The White House, President George W. Bush Click to print this document

For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
October 26, 2001

Remarks by Director of Homeland Security Tom Ridge
To the National Association of Counties
the Ronald Reagan Building

Washington, D.C.

1:34 P.M. EDT

GOVERNOR RIDGE:  Thank you.  It was a good thing I left town after seven years as Governor; I didn't get too many standing ovations, so I appreciate that.  (Laughter.)  Delighted to be with you.

Javier, I just want to thank you for your invitation, and I want to tell you that I brought a fairly lengthy speech with me today, and I think instead of reading a speech I would rather have -- begin a conversation with you.

And then, I understand we've got some -- we have some presentations that you're going to make to me, and then to the extent we have a little time, we can do a little Q & A.  I think that would be a better way to proceed.

When the President called me and said he was going to create an Office of Homeland Security, I had about 24 hours to -- it all happened in 24 or 48 hours.  I don't know, it was a blur.  But I knew that the Vice President, frankly, President Bush and Vice President Cheney had started working on the concept of dealing with threats to our homeland shortly after they took office.  And I knew that Congress had started working on it a couple of years ago, because there has been a great deal of literature that has been written about the subject as the nature of our world has changed dramatically.  So that -- if you are a sovereign state, you are no longer concerned just about state terrorism and state threats to your sovereignty, but there are now the non-state terrorists.

Other countries in the world have been dealing with that phenomenon for a long time.  Certainly, it's been a condition of life in the Middle East -- Italy; from time to time Germany; the United Kingdom.  We've seen isolated acts of terrorism in this country, the most probably memorable -- there have been several others -- was the bombing in Oklahoma City.

When he called, we had this conversation, and I concluded that I did want to come to Washington and work with individuals -- not only my friend, but I think has proven to be an extraordinary leader in time of great crisis, and that's the true measure of an individual.  And I think he's demonstrated to America what I've known for a long time.

And so, I was proud to receive the call, and since I spent a little time some years ago in another war, I wore a different uniform, I thought, well, I'm going to go down there and work with an extraordinary team that President Bush has put together.  And that's John Ashcroft and Bob Mueller and Tommy Thompson and David Satcher.  And the list goes on and on. Everybody around him, the Vice President; they're an extraordinary team.

And when I was introduced that Thursday night and I looked at my President, and I looked at the team he had assembled, I knew that when I got to Washington in a couple of weeks, that some good work had already been done.  And a lot of people had said to me, well, you've got an executive order, you don't have any budget authority, you don't have any statutory authority, you've got all these challenges, nobody has really thought about this before, and it didn't take me too long to call on not only my own experience as a governor, but -- and somebody just understands what a lot of people in America do every day when they go to work: and that is, make their homeland secure.  That's what policemen and firemen have been doing for a long time.  We just never thought they were responsible for a part of the homeland security team.

You have emergency management agencies in your county governments and state governments and we always thought of them as emergency management people, but we never thought of them as part of a homeland security team; but they are.

Since I was the primary author of the Stafford bill back in the '80s as a member of Congress, I knew that there was a Federal Emergency Management Agency already in place.  So the notion that we would come to town and just try to begin from scratch and start anew was not intimidating or daunting, because it was inaccurate.  There are a lot of good people, hundreds of thousands who go to work at all levels of government, the federal, the state and the local every day, who are part of this team, but until September 11th, we, the country, never saw them as part of that team.

Our ability to defeat terrorism will require the effort all level of government and the public and the private sector.  We are now conducting a war against terrorism, and there are two battlefields, there are two fronts.  One front is in Afghanistan, the other is the home front.  This is a new phenomenon for us. This is unprecedented.  Maybe in the back of our minds, we thought something like this might happen because there was enough literature out there, and some of our friends and neighbors have trained for some of these things; but in our heart of hearts, I suspect we said, and prayed and hoped, that it wouldn't happen.  But it did.

