Flexibility Key to Successful Homeland Security Dept
Dwight D. Eisenhower Executive Office Building
July 26, 2002
8:44 A.M. EDT
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you all for coming; welcome to the White House. Good morning.
AUDIENCE: Good morning.
THE PRESIDENT: I appreciate so very much being joined here by firefighters and
police officers and emergency personnel, public officials at the local level,
the state level -- I know we've got some governors here. And I want to thank
you all for coming.
We're on the cusp of doing something right for America. And I appreciate the
members of my Cabinet who are here. I want to thank the Secretary of Defense,
the Attorney General, the Secretary of Transportation, the head of the Office
of National Drug Policy. I appreciate Kay James being here. I want to thank
Tom Ridge for his hard work.
But most importantly, I want to thank the members of Congress who got up pretty
early after not much sleep -- (laughter) -- for your hard work and your care
for our country. I see Senator Lieberman, who is really working hard in the
Senate to cobble together a homeland security bill that will work. I appreciate
Senator Nickles being here, as well; Senator Bennett, from Utah. Thank you all
I really want to thank Chris Shays and Jim Gibbons for coming; and Mac Thornberry,
as well -- the three fine Republican members -- along with Steve LaTourette.
But I also want to thank Ellen Tauscher from the state of California. She's
been working really hard to make this bill a bipartisan bill where the American
people can see both Republicans and Democrats working together to do what's
right for the country. I really want to thank you all for coming.
I also want to thank the heads of agencies who are here. Jim Loy, who's the
Under Secretary for Transportation, Chief Operating Officer of the Transportation
Security Agency -- served our country nobly as the -- running the Coast Guard,
and has now put on another uniform, called a coat and tie. (Laughter.)
I want to thank Tom Collins, who does head the Coast Guard; Robert Bonner, who
runs the Customs. I want to thank Jim Ziglar for running the INS. I appreciate
again my governor friends, Rowland, King and Patton for coming up today. And
I also want to thank my mayor, Anthony Williams, the Mayor of Washington, D.C.
I want to acknowledge Mike Carona of Orange County, California, who's with us
to share -- where are you, Mike? There you are, Mike. Looking right at you.
I appreciate you coming. He represents the local officials, what we call in
Texas the high sheriffs. He's the fellow who recently apprehended the killer
of Samantha Runnion there in California. I want to congratulate you for your
good work, helping make your community as safe as possible.
America -- we're in our 10th month on the war on terror. And we've got a great
deal to show for our efforts. We're making progress. And that's important for
the American people to know. Our country -- we continue to lead a mighty coalition
of civilized nations, all joined in facing a common threat to humanity.
This is the first war of the 21st century, and we're making progress. We and
our allies have uncovered terrorist cells all across the world. We're disrupting
plots. We're doing a pretty good job of seizing their assets and cutting off
their money. And we've got them on the run. See, these are international killers,
that's all they are. And we're getting them on the run. So far we've captured
over 2,000 of the terrorists, and just about that many weren't quite as lucky.
But there's still a lot of them out there.
And what you need to know as leaders in your communities is that, no matter
how long it takes, we're going to run them down one by one and bring them to
justice. And we do so not only to defend freedom and civilization itself, we
do so to protect the American people, which is our highest calling.
We defeat the threat abroad and we're doing a pretty good job here at home as
well. Congress has passed new laws to help. Congress has already acted to help
our law enforcement agencies investigate and prosecute terrorists. Congress
responded quickly after September the 11th in a fashion that made me proud,
and I know that made the American people proud.
We've strengthened our aviation security and tightened our borders. We've stockpiled
medicines to defend against bioterrorism. We've developed new technologies to
help first responders identify and react to attacks. We've dramatically improved
information sharing amongst our intelligence agencies. Governor Tom Ridge has
produced the first comprehensive plan in our nation's history to protect America
from terrorist attack. It's a good piece of work and I appreciate you and your
staff, Tom, for working hard on it.
We're taking urgent measures against clear vulnerabilities, and now we must
also prepare our government and our people for the long-term vigilance that
the new threats will require. I say "long-term" because this is a
determined enemy we face. This isn't just a one-battle war; this is a war that
will occupy not only our time, but will occupy the time of future Presidents
and future members of the United States Congress and future agency heads. The
number one priority of this government and the future governments will be to
protect the American people against terrorist attack.
And so, therefore, I believe it's important we must create a Department of Homeland
Security to prepare America for the permanent duty -- for the permanent duty
-- of defending the homeland. And these members here today agree with me. We
need this department for one main reason: America needs a group of dedicated
professionals who wake up each morning with the overriding duty of protecting
the American people.
