DHS Secretary Ridge Announces Resignation
Transcript of Secretary of Homeland Security Tom Ridge
at Press Conference
For Immediate Release
|Secretary Tom Ridge at Press Conference
announcing his resignation.
Office of the Press Secretary
November 30, 2004
Secretary Ridge: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. Earlier
today, I submitted a formal letter of resignation to the President, and with
his concurrence it is my desire to continue to serve as Secretary of Homeland
Security through February 1st of next year unless my successor is confirmed
by the Senate earlier.
It was, obviously, a very
difficult decision, but a decision that I was pleased to be able to communicate
a personal way with my leadership team earlier
today as well. We have 40 or 50 of the most incredible Americans who
have been an integral part of the leadership team of this Department from all
walks of life that are on a two-day, off-site session as we look at some budget
matters and we do some strategic planning for the next five years, and I was
also able to communicate by e-mail to the 180,000 men and women with whom I've
been privileged to work for nearly two years.
I think we have accomplished
a great deal in a short period of time. As
I've said to the President, there will always be more work for us to do in
Homeland Security, but if you take a look at many of the innovations, the improvements
to security, the enhancements to safety at ports of entry, the partnerships
that we've developed with the state and locals and the private sector, just
all in all, I think it's a reflection of the commitment and the dedication
and the energy and the professionalism, really the combined power of about
180,000 people strong.
I know I've said to many
of my co-workers, not only in Washington but around the country during my
tenure as their Secretary,
that on a day-to-day basis
one could say that individual decisions that these men and women make out there
at Ports of Entry have as much to do with the security of the country as any
individual decisions we might make here at headquarters. As I've said
to you many times before, we have to be right a billion-plus times a year,
meaning we have to make literally hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of
decisions every year, or every day, and the terrorists only have to be right
The President has given
me an extraordinary opportunity to serve my country in this incredible period
11th, 2001. I will always be
grateful for his call to service. I will always be grateful for the opportunity
to serve my country with this President as its leader.
Question: Secretary Ridge, since you're the first
person to have this job as Secretary of the Homeland Security Department, what
would you say to your successor about how demanding a job it is? From
the first moment you get up until you go to bed at night, is it just exhausting?
Secretary Ridge: Well, it's no more exhausting than
the work that I think most of my cohorts do in headquarters around the country. I
mean, there is a very specific job to do. There are many dimensions to
the job. You have to be prepared to work, like literally hundreds of
thousands of people who work for government and elsewhere work. You have
to work as long as it takes to get the job done on a day-to-day basis.
And I think I would say to my successor that the opportunity to continue on
a day-by-day basis to make your country safer and more secure, within the constitutional
framework, is an enormous challenge and a great opportunity for leadership,
and to engage, frankly, our partners not only within the federal government
but at the state level, the local level and in our international partners as
Homeland Security has never
been to me just a Department. It's about
the integration of a country and taking the resources and the capabilities
and the capacities we have in the federal government, the state level, the
local level, the private sector, the academic community, you name it, and making
sure that they are all engaged in a fundamental way, in a certain way that
collectively that we, as a country, are safer and more secure.
So I would tell my successor you've got a phenomenal job in an extraordinary
time and you can do it -- hopefully you can go to work every day and enjoy
it as much as I did.
Question: Secretary Ridge, can you talk a little bit
about your future, what's next for you, the private sector, government? And
can you walk us through your decision? Why leave?
Secretary Ridge: Well, first of all, I'm just going
to step back after 22-plus years of public service in a row, to step back a
little bit, breathe deeply and then decide. So I can't go down that path
very far with you, so I'll just have to --
you walk through your decision now, why leave?
Secretary Ridge: Well, I think I can. And, basically,
it just comes down to some things I have been postponing for years and years
and years. I said I wanted to raise some personal and family matters
to a slightly higher priority. And it's not unique to me. I mean
anybody in public service. And anybody -- I don't care whether you're
wearing a military uniform or you're engaged in a non-military way in public
service at the state, local, federal level -- the whole family puts the public
service uniform on. And when you are working at this level on these kinds
of critical issues -- and again, it's not unique to me -- but, you know, there
are opportunities that you may have planned with your family, occasions to
be with the family that you miss.
I mean, when I was governor
I had a chance to have a little bit slightly -- manage my schedule a bit
and actually coach my daughter's softball
team for several years. That's just not something I'd be available to
do now, but I do like to -- I am looking forward to going to my son's rugby
games. You know, so, there's just a lot of things out there on a personal
level that I just would like to take -- have a little bit more time to do.
you consider another Cabinet job?
