WASHINGTON – President Bush (search) endorsed on Monday two of the main recommendations of the Sept. 11 commission (search), including naming a national intelligence director and creating a National Counterterrorism Center.
"[The commission's] recommendations are thoughtful and valuable. My administration has already taken numerous actions consistent with the commission's recommendations. Today we're taking additional steps," Bush said in a Rose Garden announcement.
"Today, I am asking the Congress to create the position of a national intelligence director," he said. "The national intelligence director will serve as the president's principal intelligence adviser and will oversee and coordinate the foreign and domestic activities of the intelligence community."
Bush's decision to embrace the recommendations, with some changes, are the first steps since the report that the president has taken to revamp the nation's intelligence-gathering system to help thwart terrorist attacks. The commission's report, released late last month, highlighted lapses in intelligence that left America vulnerable to the 2001 terror attacks.
The commission "came to a conclusion that I share: that the country is safer than on September 11, but we're still not safe enough," Bush said.
Bush's decision to call on Congress to act quickly takes on special currency since Sunday's announcement by U.S. authorities that they had uncovered a plot by the Al Qaeda (search) terror network to attack five prominent financial institutions in New York City, Washington, D.C., and Newark, N.J.
Bush called the plot a "solemn reminder of the threat we continue to face."
Congress is in its August recess and won't be back until after Labor Day. Bush said congressional members have been thinking about these issues for a while and should be able to act on them in September rather than being called back to session.
"We look forward to working with them," he said.
Although Bush called for a national intelligence director to oversee all 15 of the nation's intelligence agencies, the office would be outside the White House, a departure from the commission's recommendations.
The commission envisions that the National Counterterrorism Center will be a joint operational planning and intelligence center staffed by personnel from all the spy agencies and will be inside the White House. But Bush also wants the center to be outside the White House, saying that as a "stand-alone group," it could "better coordinate" with intelligence agencies domestic and abroad.
"We want to ensure that the intelligence operators and analysts maintain their autonomy" and "that has to be a key consideration at the issue of where you place either of those," said a senior administration official, who asked not to be named.
"The president has clearly made a decision for the NID to have an awful lot of clout, an awful lot of power," said White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card at a Monday press conference.
Explaining one reason that the new national intelligence director would not be housed in the White House, Card said, "The new director would have a relatively large staff that would include analysts and support staff. It is not realistic that a large staff could fit into the White House complex.
Sherwood Boehlert (search), R-N.Y., a member of the House Select Committee on Intelligence, also agreed with the president's decision. "I think the president is right to have the person outside the White House. Outside the White House as the director of the CIA is, as the director of the FBI is. Outside of the White House they don't get involved in the inner politics of the White House," he told FOX News.
On Monday, Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry (search) slammed the president for moving too slowly. "The fact that its taken us three years to get here makes its own statement about urgency," Kerry told reporters. "We cannot afford reluctance in the protection of our country."
He also criticized the president for not making the NDI a Cabinet post.
"You give greater power to the person if they are seen as speaking for the White House," he said.
Currently, the CIA (search) director not only heads his own agency but also oversees the U.S. intelligence community. But the director has neither budgetary authority nor day-to-day operational control of the other agencies, most of which are in the Defense Department. A national intelligence director would oversee all the agencies.
The addition of this new position will require the administration to carefully consider how the director will fit in the Cabinet.
"It has to be figured out what exactly the rules are for dealing with other Cabinet officials," said James Gilmore, former chairman of the Congressional Advisory Panel to Assess Domestic Response Capabilities for Terrorism Involving Weapons of Mass Destruction, also known as the "Gilmore Commission."
Bush's announcement comes after Kerry embraced all of the commission's recommendations, in addition to accusing the president of dragging his feet on intelligence reforms.
"I think they are now moving to catch up. But what America wants is leadership that's ahead of the curve, that doesn't have to be told by an independent commission — which they, incidentally, fought to prevent," Kerry told "FOX News Sunday."
In response to this criticism, Bush said that his administration has accomplished a lot. "We have implemented significant reforms since 9/11. The FBI has reformed. Director [Robert] Mueller has done an excellent job." Bush continued by saying that the communication between the CIA and FBI has improved, the Department of Homeland Security was established and information is shared much more effectively.
Administration officials also had said that endorsing all of the commission's recommendations could have unintended consequences.
The administration also said it has already taken steps that respond to some of the 40 recommendations the commission outlined in its 567-page report, released July 22, that highlighted intelligence lapses that led to the attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people.
The White House has issued its own 20-page report listing actions it has taken that are consistent with the panel's recommendations.
In addition to proposals for the national director of intelligence and the National Counterterrorism Center, the report says Bush's senior advisers are preparing recommendations on how best to move forward in the following areas:
— Hiring and training more people to collect intelligence.
— Setting standards for issuing birth certificates and other forms of identification, such as driver's licenses, to reduce fraud.
— Disclosing now-secret parts of the federal budget to let the public know how much money is being spent on intelligence.
— Shifting the lead responsibility for directing and executing paramilitary operations, both clandestine and covert, to the Defense Department.
— Improving and setting common standards for information-sharing throughout the intelligence community.
— Speeding up national security appointments during administration changeovers.
— Setting up a national security workforce at the FBI comprising analysts, linguists and surveillance specialists to concentrate on national security.
— Regularly assessing the strategies used by the Northern Command (search), the only military command focusing solely on defending U.S. soil.
FOX News' Wendell Goler and Peter Brownfeld and The Associated Press contributed to this report.