|The White House
President George W. Bush
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For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
October 18, 2001
Press Roundtable on Homeland Security
By Governor Tom Ridge
the Roosevelt Room
2:32 P.M. EDT
GOVERNOR RIDGE: Good afternoon. All right, I know you have quite a few questions you would like to ask, but I would like to just give you a very short monologue, okay?
And we will start with October 8th, which was day one as Director of Homeland Security. I should tell you that from the very first day, I have been fortunate enough to have been engaged on a daily basis with the President, as well as other members of the extraordinary team that he has assembled. Every day I meet with Attorney General John Ashcroft, with FBI Director Bob Mueller. I think I've seen Tommy Thompson just about every day, sometimes two or three times a day. And of course, there is an enormous amount of interaction by phone.
I have met with most, but not all, of the Cabinet secretaries. I have spent a great deal of time, obviously, as the administration has, on the challenges provided by the anthrax situations that we have encountered in different parts of this country.
Like everybody else around here, the day starts early, finishes late. I have, as I said before, my daily contact with the President. Obviously he was out of the country today, but he's got my phone number, so we talked this morning. I will be talking with him later on this evening.
The position of Director of Homeland Security, as you know, has been created by executive order. And it is in response to this country's recognition, it is in response to the President's recognition, that 21st century America will have to defend itself not only against external threats, traditional state threats emanating from enemies abroad, but also the 21st century environment within which we live, within which we try to conduct our business and preserve our way of life. Obviously, for the foreseeable future, we will have to deal with challenges of non-state terrorists that we have discovered are among us.
The order is very broad. I don't know if you have spent a great deal of time reading it, but it is a very broad order, a great deal of flexibility. But by and large, as I see my responsibilities, first of all, the overarching responsibility is to give to the President a comprehensive national strategy that deals with the widest possible range of issues around which the whole notion of homeland security is built.
And I think one point I would like to underscore for you is the emphasis on national strategy, not just federal, and not just public. I view the responsibility is to engage governments at all levels, as well as, where it is appropriate, the private sector, to be part of our national effort to provide homeland security.
To that end, I have, certainly, immediate short-term and long-term goals. One of the first things we did in the first week here is to work with the different cabinet officials to get the supplemental arranged, to support some of the immediate strengthening that we all wanted, building on the infrastructure that we previously had. And I think you saw it reflected yesterday in the request to build up our stockpile. We have a stockpile, but we want to build up the stockpile. We've got a terrific organization at FEMA, but we want to improve immediately the relationship between the federal government, the state and the local government, to aviation security.
So that was immediate, and a lot of that work was done simultaneously with me doing the first week. And a lot of it the Cabinet had been doing since September 11th. You should know that.
The next task is working with the Cabinet officials and OMB to look at next year's budget. That process is ongoing now. The third, longer-term task -- although it won't be too long -- is to give the President my recommendations with regard to a comprehensive national strategy, also with some budget recommendations, for the next several years.
So that kind of encapsulates what I believe my responsibilities are. And that also includes from day to day, in a given situation, from intervening and imposing myself, placing myself in situations where I call this agency and request that this is done, call this agency and seek either that information or request integration or resource commitment.
So I've got day-to-day responsibilities, at the margins perhaps operational or tactical. But I also have those long-term responsibilities that I've laid out for you. That is how I view the task, and that's really building on the infrastructure that we have in this country. We've got -- where there are gaps, the President said fill them; where there are strengths, he said make them stronger. If you find areas that need for improvement, improve them.
Obviously, I've got an idea right now as to where we ought to go, and I'm going to do that -- improve and strengthen that which we have, and if you think there are areas where we need new resources, new assets, a new approach, plug that into the strategy as well.
And that's how I view my responsibilities to the President.
Q Have you seen any big gaps yet?
GOVERNOR RIDGE: No large gaps. But I think, as I said before, there are certain things that have happened, I think, since September 11th. That's my frame of reference. But you know, there has historically been the notion that a lot of the intelligence agencies don't cooperate as well as they should. I'm not sure that's true; I don't have a frame of reference. All I can tell you is that I see it operationally day to day, where the CIA and the FBI and the Attorney General are collaborating, cooperating, communicating, not just at the meetings that we have, but on an ongoing basis.
