardsmen are being sent to the Persian Gulf, aboard four cutters that have already arrived and seven on their way, according to Cmdr. Jim McPherson.

"No branch of the military has as much history protecting the homeland as the U.S. Coast Guard," Ridge told about 1,500 Coast Guardsmen inside the D.C. Stadium-Armory.

Since the Sept. 11 attacks, the Coast Guard has been more involved with national security, having started a sea marshal program, created highly trained special maritime safety teams and assessed potential terrorist threats at U.S. ports.

Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta's voice broke as he spoke of his special affection for the Coast Guard. "Tom, please take good care of them," said Mineta, who was made an honorary Coast Guard officer.

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