Secretary Ridge: Well, everybody knows I love public
service. I mean, I did it for 22 years. But I just want to step
back and pay a little more attention to some other personal matters.
Secretary, you have said frequently that you've accomplished a lot, but there
is still more to be done.
Secretary Ridge: Sure.
know that there are important issues pending with regard to biometrics, with
Secretary Ridge: Right.
Question: You have problems still combining ICE and
CBP people. They're at each other's throats. But I wonder if you
can tell us what is your single biggest disappointment? What is the one
thing that you thought would be easier and you have not been able to accomplish? What
surprising disappointment you may have encountered?
Secretary Ridge: Well, first of all, I want to go
back to a couple aspects of the question, if I might. First of all, one
of the things I have had the opportunity to do as Secretary is see what America
has done in response to 9/11, and particularly to see what my coworkers are
doing. And admittedly, one of the initial challenges when we inherited
the legacy of Customs and INS was to merge different -- merge these units.
And by and large, while
admittedly, change is always difficult, there have been significant changes
occurred that frankly have made us safer
and more effective and give us a surge capacity at our Ports of Entry, and
And I don't think in a
Department where we've had to move so quickly and change so rapidly, the
there might be some people out there that are still
a little uncomfortable with it is not surprising to me, but we continue to
work our way through whatever these irritants are to give people the comfort
level so they're more worried about securing the country rather than job security. I
think we've done a pretty good job in that regard.
I haven't been disappointed
a single day I've been Secretary. However,
there have been days -- let me put a little more thought -- I like going to
work every day. There are certain days I've just enjoyed even more. I
guess there is a -- as I look back on nearly two-plus years, while there are
no disappointments, there are certain things I wish we could have probably
accomplished a little bit earlier.
Secretary Ridge: Well, I mean, there is enormous international
dimension to securing the homeland, and we have been very aggressive over the
past year but there was a year there where I wish we would have initiated the
discussions on a bilateral basis or worked with the European Union. We're
in the process of building our team, I understand that, but much of what we
do, as it affects our borders, involves the engagement and the agreement of
our allies around the world.
What I have discovered
is that when we sit down, make our case, discuss, negotiate finding a common
of mutual benefit, we've made a lot of progress. Part
of me wishes we'd have started a little bit earlier, but there were other things
that it seemed at the time were higher priorities.
So, you know, just some
days where we've made -- felt a greater sense of achievement or progress
days. But by and large, there have been no disappointments. Probably
a few things I would like to have done differently within the organization,
some of the things we're changing now, but all in a matter of merging 22 different
units and departments, 180,000 people, you can't expect to get it your way,
the right way, the first time.
Secretary, one of the things that you have done that the public is probably
going to remember is the color-coded
threat system that you instituted, and there continues to this day to be a
lot of debate about whether that system actually does what it's supposed to
Secretary Ridge: Right.
as you get ready to sort of step back now, do you feel that that is the right
way to go about, you know, doing that,
or do you think that there might be a better way you think a successor should,
you know, think about?
Secretary Ridge: Well, first of all, that is a system
that quite a few people worked on, labored over for months and months when
I was in the White House, and we took a look at the other systems that existed
around the world. We took a look at what Department of Defense does and
the Department of the State does, and we certainly took a look at the system,
or the non-system, that we used for the first couple times when the Director
of the FBI, the Attorney General and I went out and basically said, "America,
we think the threat level is higher." I mean, so you either have the
system we have, we took a look at the some of the systems elsewhere around
the world, or the non-system that nobody was happy with, including the individuals
-- primarily me -- was out there making -- talking very appropriately with
I think this Homeland Security
Advisory System has been refined and matured to the point where it serves
two purposes: one,
it is just a general signal to America generally that a majority -- there's
a consensus within the
President's Homeland Security Council that the threat tomorrow is greater than
the threat today; and secondly, it is a signal to the security and law enforcement
professionals around the country they have to ramp up security.
It has demonstrated, I
think, its maturity in the sense that we have raised the threshold because,
we haven't raised it nationally for almost
a year -- (knocks on wood) -- we hope we can continue that because the last
time we raised it was during the last holiday season, which we're approaching;
and secondly, this year we're able, because the information drove us to apply
it in a very selective, surgical way, in a very defined part of our economy
in very specific regions.