The agencies in this department will have other duties -- no question about
it -- but no higher responsibility. Protecting American citizens from harm is
the first priority, and it must be the ruling priority of all of our government.
The Department of Homeland Security will have four primary tasks. It will control
our borders, and prevent terrorists and weapons from entering our country. The
way I like to put it is we need to know who's coming in, and why they're coming
in, and what they're bringing in with them, and whether or not they're leaving
when they say they're going to leave.
Secondly, the new department will work with our incredibly brave and dedicated
first responders, many of -- the representatives of whom are on the stage with
me today. We need to be able to respond quickly and effectively to emergencies.
We need good cooperation between the federal government, the state governments,
and the local governments.
We bring the best scientists together to develop technologies that will detect
biological, chemical and nuclear weapons, and to discover drugs and treatments
to protect our citizens. We need to harness the great genius of the American
people to make sure that it's focused on the true threat of the 21st century.
And for the first time, this new department will merge under one roof the capability
to identify and assess threats to the homeland, to map those threats against
vulnerabilities, and then to act to secure America. The Department of Homeland
Security will draw on the knowledge and experience of every sector in America.
We'll work in a collaborative way with the people who care about America, and
that's the American leadership and the American people, at all levels of government.
This administration is working with Congress to forge a bipartisan bill, and
I want to appreciate the members of both parties for coming this morning. I
believe we're making good progress. And of course, being the modest fellow that
I am, I'm willing to recognize a good idea even if it comes from Congress. (Laughter.)
Yet, it's important to understand this: I'm not going to accept legislation
that limits or weakens the President's well-established authorities -- authorities
to exempt parts of government from federal-labor management relations statute
-- when it serves our national interest.
Every President since Jimmy Carter has used this statutory authority, and a
time of war is the wrong time to weaken the President's ability to protect the
American people. (Applause.) And as Congress debates the issue of how to set
up this department, I'm confident they're going to look to me to say, well,
is it being done right, after they got the bill passed. And, therefore, it is
important that we have the managerial flexibility to get the job done right.
We can't be -- we can't be micro-managed. We ought to say, let's make sure authority
and responsibility are aligned so they can more adequately protect the homeland.
Now, look, I fully understand the concerns of some of the unions here in Washington.
Somehow, they believe that this is an attempt by the administration to undermine
the basic rights of workers. I reject that, as strongly as I can state it. I
have great respect for the federal employees. I travel the country as one of
them, talking about how we need to work together to protect the homeland. I
think of the times I've gone to Coast Guard cutters or gone to ports of authority
or gone to our labs or seen our first responders, many of whom happen to be
a member of the union. Never have I said, show me your card. I've always said,
thanks for being a proud American and for working hard for the American people.
So the notion of flexibility will in no way undermine the basic rights of federal
workers. Workers will retain whistle-blower protection, collective bargaining
rights, and protection against unlawful discrimination. The new Secretary must
have the freedom to get the right people in the right job at the right time,
and to hold them accountable. He needs the ability to move money and resources
quickly in response to new threats, without all kinds of bureaucratic rules
and obstacles. And when we face unprecedented threats, like we're facing, we
cannot have business as usual.
I am -- I appreciate the work of Senator Lieberman. He's working hard. I am
concerned, however, the way the committee has passed out the homeland security
bill. The bill doesn't have enough managerial flexibility, as far as I'm concerned.
I look forward to working with the Senator and the Republican members to get
the bill right; to make sure that when we look back at what we've done we will
have left behind a legacy, a legacy that will allow future Senators and future
members of the House and a future President to say, I can better protect the
homeland thanks to what was done in the year 2002.
It's very interesting that Harry Truman took on the same task. And as I understand,
it was on this day 35** years ago that he signed the National Security Act of
1947. It was an Act that helped win the Cold War by consolidating the Navy and
the Army and the newly independent Air Force into what was interestingly called
the National Military Establishment. (Laughter.) It's now known as the Department
of Defense. (Laughter.)
But he thought boldly, and so did the members of Congress. They recognized that
after World War II we were going to enter into a new era. And therefore they
adjusted the sights of the federal government. That's what has happened now.
History has called us into action. We're entering a new era, and we must adjust
our sights, and we must respond.
And I know the members here, and I know the members on the floor that are working
hard. And I'm confident we will respond in a way that will make America proud
-- America proud of our efforts to come together but, more importantly, America
more secure in the knowledge that we're doing everything we can to protect the
Thank you all for coming. May God bless your work, and may God bless America.