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 Home > News & Policies > August 2003

For Immediate Release
August 18, 2003

Secretary Ridge Remarks to the NGA Meeting
Remarks by Secretary Ridge to the National Governors Association Meeting
Indianapolis, Indiana

(4:15 p.m. EDT)

SECRETARY RIDGE: Governor Patton, thank you very much. It's great to be back home with my colleagues in public service represented by the National Governors Association. To my former colleague and friend, Congressman Oberstar, good to see you as well. Thank you.

And to all of you, let me, first of all, express my appreciation for the opportunity to, in a more formal way, share a few comments with the governors in a public forum. But the public should also know that on a fairly regular basis the governors of the states and the territories and their Homeland Security Advisors contact and are in communication with our Department once or twice a month by phone. And so there is an enormous amount of mutual support and significant communication that's really ongoing between the Department of Homeland Security, the governors and their Homeland Security Advisors. And so, I mean, it's very important in a public forum to acknowledge that this isn't the first time we've gotten together this year, it won't be the last time we get together this year.

We understand the nature of the partnership that we began to developing on October 8th of 2001 when I was sworn in as the President's Special Assistant for Homeland Security. Because the President understood immediately, and it probably had something to do with the fact that he, himself, was a governor, that if we are to maximize our ability as a country to prevent a terrorist attack, to reduce our vulnerability to an attack, or to be in the best position to respond to an attack if one occurs, then we really need a partnership between the federal government, state government, and then actually among federal government agencies with the states and the local governments. And, really, our first direct line of connection is to our colleagues in state houses across the country.

To that end, I think it's interesting to note how well the governors and the mayors acted and performed in communicating and coordinating our effort to respond to the electricity blackout of several days ago. I daresay that from my perspective that the systems that were put in place, the means by which we could communicate, share information, and at least set up our respective organizations to help one another if we needed to help one another, was clearly tested on that particular evening.

And I think, again, although it was not a -- at least to date, there is no indication whatsoever that there was any kind of terrorist involvement at all, obviously it is still under investigation, The investigation started on Thursday night and multiple federal agencies continue to take a look at what occurred. This Wednesday, Secretary Spence Abraham and his counterpart from Canada are going to meet in Detroit, and there will be an international effort to examine causation, and also to take a look at what the respective governments can do in order to prevent that kind of situation from occurring again.

But that particular evening, our ability to communicate, to share information and to be prepared to respond to assist one another, I think was tested. And, again, tremendous inconvenience, some economic loss. But I think let's call it just an initial test of our relationship, and I think it worked pretty well.

Clearly, we still have considerable additional work to do. But it demonstrated again the notion that the federal government has to partner with the states in order to maximize our ability to either prevent a crisis or to respond to a crisis whether it's manmade or something else. And I think we have demonstrated pretty well that evening that we are up to the task, with still additional work to do.

I have a couple of thoughts I'd like to share with you this afternoon. And then, really, I think it would probably be most productive if we open it up just to questions and have a general discussion.

One of the challenges we have, because I believe the efforts, bipartisan efforts in the House and the Senate 2003/2004/2005 and on, there will be substantial dollars going to the states and local governments to support training and exercises and equipment purchases as we build up in this country a national capacity to either prevent an attack, respond to an attack, or to reduce our vulnerability.

One of the challenges we have, however, in a federal system is to see to it that not only we are spending the dollars that we think are needed, but we are getting the return on the investment that we require as well. It's just not a matter of putting billions of dollars in this system. We need to make sure at all levels of government that we are building up a national capacity, which, in my mind, means we need to rely on the governors to coordinate statewide security plans, working in collaboration with their partners at the local government.

And so, again, my plea today, and you have responded to it every time I have made this request. When I have asked for your help, you have given it to the Department and to the country. My plea to you today is that by the end of this year, with your leadership coordinating statewide plans that are locally driven, get those plans in to us by the end of the year so that in future years, as we go about distributing billions and billions of dollars, we'll be able to determine how well they are being spent. So it's not just a question of input; it's outcomes, as well. And as we build this national network, we need you to help us take the lead. And so I'm going to encourage you to do that.

