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Welcome to "Ask the White House" -- an online interactive forum where you can submit questions to Administration officials and friends of the White House. Visit the "Ask the White House" archives to read other discussions with White House officials.

Admiral James Loy
Admiral James Loy
Deputy Secretary of Homeland Security
March 2, 2004

Admiral James Loy
Good morning, good to be here. Happy to take your questions. Let's get rolling.

Gina, from Toledo, Ohio writes:
What accomplishments can the U.S. tout on the one year anniversary of DHS? Do you really think our country is safer?

Admiral James Loy
It is a great question, Gina, on literally the one year birthday. The President had a great event with a group of DHS employees and was elaborate in his praise. I would pick out a couple of highlights.

We have devoted enormous effort, energy and resources to aviation security. The events of 9/11 of course caused us to look there. And both Congress and the administration have invested what's necessary to make aviation security safer for the traveling public.

Quite simply, we've designed a system of systems where we’ve taken note of challenges from the curb to the cockpit. Hundreds of air marshals flying important flights everyday. We've hardened the cockpit doors, and we've begun the process of arming pilots to allow them to be a resource of last resort. We have hired tens of thousands of well trained TSA employees who populate our 450 plus airports across the country. They have received the professional training as it relates to keeping bad people off the aircraft and focused on professionalism and courtesy so the public can have a pleasant experience.

And our nation's ports of entries -- strengthening and making more efficient what we call One Face at the Border. In the past, someone entering our country was questioned by immigration authorities, custom authorities and agricultural authorities separately. We have made an effort in training and deployment to make that experience one that is not repetitious, efficient and is focused on getting the innocent traveler into the system quickly and efficiently.

Another system that has just been put into place is US-VISIT. This enhances security by facilitating legitimate travel and trade through our borders by inserting a biometric identifier to those who would pass through our country and offers an inventory that we can track carefully to make sure they live up to their advertised intentions.

We've invested an enormous amount in port security where almost one half of a billion dollars in grants have been distributed to state and private sectors in the 361 ports in America to strengthen the flow of commerce.

There are a lot of good things and the list goes on and on and on which reflects on this enormously successful first year.

Roberto, from Boston, Massachusetts writes:
How many employees are you responsible for overseeing as part of DHS? How do you effectively execute your job?

Admiral James Loy
Another great question. The current strength in the department is between 180 and 190 thousand employees. It is a dynamic number depending on Coast Guard reserves and other segments that go back and forth in terms of being on the job.

I think the answer to that is about good leadership and management design. I have always tried to surround myself with really high caliber people to make sure they understand what we need them to do and then get out of the way.

There are enormous responsibilities which came with the Homeland Security Act. Three areas in looking forward:

The first was to stand up a brand new cabinet agency for this government. So all the mechanics of decision-making and policy development as well as the mission side of the house have to be orchestrated inside a department which is focused on efficient and effective service for the country.

Job two for this department, because of 9/11, is meeting mission. 22 different agencies or pieces of agencies came to DHS last year. All of them were already hard at work with what they knew to be responsibilities from their own departments.

Those employees which represent them have continued to toil in the trenches of security at our airports, ports and at developing relationships between public and private sector partners to get our job done.

Perhaps the two most dramatic elements of this meeting mission challenge -- significantly better information sharing horizontally among our federal partners and then vertically all the way down to state, local and tribal authorities which are our first responders.

The second piece of this mission accomplishment, which was the important reason for forming, is to get on with a plan for protecting the critical infrastructure of America.

The third major challenge of this work is to forge a culture in DHS that is right for our century. Many of our agencies came to DHS with hundreds of years of service to America while others were literally around for a couple of months.

Our challenge is to respect the legacy they brought to the department and at the same time be champions of the changes necessary to protect America against this new global threat called terrorism.

So, Roberto, we are very busy and look forward to our second year of service to our country.

Zach, from Saluda, South Carolina writes:
What are we doing to secure ports like the Port in Charleston from terrorist attacks?

Admiral James Loy
As an old sailor who spent 42 years in a Coast Guard uniform, your question goes right to the heart to what I spent the last 8 months in uniform trying to design the right maritime security system for our country. Our Coast Guard is at the forefront of this effort, and it includes the establishment of standards that we would like to see imposed around the world.

The international maritime organization rose to the occasion in November 2001, when I took a delegation to London to challenge IMO to design international standards that would raise the security bar in ports around the world. They did so and our challenge now in the U.S. is to make sure we rise to the bar and when necessary go even higher.

Last year, Congress passed the Maritime Transportation Security Act, which puts requirements on ships and ports facilities alike to build security plans which will be reviewed by the Coast Guard.

We have also focused on several threats that we think are among the most crucial. We receive into our country about 6 million containers a year. These are the trailer-sized boxes that you see on trucks and on trains -- these 6 million containers are efficient in the passage of commerce from point A to point B, but the people who designed them in the ’50s never had security in mind.

