Employees to Department of Homeland Security
Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center
February 28, 2003
10:46 A.M. EST
Thanks for the warm welcome. It is a -- it's an honor for me to speak to the
men and women who go to work every day and every night to protect our great
country. Since the day this nation was attacked, you have been on the front
lines on the war against terror. You've worked hard under urgent and sometimes
incredibly difficult circumstances. America is really grateful.
Tomorrow marks a historic day for our government and for our country. Around
170,000 people from more than 20 federal agencies will officially join the new
Department of Homeland Security, creating a more effective, organized and united
defense of our homeland. Every member of this new Department accepts an essential
mission to prevent another terrorist attack. Yours is a vital and important
step in reorganizing our government to meet the threats of a new era as we continue
the work of securing this country.
I picked a good man to be the first Cabinet Secretary of this new Department,
a man who's got courage to lead, a man who speaks clearly about our goals, a
man who understands accountability, and I appreciate my friend Tom Ridge for
serving in this capacity. (Applause.)
I want to thank other members of my Cabinet who are here for this historic announcement.
Attorney General John Ashcroft. Mr. General, thank you for coming. Ann Veneman,
of the Department of Agriculture is with us today. Norm Mineta. Norm just got
out of the hospital. (Applause.) Norm did an incredible job on the Transportation
Security Agency. He was given a task that a lot of people thought would -- the
Department of Transportation could never accomplish. And thanks to his leadership
and his team, he did a fabulous job. You're looking pretty darn good to me,
by the way. (Applause.)
Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, honored she is with us today. I appreciate so
very much Sam Bodman, the Deputy Secretary of Commerce being with us. Admiral
James Loy, who is the Under Secretary of the Department of Transportation is
with us. Thank you for coming. Janet Hale, the Under Secretary of the Department
of Homeland Security; Mike Brown, the Under Secretary-designee at the Department
of Homeland Security; Dr. Charles McQueary, the Under Secretary-designee, Department
of Homeland Security, who I'll talk about a little bit later.
Commandant Tom Collins of the Coast Guard is with us today. I appreciate so
very much Robert Mueller, who is the head of the FBI, as well. Robert Bonner,
runs the Customs Service. Ralph Basham, head of the Secret Service. I really
like the head of the Secret Service. (Laughter.) If you know what I mean. (Laughter.)
Michael Garcia, INS; Chief Gus de la Vina, who is the Border Patrol. The men
and women on the stage who represent thousands of our fellow citizens who care
a lot about our country, the people in the audience, thank you for giving me
a chance to come.
The world changed on September the 11th, 2001. We learned that a threat that
gathers on the other side of the earth can strike our own cities and kill our
own citizens. It's an important lesson; one we must never forget. Oceans no
longer protect America from the dangers of this world. We're protected by daily
vigilance at home. And we will be protected by resolute and decisive action
against threats abroad.
We're tracking down terrorists who hate America, one by one. We're on the hunt.
We got them on the run. And it's a matter of time before they learn the meaning
of American justice. We're opposing terror regimes that are arming with weapons
of mass destruction to threaten the peace and freedom of this world. And we're
taking unprecedented measures to defend the homeland with the largest reorganization
of our government in more than a half a century.
The agencies that join the Department of Homeland Security tomorrow will retain
their longstanding responsibilities. And, of course, the individuals who join
the Department will retain their rights as federal workers. Each agency, with
its own proud and honored tradition, will also gain a new mandate and must adopt
a new mind set. We created this Cabinet Department in a time of war. And every
professional in the Department of Homeland Security plays a valuable role in
winning the first war of the 21st century. For a vast and free nation, there
is no such thing as perfect security. No such thing as a 100 percent guarantee
that we're protected against the hidden network of cold-blooded killers. Yet,
we're determined to do everything in our power to defeat this enemy and to defend
our people, while upholding the great Constitution of the United States of America.
We've taken some critical steps to increase homeland security, and there's more
work for this Department to do. The Department of Homeland Security is charged
with analyzing the vulnerabilities of our nation's critical infrastructure,
from dams to banks to seaports. And when our intelligence agency learn of new
threats, the Department will move quickly to take protective action.
In meeting this responsibility, the Department will be a full partner in the
new Terrorism Threat Integration Center which will integrate and analyze all
threat information collected domestically and abroad in a single location. When
the Center is fully operational, it will fully house a database of known and
suspected terrorists that officials across this country will be able to access
and to act upon.
In these and other efforts, the FBI, and the CIA, are communicating and cooperating
as never before. The FBI has made preventing terrorism its top priority, and
increased agents assigned to counter-terror efforts by nearly 40 percent. I
want to thank the leadership of Bob Mueller. He and the agents who work for
the FBI are doing a fantastic job on behalf of the American people. (Applause.)
