Director of Homeland Security Addresses Conference

The following is a transcript of remarks by Director of Homeland Security Gov. Tom Ridge in a speech to the Fletcher Conference in Washington, D.C.:

GOVERNOR RIDGE: I just had to thank Bob for that kind commercial on Pennsylvania. It's still where the roots are. I want to thank you for that kind introduction, and I also want to thank you for your thoughtful invitation to spend some time with you today.

I want to thank General Shinseki and his staff for organizing this very timely and relevant event. And taking a look at the list of speakers and extraordinary public servants that you have invited to participate in this event, I feel very honored to address such a distinguished meeting.

All of you share the President's goal of making America a safer place for all of us to live and to raise our families. It seems fitting to be at a conference, then, with the theme of focusing the instruments of the national power.

The principal challenge for homeland security is, in fact, to focus all of the resources at our disposal -- federal, state, local, and private -- to safeguard our country from those who try to do us harm. Unfortunately, nothing compels us to focus like a tragedy.

The events of September 11th created a shared sense of urgency and a common sense of purpose. That sense of purpose has fueled a national response that has been immediate and comprehensive. Recovery efforts in New York City and at the Pentagon, handling the anthrax challenge, identification, treatment, decontamination, investigation, addressing urgent economic needs, airlines, insurance, restoring affected commercial services, air travel, and mail, restoring public confidence while instilling vigilance.

For two months, we have been focused on our response and recovery from the terrorist attacks on our country. Federal agencies have mobilized to protect our critical infrastructure. The FAA took immediate steps to secure our airports. We've improved aviation security; has become a national priority. Hopefully, we -- Congress will listen, but we need Congress to take action now to pass the aviation security bill.

The FBI has stepped up its counterterrorist efforts with watch lists, threat credibility assessments. The Federal Emergency Management Agency is running a 24-hour operation center and staffing health service support teams. The FBI has taken on a new mission with the intelligence community that is prevention of terrorist attacks.

The Department of Energy has accelerated its oversight in joint coordination on nuclear material control and security enhancements. The Environmental Protection Agency has significantly increased its efforts to protect our water supply. The Coast Guard is patrolling our nation's harbors, nuclear power plants and other critical infrastructures.

And in addition to pursuing our nation's military objectives overseas, our Department of Defense is making a critical contribution to protect our nation's citizens and infrastructure as well. Army National Guard soldiers and Airmen are protecting our airports and patrolling our skies.

The Department of Justice has created our new Foreign Terrorist Tracking Task Force, which will help us in our effort to protect American citizens from the shadow enemy that we're up against; people who would use America's open and welcoming tradition of hospitality and generosity to hide their real motives, their real intent: committing atrocities against innocent people.

So as I've said, we are working to respond and recover from the events since September 11th. It is crucial, as response and recovery efforts are, the country can't focus exclusively on the present. And, therefore, neither can the Office of Homeland Security. We must seize and maintain an initiative. We must begin to improve and strengthen our domestic security for the long term. Our adversaries must respond to our game plan, instead of us responding to theirs.

So as we make this transition, we must focus on the larger mission of the Office of Homeland Security; and that is to create a comprehensive national strategy for homeland defense. Notice I said "national," not "federal." The national strategy the President envisions will involve all levels of government, federal, state and local. It will tap the creative genius and resources of both the public and the private sector.

We have begun working on the national homeland security strategy. The ultimate plan will include a comprehensive statement of all activities to secure the United States from terrorist threat or attacks. That's the language the President used in his executive order establishing the office.

We need to be able to detect and deter terrorist threats before they happen. And, if America is attacked again, to be able to trigger a seamless system of rapid response and recovery. As all of you know, the first step in developing a strategy is to identify your goals. This is as true in homeland security as it is in the military.

Our national strategy for homeland security will identify our objectives in both precise, and as importantly, measurable terms. What does that mean? It means performance, not process. We're going to know exactly what needs to get done, and we're going to know when we got it right.

The second step in developing a strategy is identifying your needs. This means finding the gap between where we are today and where we seek to be tomorrow. The third step is to fill those gaps. Our national strategy will focus all the instruments of national power at our disposal.

Where we find cracks in the system, we will repair them. Where we find strengths in the system, we will work to enhance them. When you are dealing with people as audacious and as calculating and as determined and as evil as terrorists, no system will ever be 100 percent failsafe and perfect. But we're going to try to get as close to perfect as possible.

Our strategy will be forward-looking. This will require doing things a little bit differently than we have in the past. This will require innovation, discipline, patience and resolve, and a willingness to rethink traditional mission and traditional relationships.

The Defense Department takes a long-range approach to its budget needs. Homeland security will do likewise with ma multi-year budget plan: a plan that cuts across all agencies, a plan that addresses -- not only addresses present urgent needs, but also works to get ahead of the threat. In other words, we will prepare not to fight the wars of the past; we must create a blueprint to win the wars of the future.

A lot of speakers during this conference have identified many of the challenges that the country faces. And I look forward on a personal and professional level to continue the conversation and the dialogue they had and began with you, with those who are working with us in the Office of Homeland Security.

The effective solutions to these challenges must combine the best contributions from professionals across government and the private sector. Let me give you just a few examples of what must be done as we develop a national, comprehensive, long-term strategy.

We need to give our nation's first responders -- the firefighters, the police, the medical professionals and other emergency officials -- the tools to do their jobs better. Before September 11th, many in our country never thought of these men and women as first responders, as the first line of defense in our homeland security corps. Today, every American understands their critical mission.

We would never send soldiers into harm's way without proper training and without proper equipment. We owe the same commitment to our domestic first responders, our domestic first line. Our first responders nationwide need standardized training, procedures and equipment that allow them to communicate with each other in crisis. We intend to enhance cooperation across the federal government. We're even considering merging some of our agencies.

We also need a stronger national biodefense strategy that strengthens the public health system, increases the ability of local hospitals to handle major public emergencies and better protects the nation's food supply. We've got to find better ways to quickly share threat information -- not only across the intelligence community, not only across the federal government, but with my experience over the past seven years, but to spread it across and then to governors, states attorneys general, mayors and local and state law enforcement.

Obviously, there is much more to be done, and our plan will address that.

Creating a national homeland defense strategy has never been done before. The challenge is great. But I'm absolutely confident we will succeed. Much has changed since September 11th. But one thing that hasn't changed is our resolve as a nation. Those who attacked us tried to crush our spirit, might bring us to our knees, make us cower with fear. But they misjudged us, and not just a little.

They so thoroughly miscalculated our response that it gives a whole new meaning to that classic comeback -- "you'd have to be living in a cave not to know." They know now. And with all of us working together, we will prevail. So I think we need to get to work. Thank you very much.

U.S. Newswire

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