So I think it's a good
system. We're always looking for ways to make
it better. But, frankly, if there's one agency that errs on the side
of divulging more, not less, information to the public with regard to the threat,
I think that's something that we take pride in. I mean, I think America
is prepared to deal with the reality in the post-9/11 world. I think
it's in our best long-term interest to share more information with Americans
about the potential threat rather than less, and hopefully my successor will
err on that side of sharing more, rather than less, info.
you have any plans to go back to Pennsylvania no matter what you do in the
Secretary Ridge: No, no. Well,
first of all, I'll be around here for a while because I've moved my son out
of -- my family
around a couple times over the past three years and he still has a couple years
left in town, so we're here for a while.
You know, I had a difficult
time talking to my leadership this morning, I must tell you, because they're
incredible group of people. I mean,
you know many of them. Some are retired military that just the call of
public service -- as one individual told me, we're at war again; I've got to
come in and help. There are other people who are active military but
decided to come in. We've got people from all over the private sector
come in. We have moms and dads with young children that still give us
12, 14, 16 hours a day. We've got somebody -- we've got a young woman
who's a very talented person who works full-time with us, going to law school
at night. I mean, we've got an incredible group of people who just stay
until the job is done.
So I told them this morning
that next to that discussion, you know, when I called my family in on a very
notice in September of '01 and said, by
the way, we're going to leave the governor's residence and we're going to move
into a little apartment and I'm going to commute for the next year because
the President asked me to come to Washington, D.C., to serve in response, be
part of a national effort, part of his administration-wide effort to make our
homeland more secure and safer, so that's exactly what I did and I'm grateful
for the opportunity.
long ago did you make your own personal decision that you were going to leave
Secretary Ridge: I started thinking much more seriously
about it around election time in November, after the election. I thought
about it a little bit before, but serious thought as to when and under what
circumstances, after the President was reelected.
Question: Mr. Secretary, can you say with confidence
that measures taken by the Department of Homeland Security have actually prevented
attacks? And in how many cases do you think that's true? How many
Secretary Ridge: One of those questions that I could
give you a very confident answer and you'd say, "Prove it," and I'd be -- it'd
be difficult to prove what I can't necessarily quantify.
But I am confident that
the terrorists are aware that from the curb to the cockpit we've got additional
measures that didn't exist a couple years
ago, that from port to port we do things differently with maritime security. I'm
confident they know that the borders are more secure. I'm confident that
they know that we've developed and are sharing information with the state and
local law enforcement. I'm confident that they've basically, through
their own view of what we've done, that they know America is a different place
to work and operate in. I'm also confident that, based on what detainees
have told us, that if you increase your security and your vigilance, that's
Can I tell you today there
are X number of incidents that we were able to thwart or prevent? Cannot. Am I fairly confident, confident that
we probably have? Yes, I am, but it's still difficult to prove something
unless I could point to a specific case.
Mr. Roehrkasse: Time
for one more.
Secretary Ridge: But
we know -- I mean, we've seen what other friends, what other folks in the
administration have done in taking
down cells around the country.
you feel you've made any headway with the private sector in getting them
to take up the burden of protecting the
nation's infrastructure, given that they own so much of it?
Secretary Ridge: I think we've made great progress
with the private sector under the work and through the work of our Information,
Analysis and Infrastructure Protection Unit. You know, that's a new piece
of the Department. We merged a lot of old and traditional legacy departments,
but this is a new responsibility, a strategic piece.
We have done several things. We have developed a formal means of communication
to every sector of our economy and we're in frequent communication, almost
daily communication, with one or all of them. We've made great progress
across the board in developing a business case so that the kind of investment
we expect them to make is viewed as precisely that, not as an expense, but
as an investment that has a return that is -- you can justify to the shareholders.
I think by engaging them on best practices in terms of securing, whether it's
a chemical facility, telecommunications site, and the like, and taking advantage
of their professional expertise as we go about setting standards for security
has been very successful to date.
Make no mistake about it,
there are more sites to be secured and we will need to continue to engage
sector and they will need to accept the responsibility
to continue to invest more, but to date, they have been very responsive. They
have partnered with us on many -- in many occasions, and they've continued
to -- they have made considerable investments. But they're not done yet
either, and my successor will continue to promote their continued investment
in securing some of this critical infrastructure that fortunately is a condition
of the world's largest and most diverse and most successful economy.
you meet with the President to discuss your going?
Secretary Ridge: Well,
the President and I have had --any conversations I've had with the President
in the past, or will have,
will always be private.
Secretary Ridge: All right. Okay. Thanks
Ridge's Letter of Resignation to President Bush (PDF, 1 page -
This area contains
documents in Portable Document Format (PDF). The Adobe Reader® is required
to view PDF documents. Download