So we are thinking very carefully about the loading of containers and the ships that contain them in the U.S. in the program called the Container Security Initiative. As we speak today, this offers Customs and Border Protection agents to be inspecting those containers and ships overseas and in their ports before they go overseas to our country.

We have also challenged the industry to rise as a partner in this business of port security and they have done wonderful things over this past year. I really believe the heart of any port like Charleston is a vibrant port security committee representing all the federal authorities in Charleston, the state authorities, and the private sector elements that comprise the port that get together on a scheduled basis to review and then take action on security issues in the same way they have tackled safety and environmental issues in the past.

Beyond that, we have had over a half a billion dollars in port security grants from Congress through the executive branch through the states to the ports around our country always based on an application package which originated in that port.

I think we have a great plan in mind as we step into the future for port security and our challenge is to rise together in the industry locales and to the policy areas in Washington to accomplish what we have set out to do.

Janice writes:
What is the greatest challenge that the Department of Homeland Security faces right now?

Admiral James Loy
It is a terrific question and one of those questions that doesn't have a single answer. I think we have to recognize the scope of what homeland security really means as it relates to securing our homeland.

Our president has established a strategy for securing our homeland, and one of the things we unveiled on our first birthday is a strategic plan that Secretary Ridge has developed over the past year. It says that our vision is to preserve our freedoms and protect America through securing our homeland.

We talk about our mission of leading a unified effort to protect our country and I think our greatest challenge is to hold on to the balance of those things that we know will add measurable security to our country, but at the same time will never forego things that made America what it is today -- things like a legacy of freedom, all those things we refer to in the first ten amendments to the constitution known as the Bill of Rights, things which are important to all Americans, like privacy and providing an economic foundation to what we do.

So at the same time we are designing ways to secure America we must maintain the free flow of commerce on which our economy depends.

Janice, you were looking for the greatest thing we face that would have made the difference -- but I think our inventory of those little things or big things is so comprehensive that to focus on just one would be at the expense of others

So balance is the challenge we have in front of us -- to press on securing our country and to protect those things we have always valued and will continue to value.

Henry, from Philly writes:
Where were you on September 11, 2001? Did this day solidify your commitment to public service?

Admiral James Loy
Henry, I was in my office on that morning. I was still the Commandant of the Coast Guard and was actually discussing with several members of industry a program that would enhance our opportunity to do Coast Guard work.

My military aide came into the office and suggested we turn on the T.V. We watched unfold the horror that became September 11 for all Americans.

Did this day solidify my commitment to public service? On a personal level, it reinforced it. I had already been in uniform for over 40 years but it adjusted my retirement intentions rather dramatically. I was in uniform for eight more months but have spent the last two years in the TSA and now at DHS. That public service I think is enormously gratifying.

For me, looking back on it, the day ushered in a new way of looking at security in our country, and many people I know in this department reaffirm or came to public service for the first time based on their desire to find a way to contribute.

I believe that to be the case for virtually every citizen across the country, thousands of whom I’ve spoken to over the course of the last year. I believe America realizes individually and collectively that the way we will get through this period after the tragedy is the same way America has always done it. They will rise to the occasion, re-read the Constitution, internalize what it means to them and go back to work the next day, re-enthused by their notion of what it means to be an American and a willingness to do their part.

tony, from the tiger writes:
homeland security...interesting. what's your opinion of the statement that our government had all the tools necessary to catch the hijackers before we implemented the homeland security department and the patriot act?

Admiral James Loy
Tony, I think that there are lots of folks that challenge the gameplan that was put into place by the department and many other agencies since 9/11. I for one am absolutely certain that these elements and many of these elements of the Patriot Act are serving an important purpose for us today. I go back to the decade of the ’90s and my first inclination is that after ’89 and the fall of the Wall and the implosion of the Soviet Empire, as the lone remaining super-power we no longer had the visual enemy -- rather we had ten years of what it meant to be a superpower and sorting out the real threat inventory of the nation.

I believe 9/11 was the cold pail of water in the morning which showed we had to concentrate on this thing called terrorism.

Much has been written about the so-called asymmetric array of threats but I’m not sure how seriously we took them as direct and immediate threats to our country. 911 changed all that and ushered in a brand new security environment that we are now adapting to. This is an enemy without a flag, a president, borders or respect for human life.

We are now about the business of re-tooling the elements of our nation necessary to confront and deal with this new enemy. I believe the President is right on track that in this instance the best defense includes a good offense. At the ceremony today he reinforced the rightness of carrying the war to the enemy wherever he may hide and securing our homeland wherever we can against new intentions on the part of the bad guy. Game plans require the tools provided and the ones being built for not only DHS but for all of us at the federal, state, and private sector level as citizens who rise to do their part.

It provides the kinds of questions that must be had so we keep our balance between designing tools for the global war on terrorism and securing our homeland and balancing them with holding on to the constitutional values like freedom and privacy that we hold so dear.

rob, from brussels writes:
Dear Sir, Gardening the US-coasts must be a hell of a job, given the length of the borderlines.