Gaps in the sense that -- and I don't mean that there's a complete void. We've got a good emergency management system in this country. We took it very seriously in Pennsylvania. As a matter of fact, if you look back to 1985 or '86, I worked very hard on the Stafford bill, which is really the emergency management bill that really gives FEMA the authority and the responsibility to respond to natural disasters.
Well, we've got a good infrastructure there. But again, the 20th century world said that FEMA should be organized, and the training regimen should be around natural disasters. Well, the 21st century world says you have to be prepared for natural disasters, but you also better be prepared for bioterrorism and other man-made acts that would do harm to families, communities, and the like. So is it a gap? No, not -- I wouldn't say it was a void. It was -- again, after September 11th you see the challenge in a different way. And so my responsibility is to build up on the strength that already exists.
Q Governor, was it your idea to have the press conference today?
GOVERNOR RIDGE: By and large, yes. I mean, the first week was -- I know everybody is saying you got sworn in, we saw it on TV. But my kids used to read the book, "Where's Waldo?" Where's the Gov? And we wanted to make sure that -- frankly, I spent a lot of time with cabinet members and the President, but I thought it was the appropriate time to come out and just align all the resources that -- most of the resources that we've had in this administration focusing on the anthrax challenge and letting the public know.
I mean, it was like information overload. Those of you who were there may have gotten more information than you wanted, but I don't think in a country that craves information, that feels -- I think it's better to give you too much than not enough. And we just thought we'd just align all these resources and all these departments and basically explain publicly together, not in separate press conferences, but together. And Tommy Thompson would have been there but he had another commitment that was longstanding.
Q Governor, you did mention one of your roles being like a public face to discuss this on a daily basis. Do you intend to do that? Do you think the administration --
GOVERNOR RIDGE: Let me, let me -- I think I said "regular." You don't want to see me daily, do you? (Laughter.)
Q But, I mean, do you think the administration needs someone to kind of come out like -- kind of like what Mayor Giuliani has been doing in New York, who is on top of all aspects of the situation and can be sort of a central source and face of the administration?
GOVERNOR RIDGE: I think that is in part my responsibility, particularly during times like this with the entire country -- the administration, citizens, journalists, everybody -- is very appropriately focused in right now on both the war against terrorism across the way, but the war on terrorism here.
So, yes, that is why we said the other day there will be regular briefings, and for a period of time they may be daily. Thank you.
Q -- want to make your job a cabinet level position. Can you explain why you don't want that power?
GOVERNOR RIDGE: I don't think I need it.
Q Why not?
GOVERNOR RIDGE: Because, right now, as you see -- first of all, I have been up to the Hill and I've talked to -- I just talked to the majority leadership in both chambers, and this issue appropriately came up.
And I showed them a graph that I did of all the agencies that have something to do with homeland security, and I said if you put me -- gave me statutory authority to run all this, it wouldn't work, because there are so many pieces to this puzzle.
And I told them that I have authority vested by the President of the United States. I have access 10, 15 paces away. I also can go in and see the President any time I want. I've got the direction from the President to the cabinet saying this is my priority because it's America's priority. He calls me Tom. I'm on a first-name basis with the President: he calls me Tom; I call him Mr. President. (Laughter.) But he made it very clear to the cabinet members that that's my role.
Q What about budget authority? Would you like to have that?
GOVERNOR RIDGE: Well, so far, after ten days, I've made budget recommendations and they have all been agreed upon.
So -- no, I think, again, Mitch Daniels and his team have been very helpful and very cooperative. And we are going to work through this next budget cycle. And one of the things that people haven't focused on -- you focused on the supplemental, but please know that I think coming up, once they get the appropriations bills, there's a lot of additional money to combat terrorism once we get these bills passed as well. I don't have the specific numbers, but --
Q I have a couple of specific questions. First, in a situation where there was a threat of a plane, another hijacked plane, crashing into a city or into a building, would it be your responsibility, more than anyone else, to give the order to shoot it down?
And secondly, sir, before you answer, if I can just ask one other question. The situation last night, early this morning in your state in Pennsylvania, at Three Mile Island. Were you involved in any of the discussions on shutting those airports, and would you be involved in those kinds of discussions in the future?