The Department of Homeland Security is also charged with strengthening our defenses
against cyber-terrorism and the even greater dangers of biological, chemical
or nuclear weapons. We've established a science and technology directorate within
the Department so we can apply some of our nation's best minds to the task of
protecting our people.
I've nominated a good man, Dr. Charles McQueary, to head up this effort. His
team is engaged in a major effort to develop and deploy the technologies for
detecting weapons of mass destruction. As these technologies are deployed, border
inspectors will have better tools to intercept dangerous materials before they
enter our country. Emergency services personnel will be able to identify biological
or chemical weapons and agents so they can use the most effective decontamination
methods available. And as part of the BioWatch Initiative, we are deploying
early warning sensors around the country to help detect potential biological
This week, I sent to Congress my proposal for Project BioShield, a major research
and production effort to guard our people against bioterrorism. I've requested
nearly $6 billion for this project, to quickly make available effective vaccines
and treatments against agents like anthrax, botulinum toxin, ebola, and plague.
We must assume that our enemies would use these diseases as weapons. And we
must act before the dangers are upon us. I urge the Congress to pass this legislation
as soon as possible.
The Department of Homeland Security is charged with promoting cooperation between
Washington and state and local governments. Our enemies can strike anywhere
in America, and we must be ready to respond in a coordinated way. Through the
Homeland Security Advisory System, we have created a unified process for alerting
government officials and the public of current threats. We're also providing
more information about suspected terrorists to state and local law enforcement
agencies. And with this new Department, state and local officials will now have
a single point of contact to help them address the needs of the local area.
The Department of Homeland Security is charged with safeguarding our border
and transportation systems. September the 11th taught us that terrorists will
try to use the openness of our country against us. We must understand and correct
our vulnerabilities. And we need to know who's coming in and who's going out
of our country. We're working with our good friends, Canada and Mexico, to strengthen
our law enforcement at the borders.
The Transportation Security Administration has assigned thousands of air marshals
to commercial flights and deployed more than 50,000 newly trained airport screeners.
TSA is also screening all checked luggage at our airports -- up from 5 percent
before September the 11th, 2001. Starting tomorrow, four different organizations
that patrol and enforce laws at our borders will be integrated into a new Bureau
of Customs and Border Protection. This bureau will unify border inspection and
enforcement functions, so that legitimate visitors and goods can enter the United
States, while giving us better tools to help deny entry to terrorists, drug
traffickers and dangerous materials.
Inspectors will be posted at more than 20 ports around the world to examine
high-risk cargo before it sets sail to our country. The new Department is charged
with responding to any terror attack that may come. We are moving forward on
essential preparations here in America.
Over the past 18 months, we have significantly enhanced our national stockpile
of critical drugs, vaccines and other medical supplies. Supplies from this stockpile
can be delivered wherever they are needed, anywhere in this country, within
12 hours. We've provided more than $900 million in support to help state and
local responders and emergency managers prepare for terrorist attacks. And we've
supported the training of more than 100,000 first responders since September
the 11th, 2001.
I proposed record funding for the first responders, $3.5 billion in the current
budget. I've also requested another $3.5 billion in the 2004 budget. Unfortunately,
the Congress was late in passing the appropriation bill of 2003. They reduced
my total request for state and local enforcement and emergency personnel by
$1 billion, and designated part of the funding to go to other priorities. I
signed the appropriations bill to make sure that we can finally begin to distribute
funding to the states. The leaders in the House and Senate are aware of my concerns,
and they share them. These leaders know that I will continue to do everything
in my power to direct as much of this funding as possible toward training and
equipping police, fire fighters, and EMTs to prepare and respond to potential
Beginning tomorrow, the Department of Homeland Security will be responsible
for coordinating our national response to terrorist attacks. Secretary Ridge
has already created 24/7 Homeland Security Center, ready to act at the first
sign of any emergency. And I'll be issuing a directive ordering the establishment
of a unified national incident management system. The system will provide government
agencies with common procedures and standards for preparing and responding to
Our nation has great challenges in securing our homeland, but we've got even
greater advantages. We've got people like you all who serve with skill and,
frankly, don't get enough credit for the work you do. Of course, you're not
here to get the credit, you're here to do your job. We've got brave and honorable
men and women serving in our military, including the Coast Guard, ready to accomplish
any mission they are given. And they will do so with courage and skill and honor.
Above all, we have the courage and character of the American people who are
resolved to prevent further attacks on our homeland. March 1st marks an important
day for our government and for our country. The work ahead won't always be easy.
You've accepted a difficult mission. But I'm confident in the success of our
efforts, because I'm confident in you.
I want to thank each of you for your service in freedom's cause. There is no
doubt in my mind that this nation will prevail in this war against terror, because
we're the greatest nation, full of the finest people, on the face of this earth.
May God bless your work, and may God continue to bless America. (Applause.)