Congress Creates Department of Homeland Security

Take a few federal agencies, add parts of federal departments, throw in a dab of new institutions, stir, and you have the Department of Homeland Security, created by Congress on November 19 (Public Law 107-296) to better prepare the United States to respond to terrorist incidents, disasters, and other catastrophic events. Congress also added new responsibilities and programs to other departments in the executive branch. The Homeland Security Act of 2002 was signed into law by President Bush on November 25, 2002.

The primary missions of the new department are to prevent terrorist attacks within the United States, reduce U.S. vulnerability to terrorism, minimize damage and assist in the recovery from terrorist attacks that do occur, carry out functions of entities transferred to the department (including acting as a focal point regarding natural and human-caused crises and emergency planning), ensure that the overall economic security of the U.S. is not diminished by homeland security activities, and sever connections between illegal drug trafficking and terrorism. The primary responsibility for investigating and prosecuting acts of terrorism, however, will still remain under the jurisdictions of pertinent federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies.

Secretary of Homeland Security

The secretary of the new department will be responsible for:

  • coordinating with state and local governments and the private sector to ensure adequate planning, equipment, training, and exercise activities;
  • coordinating and, as appropriate, consolidating the federal government’s communications systems relating to homeland security with state and local government agencies, the private sector, and others; and
  • coordinating the distribution of warnings and information to state and local government authorities and the public.

The secretary will have a special assistant to coordinate homeland security activities with the private sector. Other newly created offices include the Deputy Secretary of Homeland Security, the Office of State and Local Government Coordination, and a Joint Interagency Homeland Security Task Force made up of representatives from military and civilian agencies of the federal government.

Department Directorates

The new department is organized into four directorates: Information Analysis and Infrastructure Protection, Science and Technology, Border and Transportation Security, and Emergency Preparedness and Response.

Directorate for Information Analysis and Infrastructure Protection

This directorate will access, receive, and analyze law enforcement and intelligence information from federal, state, and local government agencies and the private sector. It will assess the vulnerabilities of key resources and critical infrastructure of the U.S. and identify priorities for protective and support measures.

This directorate will also administer the Homeland Security Advisory System to provide advisories, alerts, and warnings to relevant companies, targeted sectors, other governmental entities, or the general public regarding potential threats to infrastructure.

It will also establish a national technology guard, to be known as “NET Guard,” composed of local teams of volunteer experts in relevant areas of science and technology, to assist local communities to respond to and recover from attacks on information systems and communications networks.

Directorate of Science and Technology

Created to advise the secretary regarding research and development efforts, this office will establish a national policy and strategic plan for the civilian effort to institute countermeasures to terrorist threats, including the development of comprehensive, research-based goals, and implementation of research, development, demonstration, testing, and evaluation activities.

Several programs from the Department of Energy that deal with chemical and biological security, nuclear threats, and microbial pathogens research have been transferred to this directorate.

The directorate will have the authority to establish or contract with federally funded research centers to provide independent, unclassified analysis of homeland security issues. It will include the Homeland Security Advanced Research Projects Agency (HSARPA), which will award grants, cooperative agreements, or contracts to public and private entities. In addition, Congress stipulated that this program must ensure that colleges, universities, private research institutes, and companies from “as many areas of the U.S. as practicable participate in the research.”

Within one year of enactment, this directorate is to create one or more university-based centers for homeland security. Also, the under secretary may draw upon the expertise of any laboratory of the federal government and must establish a Homeland Security and Technology Advisory Committee. The directorate will also set up a technology clearinghouse to encourage and support innovation.

A Homeland Security Institute will be created by the secretary as a separate entity to perform systems and risk analysis and modeling, undertake economic and policy analysis of various approaches to enhancing security, identify improvements in common standards and protocols, devise methods for evaluating effectiveness of homeland security programs, design and support exercises and simulations, and create strategic technologies. The institute shall terminate three years after the effective date of the act.

Directorate of Border and Transportation Security

This directorate will work to prevent the entry of terrorists and instruments of terror into the U.S. Activities include securing borders, territorial waters, ports, terminals, waterways, and all transportation systems. The directorate will also enforce immigration policies and oversee inspections of imported agricultural products. The legislation moves many functions of the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) into this directorate and abolishes the agency. The U.S. Customs Service is also transferred to this directorate, along with the Transportation Security Administration of the Department of Transportation, the Office for Domestic Preparedness of the Department of Justice, and the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center from the Department of the Treasury.

Under this directorate, the Office for Domestic Preparedness will have primary responsibility within the executive branch for the preparedness of the U.S. for acts of terrorism. The office will coordinate preparedness efforts at all levels of government as well as the private and nonprofit sectors, including training, exercises, and equipment sup-port. It will oversee grant programs, other than those provided by the Department of Health and Human Services, for all emergency response providers. In addition, it will cooperate closely with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), which will be moved to the Directorate of Emergency Preparedness and Response and shall have the primary responsibility within the executive branch to prepare for and mitigate the effects of nonterrorist-related disasters in the country. However, elements of the Office of National Preparedness of FEMA that relate to terrorism will be transferred to the Office for Domestic Preparedness.

Directorate of Emergency Preparedness and Response

This office will work to ensure the effectiveness of emergency response providers to respond to terrorist attacks, major disasters as defined under the Stafford Act, and other emergencies. It will also establish standards, conduct exercises, and provide funds for training and planning for response to nuclear incidents.

The directorate will provide the federal government’s response to major disasters, terrorist attacks, and nuclear incidents. The agency will also aid the recovery from catastrophic events by building a comprehensive national incident management system with federal, state, and local governments and the private and nonprofit sectors; consolidating existing federal emergency response plans into a single national response plan; and establishing comprehensive programs for interoperative communications technology and assisting emergency response providers in acquiring such technology.

FEMA will become part of this directorate, as will the Integrated Hazard Information System of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (which will be renamed “FIRESAT”); offices of the Department of Justice; and the Office of Emergency Preparedness, the National Disaster Medical System, and other organizations from the Department of Health and Human Services.

FEMA will retain all functions and authorities prescribed under the Stafford Act. It will lead the nation in a comprehensive, risk-based emergency management program of mitigation, preparedness, response, and recovery. FEMA will remain the lead agency for the Federal Response Plan; however, the FEMA director must revise the plan to reflect the changes in this legislation.

Congress mandated this directorate to use, to the maximum extent practicable, private sector networks and infrastructure for emergency response to chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear, explosive, or other major disasters.

Office of the President

The legislation establishes within the Executive Office of the President the Homeland Security Council to advise the chief executive. Members will include the president, the vice president, the secretary of Homeland Security, the attorney general, the secretary of Defense, and others designated by the president.

Department of Justice (DOJ)

Congress created within the DOJ the Directorate of Science and Technology to serve as the focal point for law enforcement technology and provide equipment, training, and technical assistance to federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms will be transferred from the Department of Revenue to DOJ.


Under the Homeland Security Act, the president must submit a reorganization plan to Congress within 60 days of the enactment of this legislation. The executive branch will be allowed a 12-month transition period from the effective date of the act. However, agencies cannot be transferred until 90 days after the reorganization plan is submitted. Congress also expressed the need to reorganize committee structures in both houses to coordinate with the reorganization of the executive branch.

The 475-page text of the Homeland Security Act of 2002 can be found at any federal repository library or on the Library of Congress web site:

The Department of Homeland Security Reorganization Plan (2002, 18 pp., free), along with the latest news and information regarding creation of the new department, can be found on the White House web site at

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