I would refer you to the statewide template that the Homeland Security Advisory Council created for your use and the use of big city mayors and your Homeland Security Advisors led -- one of the key leaders was a colleague of yours, Governor Mike Leavitt. And this was a template designed by governors and mayors and first responders and others asking a series of questions that they felt was relevant to guide you in developing that plan.

If you ask and answer the questions in that template, you'll be setting priorities within your respective states, and it'll be much easier for you and your team to submit those plans. So, again, I thank Mike for his considerable work and your colleagues in that effort, ask you to refer to it because we've got out, right now, for distribution to the states and locals, nearly $4 billion.

The Congress, this year, was going to appropriate -- and Jim may be able to talk to this when he speaks -- but I daresay it'll be in the vicinity of at least $3.5 billion going out to you. We're preparing a budget for 2005, and I can assure you there'll be a request for billions of additional dollars to the state and local government. So, please, use your best efforts to get that to us as soon as you possibly can.

One other ability or capacity we're trying to develop within the Department we think will facilitate your lives is a one-stop shop, so that when you have access to grant dollars for security matters, you'll be able to go to one place in our Department in order to secure those dollars or information about those grant programs. Again, working with Congress we feel pretty comfortable that we can get to that end state by the end of this year, but we understand, given everything else governors have to do, and you've got tremendous pressure, appropriate pressure, from your local officials, we need the dollars, we need them quickly, and you need answers quickly, and you need access to those dollars quickly.

So we're going to develop a one-stop shop in the Department of Homeland Security, so that you'll be able to access those dollars and get them to your communities as quickly as possible. Now we have a responsibility to get dollars out to you as quickly as possible as well, and I think it should be noted that the budget from fiscal year '03, as well as the supplemental, those dollars are out, and you and your mayors can begin accessing those dollars as soon as you see fit.

We had a good question-and-answer period, and I thank you for that opportunity to speak with you just briefly before this public gathering. And a couple of you asked about the threat advisory system that we have, and I do want to make some public comments about that and lead into the question that a couple governors asked about the flexibility you have if we raise the level of alert to determine, from your perspective as governors, what are the most important targets to be protected. Let me talk to you briefly about the threat advisory system.

As you can recall -- I certainly recall it -- there were a couple of occasions when the Director of the FBI, the Attorney General and I had a press conference -- actually I believe there were three of them -- where we alerted the country to the fact that based on credible intelligence information that we had gathered from our own sources or from our allies in the international war against terrorism, that we felt the country was at a higher level of risk of an attack. We did it on an ad hoc basis. No one was particularly happy with that approach, least of all the principals who were assigned the task of delivering the news to the country-at-large.

We then took a look at what the Department of Defense and the Department of State has historically done when they get information they deem credible and information they believe either their embassies or their forces need to act upon to improve the security at either the consular offices, the embassies or any of the military bases they have domestically or around the world. We came up with the threat advisory system.

I just need to remind everyone that it's a good system that we will work with you to try to perfect and try to at least improve. But it is a system designed -- and I think it's worked fairly well -- to, one, alert the public generally that it is a consensus opinion within the President's Homeland Security Council -- that is, the Secretary of State, the Secretary of Defense, the FBI Director, the CIA Director, the Attorney General and the Secretary of Homeland Security -- it is a consensus within that group, based on their analysis of the threat information, that the level of threat has either gone up or has receded. It is not a unilateral conclusion reached by any single individual; it is a consensus decision reached by these individuals.

So, number one, the purpose is to alert the public generally that for the time being we think the threat of an attack is higher. It's primary purpose, it's primary purpose is to alert the law enforcement and security personnel around the country that they need to enhance security at certain venues around the country, at certain bridges, at certain tunnels, at certain chemical plants, and the list is fairly extensive.

