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For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
November 12, 2002
President Bush Pushes for Homeland Security Department
Remarks by the President at District of Columbia Metropolitan Police Operations Center
District of Columbia Metropolitan Police Operations Center
10:24 A.M. EST
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you all. Please be seated. Thanks a lot. I want you to note, the Mayor said I made him a senior advisor. (Laughter.) Mr. Mayor, you're doing a great job for the city of Washington, D.C. I'm honored that I'm living in your neighborhood. And as I told a lot of the folks who I had the honor of meeting just a while ago at the Emergency Operations Center, I feel safe living here. And so does my family. And so do a lot of families, thanks to the dedication and hard work of people on the front line of making sure that this city is buttoned up, dealing with the threats we face.
I'm here to thank you all for your hard work. I'm here, as well, to tell all the first responders across the District, as well as around the country, how much our country is grateful for your service, your dedication, and remind you that we have not only a duty to prepare for emergencies, we have a duty in this country to prevent them from happening in the first place.
It's a new charge. It's a new charge because we learned on that fateful day that America is now a battlefield. It used to be that oceans would protect us. We didn't have to take certain threats seriously. We could say, well, we can deal if we want to deal with them. But we learned a tough lesson, that the old ways are gone, that the enemy can strike us here at home, and we all have new responsibilities. And I'm confident we can meet those responsibilities because I understand the nature of the people who wear the uniform all across America -- fine, dedicated, honorable public servants who are willing to serve something greater than themselves. So, thank you for what you do.
And the federal government has got a job, as well. Our job -- our government's greatest responsibility is to protect the American people. That's our most important job. And this requires Congress to create a new department of homeland security so we can better do our job. I think this work can be done soon. The Congress is coming back for a brief period of time. And in that period of time, they can get the job done. If they put their mind to it, they can get a job done on behalf of the American people. And I urge them to do so.
I'm honored to be here with Eleanor Holmes Norton. Thank you for coming, Madam Congresswoman. I appreciate your service.
I appreciate being up here with Tom Ridge, my buddy who was a governor. I said, look, we've got a new issue we've got to deal with here in America. We've got to do everything we can to protect the homeland, so you need to leave Pennsylvania and come and join us. And, fortunately, he did, and he is doing a fabulous job inside the White House of laying the groundwork for what I hope will soon be a department of homeland security. And I appreciate you coming, Tom.
I'm impressed with Chief Ramsey. I don't know if this helps you or hurts you, Chief. (Laughter.) He does a fine job. I got to know him at the inauguration, and I've been watching him ever since. This is a city with a lot of complex issues. It's a city where a lot of people come to exercise their right as Americans, and we appreciate that. And I'm proud that this city is able to allow people to express themselves, and at the same time, maintain order. Mr. Chief, you and your troops do a fabulous job here. (Applause.)
I want to thank Chief Adrian Thompson for coming, as well. I appreciate you being here, Chief. This is -- the fire and emergency teams have got just as an important role to play as our police officers do.
I want to thank Peter LaPorte, who is the Director of the Washington, D.C. Emergency Management Agency, for coming. I appreciate Jim Buford, who is the Acting Director of the Washington, D.C. Department of Health. I want to thank Linda Cropp for coming, as well.
On September the 11th, 2001, our nation was confronted by a new kind of war. See, we're at war. This is a war. This isn't a single isolated incident. We are now in the first war of the 21st century. And it's a different kind of war than we're used to. I explained part of the difference is the fact that the battlefield is now here at home. It's also a war where the enemy doesn't show up with airplanes that they own, or tanks or ships. These are suiciders. These are cold-blooded killers. That's all they are. The new kind of war has now placed our police and firefighters and rescue workers on the front lines. You're already on the front lines. Now you got another line. There's another front to do our duty to the American people.
For the courageous individuals on September the 11th, it was a day of great loss. But it was also a grave -- day of great, great honor. It reminded the American people of the sacrifices that the people who wear the uniform go through on a daily basis, and the risks that you take every day.
We still weep and mourn for those who lost lives to save others. But we also recognize there's a renewal in America of appreciation for what you do. The entire nation appreciated the calm determination, the steady hand, the ability to respond under severe circumstances. And like our military, which is also on the front line of the war against terror, you deserve all the tools and resources to do your work. This country is going to support you, because we now understand the stakes.
Since September the 11th, every level of government has taken important steps to better prepare against terrorism. We've now been notified. We understand that history has called us into action. There should be no doubt in anybody's mind the nature of the enemy. There should be no doubt in anybody's mind that we must do everything we can to protect the homeland.
For the first time ever, Customs agents are now at overseas ports inspecting containers before they come close to the United States. In other words, we're adjusting to the new world we're in. We've put more marshals now on airplanes. Everybody's aware of that. We've stepped up security at our power plants and our ports, and, as importantly, at our border crossings. We need to know who's coming into the country, what they're bringing into the country, and if they're leaving when they say they're going to leave. We need to know that for the sake of the homeland.
We've deployed detection equipment to look for weapons of mass destruction. Whoever would have thought that this country needed to use technologies to prevent people from smuggling in weapons of mass destruction? But we needed to have that technology in place, so we can better protect the American people. There's a real threat that somebody might smuggle in one of these weapons that would create incredible havoc here at home. So we're on alert. We're stockpiling enough small pox vaccine for every man, woman and child in America.
The U.S. Patriot Act has helped us detect and disrupt terrorist activity in this country. What I'm telling you there is, any time we get a hint that somebody is thinking about doing something to America, we're moving on it. Any time we get an inkling that somebody is planning to hurt the American people, to take innocent life, we're using every tool we can to disrupt and deny. And we're doing that at the local level and at the state level and at the federal level. That's what the American people expect, and that's what's going to happen.