So that's the reality that we deal with.  It is a 21st century environment.  And whereas county government and local government and state government and federal government on September 10th worried about a different kind of security and worried about the prosperity against different challenges, as of September 11th, there was a new set of challenges.

And that's, I think, why the President feels so strongly that we need to remind ourselves that there's one war, two battlefields.  That's why he said it was important, and I think you agree, that we need somebody in the White House to coordinate the effort that has been previously undertaken at all levels of government.  And that's why I was proud that he asked; and honored to say yes, that I would serve with him and his extraordinary team that he's got.

And we know what's going on the battlefield in Afghanistan; we get the daily briefings.  We know we've got a billion dollars worth of aid committed to the region.  I think, sooner or later, the amount of money, humanitarian aid we'll get to Afghanistan will be about a half a billion dollars.  The region, in total, is going to get a $1 billion.  We've got the food drops, we've got America's children sending in money and letters to help feed and reach out to the children in Afghanistan.  We know all of that.  We also know that we've got pretty good infrastructure in the homeland, but we have to work closely together to improve it.

I think one of the things the terrorists thought, maybe that America was soft or we weren't up to the task, or that we just couldn't rally ourselves to deal with this -- I call them shadow soldiers, or shadow enemies -- they're here.  They're the 21st century people that we have to deal with.  And we'll deal with them; we know that.  We will deal with them.  Maybe they thought that we would lose our nerve, but we won't.

As I said the other day, it gives new meaning to the word -- you would have thought somebody was living in a cave to conclude that.  You never know.

But even when we defeat bin Laden and when we defeat al Qaeda and there are so many people working hard both in the military, the Department of Justice, the FBI and all of these other agencies to interdict, harass, freeze their assets, go after them with every resource available to us, the war against terrorism will not have been concluded, because there are other potential adversaries to this country out there who could potentially deploy the same or similar weapons against us.

Who ever thought -- I mean, we normally think in military terms with conventional weapons -- who ever thought they would take a commercial airliner and turn it into a missile.  Who ever thought they would take an envelope and turn it into a weapon of terror.

Somebody asked me yesterday, if you found those individuals, particularly the individual or individuals threatening our community, our country with anthrax, what would you tell them?  And I started to think about it.  I didn't say then and I wouldn't say right now what I thought -- (laughter) -- or what I would like to do, but I'm not sure you can rationalize, I'm not sure we have the same value system.  I'm not sure that we think of humanity and civilization and progress in the world like these people.  So it would be very difficult to communicate with somebody when you may be able to speak the same language, but you don't speak the same language, because your mindset is different.

So they're going to be around.  And I think we need to understand that one of the challenges we have -- and the President said it very precisely and very clearly in his executive order, coordinate a comprehensive national strategy to deal with homeland security.

Now, I view a couple of operative words there.  "National" is one of them, and probably the most important.  It didn't say "federal strategy," it said "national," which means the federal government, our state government, our county government and, certainly we integrate local government in that as well.  And it didn't say just a public sector strategy, it said a national strategy.  So we have to integrate private sector resources over the years as well.  So that is the mission that the President has given to me.

Right now, during this crisis -- actually I think I've been serving from time to time as an ombudsman.  I heard from Governor Bush a couple of times and Mayor Giuliani a couple of times, and Governor Pataki a couple of times, and the Postmaster General several times over the past week and trying to shift resources and make some decisions that help them respond, and we've been able to do that -- but the real mission, long-term, is to work with you and similar organizations and with the private sector to not only to develop a strategy, but to implement it.

And I learned the term here a couple days ago when I went to brief a group of folks who represented the Big 7 -- I guess that's the county organizations and the cities, but they really deal with local and state government -- but one of the things that I would like to do -- and I mentioned it to your President -- is, I would like to have my own task force of this group that my team can deal with on a regular basis as well.  So we'll get back to you about that.  I think it would just be a lot easier than seven meetings, and I think a lot your interests merge and converge anyhow.  So we will certainly put that in place, send you back to your organization and get that set up.