I am happy to report that just about every governor from every state and territory has adopted the threat advisory system, and we look forward to working with you in the months ahead trying to make improvements. I need to remind my colleagues in public service, however, that there is a -- that there is enough flexibility in this system, as it presently exists, to give very specific warnings to a city, a state, a region, a sector of the economy, if the information we receive is specific enough to generate that kind of warning.

I know everyone is somewhat frustrated with the general nature of the warnings we have given over the past year. I think we have raised it three or four times in the past year. But I assure you, when the information is specific enough to warrant a warning being limited to a particular area, we will do that.

I am certain that when we do that, there will be some concern that we raise the level of anxiety by targeting a particular city or a particular state. But when we have information that's credible, that's that specific, that's what we are going to do. There is flexibility built in the system to do just that. So, again, we're going to meet and discuss this issue with your Homeland Security Advisors to see if there is other improvements we can bring to this effort.

Along that line, and getting to the point that I wanted to make with regard to your flexibility when the threat advisory system is raised, we raised the threat level, and a couple of the governors said, "Does that mean we have flexibility to do what we think is in the best interest of our citizens and to enhance security at priorities that we feel are necessary?"

And my answer to you is absolutely, unequivocally, yes. We will be working with you to identify targets, venues, locations, sites in your states that have -- are a priority to us based on our critical infrastructure protection analysis and based on our threat.

But beyond that, we are not going to be prescriptive. Beyond that, you, as governors, have set some of your own priorities. And if it's not on our list, it doesn't necessarily mean that as a governor, based on the intelligence information that we share with you, you may not -- you may desire to enhance security at places or venues, yourself. So the flexibility is there. The discretion is there.

Now, to that end, we're going to work with you -- you were very, very helpful. The governors did a fabulous job during Operation Liberty Shield when we identified about 150 venues, potential targets around the country, and asked you to help us secure them.

We're going to go back and work with your Homeland Security Advisors because these are fairly visible targets, very important targets, and they'll always be, from a national perspective, some of the most important to protect in the country. We will go back and work with your Homeland Security Advisors to see what permanent security measures we can take at those sites.

Again, we've had that conversation with the -- your advisors, and we'll be working on that project with you. And that's the kind of relationship we will -- we need to sustain in the months and years ahead, because once we clear this group of nearly 150, we'll want to go back to you and take a look at the next tier of very important sites that we need to work together on to protect. We're going to call that Project 180, because once we get the project started, we'd like to get the sites up to another level of security within the next six months.

I'd also need to bring your attention to the Joint Interoperable Communications Grant Program. A lot of you have called, and your first responders and your police chiefs have said, "We need interoperable communications." As you know, we have about $150 million that's available for a pilot program in each state. We're waiting to get those applications in by the end of September -- by the end of September. We want you to -- and again, I think your Homeland Security Advisors recognize that they've got a deadline they've got to meet, because at the end of the day, how we communicate both before and after an incident substantially increases our ability either to prevent an incident from occurring, or reducing or minimizing the loss if one occurs. So I remind you that that Joint Interoperable Communications Grant Program, jointly sponsored by Justice and Homeland Security, requires you to select a site and a project in your state by September 30th.

Again, all the governors have your -- have signed the nondisclosure agreements. You now have access to information. We'll be sharing more and more information with you. Just about all of your Homeland Security Advisors have received security clearances. And then we're going to look to you to identify five other people within the state that you want security clearances for, and one of our primary missions is to get information and to share it. Sometimes it's actionable information. Sometimes we'll want you to do something with it. Other times it's important for us to pass the information on to you, so that your knowledge base and your data base is similar to ours as it relates to your providing security to you citizens. You may not need to do anything with it, but if we hear something, if we get something within the intelligence community that's talking about something in your state, there are occasions when we think you need to know it, even though you don't need to take any action on it. So you've

I will tell you that we've made arrangements within the Federal Government so that if among these five individuals, they already have a top secret clearance or a secret clearance from either the FBI, the CIA or anybody else, we have agreed internally within the Federal Government that that will be satisfactory for DHS purposes. So, again, sharing information, as we did last Thursday night, is at the heart of what we need to do as a country; when it's actionable, get it to the people who can use it best and use it first, and more often than not, those folks are at the state and local level.

