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U.S. Department of Homeland Security  

Statement of Department of Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge Before the House Select Committee on Homeland Security, 20. May 2003

Good morning. Chairman Cox, Congressman Turner, distinguished members of the Committee.  It is a pleasure and privilege to be here today to discuss the progress and outlook for the Department of Homeland Security.

Since this is my first opportunity to appear before you, let me begin by congratulating you on the creation of this new committee.

I thank you for your willingness to serve on a body that shares both a common focus and a common purpose with DHS.  Your commitment to the security of our homeland and the success of our department will be critical to achieving the mission for which we were created.  

It has been slightly less than four months since the Department of Homeland Security came into existence and less than three months since we truly became an operational entity.  

Given that brief time-span, I believe we have made a great deal of progress in this enormous undertaking.  I hope that you will share my assessment that we are, indeed, off to good start.

During this short time period, the Department of Homeland Security has:

  • Launched Operation Liberty Shield, to prepare and protect our nation, including our ports and critical infrastructure, during a heightened threat period;
  • Completed TOPOFF II, the most extensive terrorist response exercise in history;
  • Launched the multimedia "Ready" public information campaign, to help families, businesses and schools become safer and stronger citizens;
  • Announced the US VISIT system, which will use biometrics to track the comings and going of visitors at our airports and seaports by the end of the year; and
  • Expedited the distribution of nearly $4 billion dollars in grant monies to states and localities.  We also began to engage the Congress to make sure that we put a grant system into place that maximizes every federal security dollar.

These are just the most visible signs of progress.  

As we speak, across the country people have been hired, trained and deployed; equipment has been provided; investigations have been run and campaigns have been conducted that have the terrorist networks off-balance and on the run.

This quiet but remarkable progress has made a real difference.  And it was made possible by the sustained partnership between Congress, the President and this Department, in conjunction with the states and localities of this great nation.

We greatly appreciate the work you have done, the laws you have written and the resources you have provided.  And in that spirit, I want to talk about how we can build on this progress in the months to come.

To that end, I ask for your support of the President's Department of Homeland Security Budget request for Fiscal year 2004.  I believe it lays a critical and solid foundation for the future.  

At $36.2 billion, the budget request represents an 18.3 percent increase in funding for DHS programs over the FY2003 enacted base levels.  You'll note that it contains critical initiatives to advance the efficiency and effectiveness of our Department, as well as to sustain ongoing programs and vital services unrelated to security.

In short, the budget request for the Department of Homeland Security supports and carries out the President's National Strategy for Homeland Security.  

This strategy provides the right framework to pre-empt threats, as best possible, and prepare for any incident, should an incident occur.  

It helps meet our needs in every phase of homeland security, from border and transportation security to infrastructure protection to emergency response and recovery.

It also engages the academic and scientific community and private sector to find solutions to these challenges.

In sum, it enables the 180,000 dedicated men and women of DHS to maximize their strength - so that, together, we can help our nation rise to a new level of readiness each and every day.

I would add that all of this makes us a stronger, healthier country as well -- better able to cope with disasters, diseases and incidents of every kind.

As we go forward into the future, I want to assure you that the Department of Homeland Security will vigorously pursue our detection and prevention missions while, at the same time work to respond and recover from acts of terrorism.  

We cannot choose one mission over the other.  We must put an equal effort into both.

Today, we are significantly safer than we were 20 months ago.

We are safer because, as a nation, we are more aware of the threat of terrorism and more vigilant about confronting it.

We are safer because our homeland security professionals now have a single Department leading them, and our states and cities have a place to turn to for financial and operational support.

We are safer because Congress and the President have devoted an unprecedented amount of resources and training to the effort.

And, with the help of all of our partners in Congress, the private sector and the cities and states of this country, we will become safer every day.  

As Winston Churchill once said, when faced with another grave worldwide threat to peace and liberty, "This is not the end.  It is not even the beginning of the end.  But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning."

In many ways, we are still just at the beginning of a new chapter in American history -- a chapter of renewed commitment and capabilities in the fight to safeguard the liberties, ideals and precious lives that we hold sacred.

I assure you:  It is a chapter that, together, we, as a nation, will write.  

Mr. Chairman and Members of the Subcommittee, I thank you for your commitment, and for helping us build the capabilities to achieve our mission.

And I thank you for the privilege of appearing before you here today.  

I would be happy to answer any questions you have at this time.

See also Full Committee Hears Testimony on Safety of American people.