A couple of final things, and I'll conclude, and take questions or listen to your presentations.  We need to assess today both short-term and long-term needs.  We need to understand today that the perfect cannot be the enemy of the good.  We need to understand we may not be able to get to the 100 percent solution as quickly as we want, but let's not quibble over the fact that we didn't get to 100 percent if we got to 50, 60, or 70.

I think, ideally, there should never be a day and there will never be a day in the future of this country where, somewhere, someplace, a group of Americans aren't thinking about how to improve their ability to prevent terrorist attacks, and there won't be a day that goes by that people aren't thinking about how you improve or strengthen your ability to respond to it. That's the 21st century world.  So I see -- this is a long-term, permanent project.

So the mission the President gave to me was to, where you see gaps, fill them, where you see strengths, build upon them.  If you see people that should be in the process that have been excluded, pull them in.  So it's a pretty broad license.

And I know from my experience as Governor that when we've seen -- the country has seen, and then the world has seen is that our first responders are local.  Now, I knew that.  I'm not sure a lot of other people knew it until they saw the incredible courage in Virginia, and in New York City. And I will tell you that within hours after the plane crashed and -- gets a new definition of courage and heroism in Flight 93 over Pennsylvania, but there were people rolling in from other counties to assist, not knowing what they were going to find, but automatically we were one.

And the Emergency Management people were rolling in from other counties.  And in Pennsylvania, we had a very good -- I think a solid, a very sophisticated system, integrated system, with 67 counties.  The technology assets, personnel -- we ran real drills.

You know, you can tabletop a lot of concepts; but if you're really going to be prepared, if you really want to be prepared, you've got to run through the drill.  And so I see the immediate need in my mind is, training.  FEMA and most of our emergency coordinators, the whole infrastructure, is a natural one to build upon, but it was designed to deal with a 20th century threat, and that was manmade -- that was natural disasters.

There were some other training in bio and chemical and radiological and nuclear, but look, we all know that basically, it was a system designed to respond to Mother Nature, who is a pretty tough customer, as we've learned over the years.  But you've got this great infrastructure in place, and one of the first things I want to do and, Joe Allbaugh -- has Joe been over here to -- Director Allbaugh, FEMA Director --

PERSON:  His assistant came over this morning.

GOVERNOR RIDGE:  Yes.  Well, big man, big job, big heart.  That's Joe. And FEMA works hard.  And I told him he's going to have an even bigger job, because I see FEMA and its integration with your state emergency management coordinators and your county coordinators having an expanded role.

And, so, again, based on my experience as a governor, I know how well my counties worked, how well they were coordinated with the state system. But as I step back, after three weeks in the job, based on conversations I've had with quite a few organizations, it seems to me the first thing we need to do is get training and equipment and integrate perhaps an expansion of the public health community.

I'll tell you what I think we need to do on the front end.  I mean, there's a lot of things we -- the intelligence community and the law enforcement community.  But in terms of integrating all of these services together so we have a national strategy, I just want to assure you that you will be very much a part of that, an ongoing part of that.  You will be a partner; because the federal government can't do it alone, and we can't maximize -- we can't do our very best unless you are included every step of the way.

Finally, I think you know that FEMA has begun going out to all 50 states and territories to assess capabilities.  We want to be very constructive, which means we have to look at ourselves and be critical. Maybe some things we should have done, should have done before September 10th, didn't get done for a lot of reasons.  This is not the time for retribution, this is not the time for finger-pointing.  This is the time to say what do we need today to better protect us from tomorrow's threat. And so, let's set some short-term goals together, let's develop a national strategy, and then let's work together to implement that strategy.

We will win this war.  I don't think there's any doubt in my mind. But that condition -- and I'll conclude with this:  One of the challenges I believe for a peace-loving country whose shores haven't really been attacked in slightly more than 200 -- slightly less than 200 years -- is to make that transition to where we understand that our own country is under attack, which is even more difficult in that transition, I think, or at least as complicated is that we are under attack from a different kind of enemy who is using different kinds of weapons, and weapons designed to fear and weapons designed to panic and disrupt.

