WASHINGTON (AP) – President Bush signed legislation yesterday creating a new Department of Homeland Security devoted to preventing domestic terror attacks. He promised it “will focus the full resources of the American government on the safety of the American people.”

The president picked Tom Ridge as the department’s first secretary.

Bush’s signature launched the most sweeping federal reorganization since the Defense Department’s birth in 1947, a process that his spokesman said could take up to two years to complete.

“Today we are taking historic action to defend the United States and protect our citizens against the dangers of a new era,” Bush said. “With my signature, this act of Congress will create a new Department of Homeland Security, ensuring our efforts to protect this country are comprehensive and united.”

Bush said he will nominate Navy Secretary Gordon England to be Ridge’s deputy, and Asa Hutchinson, the head of the Drug Enforcement Administration, to be undersecretary of border and transportation security.

“With a vast nation to defend, we can neither predict nor prevent every conceivable attack in a free and open society,” Bush said in an East Room event. “No department of government can completely guarantee our safety against ruthless killers who move and plot in shadows, yet our government will take every possible measure to safeguard … our people.”

Bush also reported progress in the war on terror. Democrats have questioned whether progress is being made, with Osama bin Laden apparently alive.

“Many terrorists are now being interrogated. Many terrorists have been killed. We’ve liberated a country,” Bush said. “This act takes the next critical steps in defending our country against the continuing threat of terrorism. The threat of mass murder on our own soil will be met with a united, effective response.”

The bill became snarled in partisan disputes on Capitol Hill, with Democrats refusing to grant the president the broad powers he sought to hire, fire and move workers in the new department.

Bush would not yield, and made the disagreement a political issue, railing against Democrats as he campaigned for Republican candidates through the fall. Democrats reversed course after their Election Day loss of Senate control was attributed partly to the homeland security fight.Bush invited union leaders to the signing ceremony and told them, “We look forward to working with you to make sure your people are treated fairly in this new department.”

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