GOVERNOR RIDGE: There is a protocol set up to answer your first question, and that protocol goes through the military chain of command. My role, if there was time, would be more of an advisory capacity. That is not my final call. But I do -- you know, you don't know how these situations, what the situation would dictate in terms of time. But there is a protocol that goes up through chain of command in the Department of Defense.
To the extent that I had access to all the information that they do, they get me on the line before somebody makes that call. But it does not finally rest with me.
Secondly, I last night received communication with regard to that potential threat. I talked to my governor, now my successor, Lieutenant Governor Schweiker, and was aware -- was made aware of the circumstances, and then what we did in response to that. There is a certain protocol that I am part of now, and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission initiated, very appropriately, the contact with the company, and they immediately began to take the precautions they thought was necessary.
Q You really seem of a single voice today, speaking in contrast to yesterday, when there were many voices -- many confused voices, many contradictory voices. Can you talk a little bit about that, and what you were attempting to accomplish this morning, and what you are trying to do with us today?
GOVERNOR RIDGE: Well, we read what you write, and we watch TV. And there has been, as we have observed, the different press conferences. I mean, look, I want to listen to what Mayor Giuliani has to say. I mean, I talked to him this morning. I talked to Governor Pataki last night. So we're trying to engage.
But it was the appropriate time to bring all our resources together, to try to just put our arms around publicly -- we've had it internally. I mean, everything that you saw today publicly has been going on for weeks. The interaction -- I mean, the public health services charged into action immediately, starting -- the Attorney General and the FBI have been doing that. But that's -- it was time for us to project to the public what has been going on internally. There was certainly that.
Q It seems obvious that you're implying that, yes, it was confusing; mixed messages were coming out all day long. And did you say to yourself, okay, I've got to go out there and clear this up becuase this is alarming people. Things are being said about ventilation systems that perhaps weren't true.
Did you say, you know, I've got to get up and let's speak with one voice?
GOVERNOR RIDGE: Well, I think as I have seen people react, both people in the public sector and the private sector, everybody is making a good faith effort to react based on information they have available to them. Sometimes it is maybe defective information. And we may still have some inconsistencies out there becuase people get information that may not be defective; it just may be incomplete.
And since I have access to these resources, we view it as part of my responsibility now to give you timely and as complete information as possible. And I will get much of that information from the departments and agencies that were with me today, and obviously those others that have to be involved.
So we have watched it. There has been some concern there were mixed messages. I didn't -- I mean, based on what I knew, I didn't see too many inconsistencies out there, but you didn't have a central voice. I mean, you were talking to the folks from Florida, you were talking to the folks in New York, you were talking to leaders on the Hill. That's fine, but it's a national challenge. It's something the President is very much involved in, and the decision was made to get out and try to encapsulate all the information and tell you that from this day forward I'm going to do regular conferences to try to keep --
Q Regarding your office, how big a staff do you envision having? How long do you expect to take before the long-term plan is ready? And secondly, if you could just describe what you talked to the President about today?
GOVERNOR RIDGE: Yes. The staff, my personal staff, will be 14, 15, 16. I mean, there is no real limit. I know what I need, and the President and the chief of staff has said whatever you need, you get. Fine.
Then we are going to pull in some of the best and brightest from the agencies, which will be -- there is a different place that they will be located. But we will be working with them. My next task is to get --
Q It will be attached to your office?
GOVERNOR RIDGE: It will be attached to the office. It will be at a different venue. We're looking and interviewing right now for some homeland security experts, both within government and external to government. I'll be getting a deputy director that will support me in this effort. So that's the staffing arrangements.
I'll probably end up having 75 to 100 people somewhere down the road, but it's going to take a while to get there. Right now, I just want a core group to deal with the immediate needs I have to assess -- to look at the budget, to talk with the key cabinet members and agencies, to make assessments and then make recommendations in that regard.
And finally, this morning, the President asked about the number of confirmed cases. He asked about the testing on the Hill. He asked about -- he asked me a lot of the questions you asked me.
Q Excuse me, there are 46 agencies that cope with terrorism at one point or another. How do you begin to bring these agencies together? Many terrorism experts recommend that you just streamline it, get rid of some of these agencies and organizations throughout government that cope with terrorism. Do you believe that we should cut them?