We're not going to let them get away with that.  We'll find them. We'll get them.  And then, I think, working with you over the months and years ahead, we'll develop an even stronger prevention mechanism and an even stronger response mechanism.

So I'm grateful to have the opportunity to spend a little time with you.  I just -- will tell you that I think these terrorists that are -- right now, we're focused in on bin Laden and al Qaeda.  But they picked the wrong country and the wrong time and the wrong leader.  And we think we've already demonstrated that to him and to the rest of the world.  But it's up to us to keep mobilized and keep demonstrating that.

The President is very passionate about planting the flag of freedom. And it's freedom from fear.  That's what we have to defeat.  Because terrorism is out there in all kinds of forms.  We have to feel a lot more secure about our ability to respond.  And with the help of you, I'm absolutely convinced we can get that done.  And not only get that better sense of security, but create an even stronger security system to both protect us and then respond if we have to.

So I'm delighted to be here.  I think you've got some presentations that you want to make.  And I would be happy to hear them and then entertain any questions you might have.  Thanks very much.  (Applause.)

* * * * *

I think there are a couple of thoughts that I would like to share with you after your very helpful presentations.

First of all, I know there is truly a sense of urgency.  There are challenges in our homeland security infrastructure that we all know exist. And so, everybody, understandably, wants to get money today and fix them today.

And I just wanted to alert you to a couple of things, and I'm not saying you shouldn't move as aggressively as you possibly can, but please note there will be some additional money coming in.  Last year's budget, that they still haven't voted on -- things haven't changed, I've been out of town for 12 years, but -- (laughter) -- they still run government by continuing resolution around here until the very end.  But that's all right.  There will be some additional money there in some of these critical areas that you're talking about.

You are going to get supplemental dollars, which I think are very critical at this time.  But please know, we've got some work to do and some time over the next 60 days as the President and the administration prepares their budget to be presented on January.  So, number one, please keep that in mind.

Number two, we talk a lot about the infrastructure, and the emphasis today is on bioterrorism.  But I think as we build this infrastructure, it ought to be very, very comprehensive.  We ought to take a look at all those horrible things that we don't want to talk about publicly, but we all know that are involved in weapons of mass destruction.

You've got to talk about radiological weapons, you've got to talk about chemical weapons.  So as we're creating an infrastructure, whether it's the public health system, whether it's training, whether it's personnel, I think what we need to do is to think more broadly about the kind of systems that we want to build.  And I think we need to just step back for a month or two as we look at next year's budget, because certainly, as I look at the development of next year's budget, because our present threat is bioterrorism, there are other kinds of unconventional threats out there.

And so I think as we develop a strategy, the strategy has to be very inclusive.  And that may impact some of our decisions and the kind of acquisitions we make and the kind of training that we provide at the outset.

Thirdly, I would just say, based on my experience as a governor, it is absolutely imperative that the counties work, work closely together than they have ever worked together in their history.  I sound very proud; I had 67 counties, and at one point in time, 67 counties had 200 travel and tourism bureaus, and 67 counties had 200 or 300 work force development programs.  I mean, there is a tendency to really decentralize.

And some of you comment, we do need to decentralize, very appropriately, some of the public health capacity that we have to make immediate -- so there are certain areas where you want to decentralize; there are others where, for collaboration and coordination, not only intra-county, but county by county. So we have to think very, very carefully how we integrate our collective capacity.

We're all in this together.  Your neighboring residents, the county next to you, is just as concerned about this issue as your residents are, so I can just encourage you.  And I've had the same conversation with the governors.

We really have to reach out and integrate and coordinate and plan together, not independently.  That does not mean that you don't have individual priorities.  That does not mean that everything set up in one county necessarily has to be a mirror image of another; you may have special needs.

But we have to be sensitive to maximizing our effectiveness, and one of the ways you maximize your effectiveness is you maximize the use of whatever dollar you get, whether it's a local dollar, state dollar, or federal dollar, that's very, very critical.