Finally, I would -- wanted to share with you just a final thought, and since it's a public forum it gives me an opportunity to tell the rest of the country that there has been substantial innovation and extraordinary leadership in the fight against -- in the war against international terrorism at the state and local level. None of the governors -- none of the governors -- have waited for the Federal Government to give them specific instruction as to how to do things or to set priorities. The governors have stepped out on their own, within their own states, to get things done. Very consistent with the mindset of this new Department. We are not a D.C.-centric operation because we understand that the homeland is secure only when the hometowns are secure, when the people in the best position to secure the hometowns are the governors and the mayors.

And so while we will provide resources, and expend hundreds of millions of dollars on science and technology projects, and be at the heart of sharing information with you, working on improving the threat advisory system, identifying and prioritizing critical infrastructure that we need to protect, it's also very important for the country to understand that there has been significant leadership at the state level.

And so my final remarks are to thank you for that leadership and innovation. We have been great partners to date. For six years and nine months and five days I had the honor of serving as the Governor of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, but who's counting? Every single day of my tenure, looking to partner in positive ways with either the Federal Government or the local government was at the heart of what I tried to do.

In a post-9/11 environment, that kind of partnership is more important to this country and this issue, and I could say, arguably, that maybe other cabinet secretaries would disagree with me, but there is nothing more important than that kind of partnership in a post-9/11 environment to prevent a terrorist attack, reduce our vulnerability to attack, or shore up our ability and enhance our capacity to respond to an attack if it should occur.

I appreciate your leadership, I'm proud to have the opportunity to work with you, and look forward to continued enhancement and progress that we've made to date. We still have a long, long way to go. But I'm confident that if we can work through the governors, and through the governors work down to the mayors and local government, we will get stronger and more secure every single day in the future as we have done every single day since 9/11. So thank you for your leadership and thank you for your support.


GOVERNOR PATTON: Thank you, Mr. Secretary, and I understand you may stay with us a few moments and take some questions. Let me thank you again for the work that you're doing. Sometimes we tend to forget, but the first responsibility of a government is to protect the person and the property of its citizens. And in this world condition, perhaps we are more mindful of it, but it's a job that's very important and it does take a partnership at the federal, state, and local level. So we appreciate your work.

Questions. Tom Vilsack from Iowa.

GOVERNOR VILSACK: Governor, thank you very much for your leadership and your assistance. I am seeking advice today from you. How can you help us, or how can we help you, particularly in the Midwest, who are concerned about agro-terrorism? How can we get that more on the minds of folks nationally and across the states? We all have agriculture and we know that that's a potential threat. What can we do to get that higher?

SECRETARY RIDGE: That's a great question and I appreciate you asking it. Number one, I think it's very important for all of us to remind our fellow citizens that if there is one area in American commerce where science and technology has always played a role to ensure that the food and fiber is safe has been in the agricultural sector.

I mean, we know that for decades, applying science to that process has been very much at the heart of what this country has done, not only to make us productive but to be safe. But you also have a unique configuration, I think, of governors and states in the Midwest region, who have really, as I understand it, put together an alliance to help focus on this issue.

And since we recognize the food supply is one of the 14 areas of critical infrastructure in this country, we will be focusing on that area and that arena within our -- within the new department, in the Information Analysis Infrastructure Protection Department.

So I think my response to you is is that post the NGA meeting, I know you're very involved, if not actually leading that group, working with the Secretary of Agriculture, working with you and with our Department, we'll begin that process of reviewing what you have done.

I know Secretary Veneman has taken the lead in some other areas and see where we work together to identify critical infrastructure that needs to be protected and applying more science and technology to protect our food and fiber.