GOVERNOR RIDGE: It's a little premature for me to judge, since it's only in day ten. But one of the things that I told -- that I said; I didn't tell the Congress, but -- you know, there are a lot of good people up there who have been working on these issues on both sides of the aisle in both chambers for quite some time.
And I said that I don't believe I need the statutory authority you think I need, but I may need some statutory authority down the line if I'm going to rearrange some of these responsibilities and give cleaner lines of accountability as I present the long-term national strategy to the President. So I think you have to stay posted for that one. I have not come to any conclusions about it.
One of the advantages I have -- I think it's an advantage; I mean, I believe it is -- but everybody has a view of their own mission and how it should relate. I think one of the things the President wanted somebody else to do is to step back from all these different agencies, take a look at their moving parts, and -- they're doing a lot of good work now, but to see where there could be some refinements, some strengthening, and some improvements. And I have got the luxury of having a rather unique perspective, since I don't work for any of the agencies. I work for the President.
Q So far, have you run into points where you have had to use the power of the President 15 paces away to say, yes, I want this done, as opposed to --
GOVERNOR RIDGE: No, not yet.
Q No one has said no to anything you've suggested yet?
GOVERNOR RIDGE: No. Not at all. And again, I haven't -- let's be -- I haven't made a lot of suggestions. Yet.
I certainly have in the back of my mind -- actually I have in the front of my mind, some of the things I would like to be seen included in the budget, and then in the broader long-term picture. But I'm just, I'm not presumptuous enough to think I have all the pieces of the puzzle turned up, let alone put together. But I've got a pretty good idea, because the agencies that I have talked to, and -- everybody has been so forthcoming to this point.
Q What are some of those examples? You have some ideas; what are some of those ideas?
GOVERNOR RIDGE: I will tell you that I think -- I'm a big believer -- and this is based not so much because I am the most technologically sophisticated mind in the world. But as governor, I saw the enabling power of technology in delivering information and delivering services and helping facilitate coordination. There are a lot of areas, I think, where building on the technology that we have is obviously a good place to go, and certain areas that I think right now would be an immediate need. Obviously I think there is some personnel matters. We've got to backfill.
What we have found is that we've got a lot of people doing multiple tasks in all these agencies -- the Border Patrol, the Coast Guard, FBI. Obviously their historic mission has been complicated by the addition of another mission. So, okay, now you've got to do both, which means you probably need more people to do both.
There is an international component to this. I have already had a couple of wonderful conversations -- matter of fact, I got to call his counterpart his Mexico today; with John Manley, who is the foreign minister in Canada. He is basically my counterpart up there. They've got -- my call today to my counterpart in Mexico, so that there are some border issues.
And again, the Department of State is the prime mover, although there are some immigration issues that the Attorney General's office will be involved in. But there are many, many dimensions to this. And so before I make a long list of specific recommendations -- and I have a couple in my mind -- we need to spend a little bit more time on the job.
Q Sir, would you describe the way you would set the bar in order to be able to say the United States is safe; this threat has subsided? Can you describe a scenario in which X, Y and Z has taken place in order for you to say that?
GOVERNOR RIDGE: I think that my task and the task of this office is to work our way to a perfect system. I'm not sure in the 21st century world you ever achieve a perfect system, so my job every day is to make a good system better and improve and strengthen and add to make sure that every single day our preventive and detection capabilities are better than it was the day before.
So, basically, it is forever, I believe, a mission to continue to build upon, to continue to improve upon, to continue to strengthen, about the resources and the assets we have now, and saying to yourself it can never be good enough.
Q Governor, does this mean, then, that you are in charge of homeland security? Can you say yes or no, yes, I am in charge of homeland security?
GOVERNOR RIDGE: I am in charge of coordinating and directing a national strategy for homeland security. I don't have the day-to-day operational or tactical responsibilities. John Ashcroft has a vital role and is doing a great job. Bob Mueller, Joe Allbaugh -- I mean, they're all out there. They are dealing with this. They are part of the homeland security team. But I am in charge of creating for the President a coordinated national strategy, and then implementing that strategy on behalf of the President.
Q Do you think the work force --
GOVERNOR RIDGE: It's impossible to have one person just in charge of the tactical and operational stuff. I mean, like I said, you could stack all those agencies on one another and put somebody in charge. That's just not the way you would want to run homeland security. There are just too many dimensions to it. There are too many elements to it.