I know you're concerned about the public health system.  I think, given the fact that they have responded, I think, in a way -- tragically, we've got fatalities, they're casualties of this war -- they're not just decedents, they're casualties.  They're casualties in a war.

But I guess we'll probably never know, and there's been some people whose suggestion that the public health system did not respond as quickly, as aggressively, as appropriately as they can.  You work with these local public health officials every day.  You know in their heart, in their mind, that's their life, that's their profession.  They want to make people safer.  They want to see that they avoid any sickness or illness.  And they make medical judgments based on information that they have.  And, admittedly, there's not a lot of information out there with clinical trials relative to anthrax and how you treat it.

And so, the public health system responded quickly.  Tragically, we lost some lives.  We'll never know how many we've saved.  But I do think, having said that, that a good system needs to be strengthened.  And one of your presenters said we do really need to decentralize some of the laboratory capacity to identify bioterrorism, that would be able to respond to other kinds of threats.  Please know that's very much on my mind as well.

You also raised a very good issue -- another presenter talks about the ability to get information to the local level with regard to intelligence; not just threat information, but again, you use the word, "first-line responders."  People now understand that.  But that's also law enforcement as well.

And please know, I will look very critically at both the kind of filters -- I mean, some of that information is going to stop at a higher level, but there's a certain point in time where -- somebody used the word "need to know," that's got to come down.  There can't -- it's got to be seamless, and we've got to sit down and talk about what kind of information you get and when you get it, so that you can either prepare to respond, or you might be able to interdict and prevent.

So I think we've got to look at it both ways.  And we will.  I will tell you that I think Attorney General Ashcroft and others in the law enforcement community are very interested in working with the local law enforcement officials in that capacity as well.  We don't have people in the federal government normally patrolling the neighborhoods 24 hours a day, seven days a week; you do.

And if there are patterns that we see develop, there are suspicious sets of circumstances that we've been able to identify in other areas -- and there might even be individuals that we want you to -- I don't know where this discussion will go, but we will have the discussion because I understand not only your concern, but your willingness to use some of your local law enforcement personnel to enhance the national strategy; perhaps prevent, rather than arrest, after the incident occurred.  So your themes resound quite well.

With regard to transportation, I appreciate the concern.  It's not just about airports.  I understand that.  And I also appreciate a couple of presenters said we need to start prioritizing.  We cannot, under 100 percent of the time, provide 100 percent security against 100 percent of all the potential risks that exist in the world today.  But we can set priorities based on risks and then meet the priorities, and then build on that.

Like I said before, we don't make the perfect the enemy of the good. As I said, I think this will be just a -- the national challenge is to, every day, continue to build greater capacity and more strength.  And that will be a never-ending challenge.  Because we'll never get it to the gold standard; we'll always be reaching for it, which is what we have to do.  We have to look to improve, then look to strengthen, every step of the way.

So what I'll do in my capacity as Director of Homeland Security is -- is over the next several weeks, we're going to put together that group from the Big 7 -- those representing your organizations and other local government organizations.  We'll probably add a few others to get the real -- to get a good cross-section.

I'm just going to encourage you to collaborate like you've -- and integrate resources like you've never done before.  As Governor, we had 2,500 political subdivisions in Pennsylvania.  How do you like that?  And everybody is very proud of their township and they're very proud of their borough and they're very proud of their county and they're very proud of their city.  And maybe in a different world, they would like to retain their own autonomy and their own identity and their own police force and their own -- 21st century means that we have to think a little bit differently about these things.  So I'm just going to encourage you all to do that.

This is a difficult task, but it is not impossible.  There are great minds, great people, great leadership.  I've seen it evidenced on -- around the country and -- and you've seen it.  You may be called upon in the future to respond, and I'm confident that, at the county level we've got that kind of leadership.

So thank you for inviting me, thank you for the good work, presentation.  I look forward to those recommendations, and I look forward to working with you in the weeks and years ahead.

Thanks very much.

END           2:23 P.M. EDT

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