GOVERNOR PATTON: Yes. Jennifer Granholm of Michigan.

GOVERNOR GRANHOLM: Thank you. I appreciate the Department of Homeland Security's effort to try to break down the silos of federal government, and, of course, we have got vertical silos that we are trying break down to state, local, federal. One of the areas that I know we can collaborate on is on the issue of training.

I understand that the Department of Homeland Security is considering a number of sites across the country to stage local, state and federal training at. I'm wondering when the decision on when those training centers will be identified will be forthcoming, and how many centers do you think there will be?

SECRETARY RIDGE: First of all, we have several training centers within the Department. And to your point, we have used them rather effectively, but in a post-9/11 environment we are looking to establishing additional centers of excellence.

The question that we are vetting within the department now is whether we ought to go out and build new training centers or take a look at some of the states and some of the other facilities that already exist to see whether or not we can direct more training to facilities that right now, perhaps, are even underutilized.

So before we even think about building new centers, we're take a look -- take an inventory of what presently exists because some of the states themselves have some pretty decent training operations -- and I know they have one in Michigan, Governor -- and take a look at whether or not, instead of building anew, we could partner with you or make the training that you offer at your center an eligible cost for some of the training dollars we're sending out to the states.

It's one of the reasons that I have asked the governors to work with me and work with Congress to preserve a portion, whether it's 20 percent or 25 percent, of the traditional dollars the Office of Domestic Preparedness grants, Jim. Regardless of the size of the state, you need those dollars. I'd like to think that every state would be either building a training center or partnering with a neighboring state to have that capacity to train their first responders.

So before we build anew, we're going to take a look at what already exists out there to see if we can bolster that.

GOVERNOR PATTON: Governor Jim McGreevey of New Jersey.

GOVERNOR MCGREEVEY: Mr. Secretary, thank you for all that you've done, particularly in port security. Just two questions. One, on the most recent Congressional distribution formula, what do you anticipate the future direction?

And, second, earlier Governor Romney -- we were talking about best practices regarding intelligence information sharing and I was going to wonder what the Department will do to promulgate those best practices.

SECRETARY RIDGE: Again, Congressman Oberstar might be in a better position to address this, but having served in that body many years ago, I think I know what's coming. I can anticipate that, very appropriately, the -- at least I think in the '04 budget, the Congress will be entertaining about $3.5 billion or more to the state and locals.

I think there will be a set-aside for the states regardless of the size, regardless of anything else. Large and small states will get a certain percentage. But I also think that Congress, and it's in both the appropriations bills, will carve out what they call an "Urban Security Initiative," and then give the Department flexibility based upon population, population density, critical infrastructure, threat, to make a distribution to large, metropolitan areas. So I sense that's coming.

What we're going to ask Congress to do, particularly with regard to the traditional dollars they've sent to the states, because it came up at a meeting I had with some of your colleagues, some of them would like to see a little bit more flexibility in the dollars they get, that 20 or 25 percent, to do more than just train and exercise and equip communities or people with it. So we'll want to work with the NGA to try to give you a little bit more flexibility.

The best practice of information sharing, you're right, we need a standard protocol vis--vis our Department and the governors. We began that protocol by getting the governors involved in the information-sharing process, by clearing the Homeland Security Advisors, by you identifying five other folks. One of the things we're going to do is develop a secure website so that those that have clearance can get access to that kind of information and so we can share best practices that we have identified or that you have identified.

I mean, one of the strong points of the NGA has historically been a sharing of best practices. This is just a new dimension, a post-9/11 dimension, for the NGA to take on. So between our review of best practices and your review of best practices, I think we can share them on this secure website.

GOVERNOR PATTON: We'll take a couple more, first from Mark Sanford of South Carolina and then Kathleen Sebelius.