Q Do you think that the screeners at the airports should be federalized? Would that make your job easier?
GOVERNOR RIDGE: I think that the federal government needs to federalize secure zones to the extent -- and I want to say that -- not necessarily a work force -- and that's still a work in progress. I'm going to let the House and the Senate work their will.
But I think that there ought to be basic employment requirements. I mean, whether you put a federal employee or a non-federal employee, to me, is not as important as to make sure that whoever -- that you have a certain set of minimum standards against which that employee's training and competency would be held. And to the extent -- yes, I'm a big believer that the federal government should set the competency requirements, set the training requirements. I feel very strongly about that.
Q Governor, some people have suggested that to help rally domestic support and make people feel involved and contribute to the security, that systems such as citizen patrols of dams, waters, reservoirs, be set up to get a lot of the public actively involved in this. What do you think of that idea?
GOVERNOR RIDGE: Well, I think on its face it's a good idea. I mean, one of the things that I would like to -- plan on taking a look at is how we can engage literally hundreds of Americans who have talked to me and the millions of Americans that have talked to the House and the Senate and everybody around, how can we help? And I think one of my tasks is to take that desire, that patriotism, that will to be a part of homeland domestic security, and find ways for people to do just that.
I mean, I've said this to a couple of my friends back home in Pennsylvania. A lot of our communities could use volunteers for emergency technicians, use volunteers in the fire department. If you want to help, get engaged in your local community, be a part of an emergency response team, be a volunteer at a local hospital.
So there is some discussion internally as to how we can formalize that tremendous patriotism that has been exhibited throughout the country and give them an opportunity to do so.
Q Governor, last night at Three Mile Island, I understand F-16s were scrambled for four hours. Can you tell us a little bit more about what the threat was, what the concern was?
GOVERNOR RIDGE: It was significant enough to warrant the action that was taken. I mean, it was -- I'll just leave it at that. I mean, one of the challenges that the intelligence community has -- it's one of the challenges and one of the frustrations and one of the most difficult tasks, I think, is to determine the validity, the degree of risk associated with whatever information you have. I mean, that's pretty difficult. And last night, we took what we thought were appropriate circumstances based on the information we had.
Q Governor, are you going to do some kind of public threat assessments program -- you know, like fire threats? Are you going to do some kind of public -- since you've had the FBI in the past saying imminent threat in the next few days or whatever, are you going to have some kind of system where you can tell the public, here's the threat level over the next few days?
GOVERNOR RIDGE: Well, I think -- I believe -- and I think you probably wrote about it -- maybe it was last week sometime -- I think Attorney General John Ashcroft basically sent out an alert. From time to time, FEMA sends out an alert. Hopefully, every time we send out an alert, nothing happens.
But we would rather be prepared based on the assessment of the risk at the time than to be unprepared. And the notion that we have had alerts in the past that haven't led to certain things, let's all be thankful, but let's not be -- but let's take every one of them seriously and hope nothing happens. So that is done internally.
Q Will we see more of those publicly, do you think?
GOVERNOR RIDGE: Well, when it is elevated to the level that we saw last week, based on the information we had gathered, we decided to put people on alert.
I mean, that is one of the big challenges of this. This is a different -- I know you -- I'll conclude here. Already I'm talking too long.
But you don't -- I mean, we are going to go after these people who are creating incredible pressure on the CDC and the FBI with all these hoaxes. And I hope we get a ton of them. I hope we throw them in jail, and we ought to throw away the key, but that part of the law is not quite situated that way.
But we have to pursue them -- those all aggressively, and then we have to -- when we think there is enough credible information to either make a national alert, or even to -- I think we put Baltimore on alert yesterday.
Q Is anthrax the threat? I mean, is that what happened after the alert? Is anthrax the terrorist act that we were warned about last week?
GOVERNOR RIDGE: There was -- let me go back to my discussions. Based on information we received, we thought it was important for everybody involved in the security, both in the public and private sector, just to have a heightened sense of awareness, just to be on the alert. It could be for a single potential threat. It could be for more than one. I just can't get into that, but we're not going to -- that statement wasn't made casually or cavalierly. There was enough information that we thought everybody responsible for security in the public sector or the private sector should be on alert. Heightened sense of awareness.
Thank you very much.
END 3:05 P.M. EDT