WASHINGTON – President Bush on Tuesday submitted the nation's first-ever comprehensive strategy for confronting terrorism within its borders, calling the protection of America "our most urgent national priority."
The 88-page plan sent to Congress calls for significant changes to current state and federal laws, would allow the military to operate within the country's borders, and outlines dozens of long-range initiatives to improve homeland security.
Among the specific proposals are plans to allow soldiers to enforce quarantines in the event of a chemical or biological weapons attack and the creation of "red teams" of agents who would think like terrorists to pinpoint weaknesses in national policy.
On the federal level the plan calls for extradition agreements with other nations to be expanded and would make it easier for the government to call out the National Guard and give the president greater power to transfer money appropriated by Congress to deal with terrorist threats inside U.S. borders.
The strategy also calls for states to adopt minimum standards for getting a driver's license to guard against ease of access by terrorists, and to make terrorism insurance more readily available to businesses and property owners.
"This comprehensive plan lays out clear lines of authority and clear responsibilities. Responsibilities for federal employees, for governors and mayors, and community business leaders and American citizens," Bush told a bipartisan group of lawmakers during a Rose Garden address.
The centerpiece of the plan is Bush's proposal to create a Cabinet-level Department of Homeland Security. The idea has broad support among both Democrats and Republicans in Congress.
"By acting together to create a new and single Department of Homeland Security, we will be sending this world a signal that the Congress and the administration will work together to protect the American people and to win this war on terror," Bush said.
The "red team" proposal would identify potential methods and targets terrorists would employ. It would exempt information on the vulnerabilities of utilities and chemical plants from public disclosure requirements, improve FBI analysis of intelligence by quadrupling the number of analysts sifting through information, and create "smart borders" that better guard against foreign entry.
Bush's strategy also proposes requiring biometric travel documents, such as fingerprints or retinal scans, to keep better track of foreigners. It calls for developing new nuclear and radiological screening tools at borders and ports, and for research on new vaccines and antidotes against biological and chemical attacks.
The plan urges states to make terrorism insurance available to businesses and property owners and asks them to create lines of succession in event of an emergency.
Bush said America's open society and government "patchwork" of services offer an almost infinite array of potential targets and hinders the ability to provide a security blanket, but his plan offers a way to do as much as possible to guard the country.
Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge has been outlining the strategy on Capitol Hill as he tries to persuade Congress to back the combination of 22 federal agencies into a Cabinet-level department.
Ridge said the country needs to make basic security improvements such as making it tougher to get a driver’s license, or using computers to determine when people pose a terrorist threat.
"There are ways in which we can take a look at individual conduct to determine whether or not the actors may conceivably be involved in terrorist activity," Ridge told Fox News.
"If we had had a chance to take a look at the [Sept. 11] hijackers," Ridge said, "how they crisscrossed the country on numerous occasions, ... how they didn't stay at any one place for any one particular period of time, how they opened different bank accounts ... we might [have been] able to predict whether or not [they were] a potential risk to this country."
Ridge was back up on Capitol Hill Tuesday along with a cadre of Cabinet secretaries to lobby Congress, including Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson, Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman, Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta and Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham.
The secretaries may find resistance among some quarters of Capitol Hill who are reluctant to accept so many changes and to transfer some security and enforcement units into the new department.
"Many of us feel that we should build on the strengths of these existing programs rather than create potential confusion," said Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., at a hearing of the Senate health committee that he chairs.
So far, lawmakers in the House have decided they prefer to keep the disaster-response Federal Emergency Management Agency independent of the new DHS. House Transportation Committee members voted last week to keep the Coast Guard in the Transportation Department for fear it would not be able to continue its other duties like marine search-and-rescue and maintaining fisheries if it is moved.
Lawmakers are also rejecting the notion of giving the president the authority to transfer funds earmarked by Congress for specific programs.
House Majority Leader Dick Armey, the panel's chairman, said it was unlikely Congress would grant Bush's request for broad transfer authority of up to 5 percent of each year's security budget.
Fox News' Wendell Goler and the Associated Press contributed to this report.