GOVERNOR SANFORD: Yes, sir. Governor, now Secretary, I cannot commend you enough on the work that you've done to, in essence, put governors at the lead in developing those statewide plans, obviously in conjunction with first responders and others, but you've done that. I think it's very important, because if not, you end up with a real fragmented system that oftentimes involves a lot of duplication because some of the cities in my state won't ever, frankly, be a threat the way that other cities will be. So I commend you for that.

I would just ask of you, though, to, as you look at latitude to governors, to look at latitude with purse strings, because what oftentimes happens is with these matching funds, it'll be a 75/25 or an 80/20, or whatever the number might be, and even though there's latitude in terms of the plan, to a degree there's not because of the way that the dollars are arranged.

And so hurricanes, for instance, are regular, predictable events on the coast of South Carolina. They involve the threat of mass casualty and the need to prepare to move people distances, et cetera. But we can't move some of those Homeland Security monies over into what would be the same threat area because if we had an atomic plant blow up, we'd have to involve logistics that move large numbers of people because of the way that the dollars are configured. And I'd just ask you to try and look for opportunities to go one step further in providing dollar latitude as well.

SECRETARY RIDGE: All right. Well, we would look forward to working with you on providing maximum flexibility to secure the homeland. I think the reference to flexibility, either of FEMA dollars or Homeland Security dollars, might actually -- I'm not sure Congress is going to give us the flexibility to do that. But it's something that, we need to know what your priorities are, we sit down and agree with them, and we've got to go to the Hill and see if we can convince Congress to agree with us. I mean, that's just the way it works, and in my experience so far, there's been tremendous -- we've argued from time to time about dollar amount, and that's always going to be a point of focus and potential disagreement within the federal government, how much money, but there's been generally pretty broad support for maximizing flexibility as long as the dollars are to advance Homeland Security goals.

GOVERNOR PATTON: Kathleen Sebelius of Kansas

GOVERNOR SEBELIUS: Governor. My question really has to do with some of the communities which cross state borders. We happen to have Kansas City which exists on both sides of the state lines. The hospital community is very tied together, the economic community is very tied together, and I know that's not a unique situation. Those communities are in many states.

As you analyze the state plans coming into your office, is there any plan or practice to pay some attention to make sure that the -- I mean, we're trying at this point to communicate actively with Missouri, but it does strike me that they're going to submit a plan, we're going to submit a plan, we have updates, but unless those plans tie together very closely in that community, they don't work very well, because the infrastructure is so tied across state lines that we really need a coordinated strategy. And I just wonder how much attention is being paid to that from your office. Are you going to nudge states to look across the state lines?

SECRETARY RIDGE: That's a wonderful question, because you remind me of what I didn't mention in my remarks, and I thank you for that. If you take a look at the statewide template, one of the initiatives, and one of the areas we urge the governors to examine, is that whole concept of mutual aid -- intrastate and interstate. And it would be our hope that -- and I think of my own, I think of Pennsylvania, you know, once a governor, always a governor. I think of my own state, all right. We have a couple large metropolitan areas, we have a couple smaller communities, and you'll never be able to equip some of these smaller communities with the same kind of equipment that they'd all like to have individually, so you want a mutual aid pact, so that when they come to each other's assistance, when everybody shows up, you'll have the full array of equipment that you need to deal with the crisis, whether it's manmade or nature.

The same thing applies to mutual aid across state borders. And we are hopeful and are encouraging the governors whose jurisdictions overlap with the jurisdictions of other governors to make that a part of your statewide plan as you submit it and have your counterpart do the same thing. And that's precisely the mindset that we want, and why we like the governors to drive the process in collaboration, in cooperation with your mayors and your county commissioners. They will help design the plan, we need to understand that, but there's only one person that can oversee the development of mutual aid pats and coordinate the statewide effort, and I've said this to the League of Cities and the Conference of Mayors, and that's got to be with the support of your governors.

GOVERNOR PATTON: Thank you. Mr. Secretary. We appreciate it.

SECRETARY RIDGE: Thank you, Paul.

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