We act decisively in the clearest areas of vulnerability. We're moving. And this is only the beginning of our effort to protect our country from a global threat. The threats to the homeland are growing threats. These people aren't going away any time soon. And so the need for action is important.
And one of my jobs is to make sure nobody gets complacent. One of my jobs is to remind people of the stark realities that we face. See, every morning I go into that great Oval Office and read threats to our country -- every morning. As a matter of fact, there hadn't a morning that hadn't gone by that I haven't saw -- seen or read threats. Some of them are blowhards, but we take every one of them seriously. It's the new reality.
The Congress is in session today, and the House and the Senate have pressing responsibilities to work with us for our security. And I'm confident they'll meet those responsibilities. And the single most important business before Congress is the creation of a department of homeland security. Certain members of the Senate and the House have got all kinds of agendas they'd like to discuss. The single most important one is to get this bill done.
The importance of the homeland security means that we'll be able to better coordinate and organize, and that there be clear lines of authority. One reason this department works so well, and one reason the center we just saw works well is there's great coordination with clear lines of authority. And that's important. That's what you do here in Washington, and that's what we ought to do at the federal level, as well, in this new department.
The responsibility for protecting the homeland here in Washington, at least at the federal level, is spread out among more than 100 different organizations, and not one organization has the primary responsibility. Each agency operates separately, sometimes completely unaware of what others are doing. The result is duplication that we cannot afford, and inefficiencies which create problems.
So I set out to do something about it, for the good of the country. And that is to call for a single Cabinet-level department of government, staffed by dedicated professionals who wake up every single day with one overriding duty, to protect the American people. That's their duty. That's their most important responsibility.
The new department will work, of course, with our state and local authorities to avert attacks, to plan for emergencies, and to respond. That's the functions of the new department. We've got to make sure our first responders are well-equipped and trained and organized for their duties. You do a fine job here in Washington; there are some places that need help, and the new department will help first responders.
The new department will control our borders. I mentioned the border -- we need to know who's coming in, we need -- but there's three agencies on the border right now, and they're all full of fine people. They wear different uniforms, they have different strategies. Sometimes they talk, sometimes they don't. There is a better way to enforce our border here in America.
It will bring together scientists who develop technologies that detect biological, chemical, and nuclear weapons, and discover drugs and treatments to protect our citizens. So there will be a scientific component in this new department.
For the first time in our history information on the threats to America will be gathered and analyzed, together with information on our vulnerabilities in one place. We've got a lot of good people working hard to collect intelligence. This new agency will analyze the intelligence to address vulnerabilities here in America.
Establishing the new department will require the latest reorganization of the federal -- the largest reorganization of the federal government since 1940. In other words, it's not going to be easy. But I think Congress understands the need to do that. And I think Congress is willingness to take the task. I want to thank very much the House of Representatives for passing a good bill, one that gives me the authority and the flexibility to work hard to defend America.
The Senate -- it got stuck in the Senate. But it looks like it's going to come out of the Senate, I hope. And we're working hard to bring it forth in a way that will enable this President and future Presidents to meet the needs of the United States. To meet the threats, I must be able -- and future Presidents -- must be able to move people and resources where they're needed, and to do it quickly, without being forced to comply with a thick book of rules.
The enemy moves quickly and America must move quickly. We cannot have bureaucratic rules preventing this President and future Presidents from meeting the needs of the American people. To meet the threats to our country, a President must have the authority, as every President since John F. Kennedy has had, to waive certain rights for national security purposes. It makes no sense in a time of war to diminish the capacity of the President to be able to put the right people at the right time at the right place.
This debate is often misunderstood. The rights of federal workers should be, and will fully be, protected in the department of homeland security. Every employee will be treated fairly and protected from discrimination. The men and women who work in that department will need and want leadership that can act quickly and decisively, without getting bogged down in endless disputes. When the department is created, we've got to do it right. It is our chance to do it right. And I will not give up national security authority at the price for creating a department we badly need to secure America.
Fortunately, I'm encouraged by the ongoing discussions. I believe we can get this done. I believe Congress can show the country that they can finish their work on a high note of achievement. That's what the people want. The people want us to come together and work together and do what's right. And I think Congress can show that's possible to do.
Securing our homeland means not only a great -- a new department of homeland security, it means hunting these killers down one at a time. It means staying on task. It means holding -- make sure that the doctrines still exist. And there's one out there that says, if you -- you're either with us or with the enemy. That was true right after September the 11th, and it's very true today. We're calling on all these nations that love freedom to join us in an international manhunt. There's no cave deep enough for these people to hide in, as far as I'm concerned. There's no shadow of the world dark enough for them to kind of slither around in. We're after them, and it's going to take a while. It can take a while. We're after them one person at a time. We owe that to the American people. We owe that to our children.
I can't imagine what was going through their mind when they hit us. They must have thought we'd just file a lawsuit. They just don't understand America, do they? They don't understand our love for freedom. They don't understand that, when it comes to our freedoms, it doesn't matter how long it takes, nor the cost, we will do our duty.
The world's going to be more peaceful as a result of America being strong and resolved. Peace is going to happen. You see, the enemy hit us and, out of the evil done to this country, is going to come some incredible good -- a more secure America, a more peaceful world.
People will look back -- your kids and your grandkids will look back and say, you know, my dad or my mother was involved, actively involved in one of the most dramatic periods in our country's history. And I'm confident they'll look back and say, I'm proud of their service, because America became a better place as a result of their sacrifices.
I'm honored you had me here. May God bless you and your families. May God bless your work. And may God continue to bless America. Thank you. (Applause.)
END 11:12 A.M. EST