Can you tell me how many people are working within the Coast Guard and how many vassels are on tour of duty? thank you

Admiral James Loy
Rob, you ask a very engaging question because the challenge is so much more than just 361 commercial ports of call in our country. It is about 95,000 miles of coastline; it is about 25,000 navigable waterways inside our country; and it is about coordination in a public-private manner with industry and state and local elements that really comprise the vast maritime network in America.

The leading element in the federal element in that work is the Coast Guard. And with their hundreds of ships and thousands of boats, hundreds of aircraft, I can assure you they are being optimally deployed toward the responsibilities they have for America.

You may have witnessed over the weekend two extensions of their work which were traditional and remain part of the DHS portfolio. The sinking of a tanker full of ethanol off the Virginia coast prompted the search and rescue services of the Coast Guard and their helicopters and swimmers performed heroically in saving those who could be saved and searching valiantly for those who were lost.

And at the same time, off the coast of Haiti, while we watched the chaos from within we also watched our Coast Guard working with the Haitian Coast Guard, continued to enforce the policy of repatriation so important to the foreign policy of the United States.

So just in those two instances, we see traditional missions being performed while at the same time all the new work associated with maritime security will continue to be carried out.

One of the most important ingredients in the post 9/11 environment has been the cementing to an even greater degree of longstanding relationships between the Coast Guard , our U.S. Navy, and the maritime industry of our country. This is the kind of job that takes all of us to accomplish and with the leadership offered by our new strategic plan in the department, all of those players public and private alike are making their contribution to securing our maritime borders.

Rachel, from Orange, NJ writes:
Admiral On this anniversary of your department, one criticism out there is the lack of funding for cities when the alert level changes.

One critic has suggested creating an Orange Alert Fund that pays for police overtime and other security enhancements. What do you think of this?

Admiral James Loy
Rachel, your question takes us to the bottom line, which is to find the best ways to facilitate security at the local level.

I think one of the most telling statistics I’ve seen is the difference between the dollars in grants that were sent to state and local elements in 1999 to 2001 -- that total being about $1.3 billion. Compare that to the $13 billion that have been sent in the same direction from 2002 to 2004.

There is no doubt on the Secretary’s mind or the President’s mind that providing those resources at the local level is perhaps the most important job we have at DHS. One of the challenges we received over time is that we appear to be a multi-headed monster instead of a nice, crisp, single one-stop shopping opportunity

So the Secretary has made the decision to pool all the grant programs into a one-stop-shop where questions, the administration of the grants, and tracking that localities do with those dollars what was set out to be done. This will give us a chance to design the metrics for the department to be accountable to Congress that indeed the dollars went to where they were intended to go

And about an Orange alert fund for certain things: we have actually expended funds from an exercise known as Liberty Shield and continue to distribute funds with things like police overtime when we emerge each time from Orange alert -- like over the holidays – to state and local facilities which were interested in applying for those funds were very quickly given the deadline for doing so. And those distribution efforts are being dealt with as we speak.

But as a last comment I would go back to this, a 900 percent increase in the flow of dollars to the state and local level offers the opportunity for those dollars to be used for security enhancements and policy overtime. One of the things we are always concerned about is the idea of strapping one size fits all solutions into every city when we know each city is unique.

Al, from Portland, OR writes:
I and the rest of my family are so pleased to finally have a President who is truly concerned with putting national defense first and foremost. Absolutely the top priority for us all should be protecting our country from terrorists and evildoers, and it is clear President Bush knows this. Do you share the feeling that the dramatic increase in our safety here at home is due in great part to specific efforts on his part?

Not to forget yourself and the many who serve with you thanks from this

American family for making sure we can sleep safe

Admiral James Loy
Al, thanks for your thoughtful review of how our president has risen to the occasion in protecting our country. We just completed a ceremony with the president, who was thanking DHS employees for their work in this first year.

Your question goes to the heart of it. There are lots of important priorities out there, but the President helped us understand that the top priority is carrying this war on terrorism to terrorists wherever they hide -- not only here in America but around the world. Since 9/11 the parallel effort that caused our department to be formed is this notion that protecting citizens and securing the homeland right here.

I appreciate the comment about the many who are serving in the department and keeping America safe, reinforcing its values and allowing its citizens to sleep with the comfort and security being provided.

There is a dramatic increase in the safety at home largely due to the dynamic leadership of our President, to the contributions made by Congress representing the people of country who together recognized the need and stood up and were counted when leadership was necessary

The President continues to tell us that the global war on terrorism will go on for a long time and I’ve told audiences wherever I've seen them that those who want to go back to the normal days before 9/11 will likely not find that possible in our lifetimes. This is a very real and different security environment which we live in today and during our time on watch the President, the Secretary and all of us in this department have made the commitment to leave no stone unturned in our quest for a secure America.

Thanks for your great question and please recognize that this is an all-hands or all-citizens evolution. That means each of us can visit the web site and think about preparedness at the family and individual level , take on the suggestions that are represented there and in so doing make your personal contribution to securing our country.

Admiral James Loy
Thanks for all your questions. I hope to be able to do this again soon.