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The White House, President George W. Bush

For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
December 17, 2002

Remarks by Governor Tom Ridge, Homeland Security - Designate in a Town Hall Meeting for Future Employees of the Department of Homeland Security
Ronald Reagan Building
Washington, D.C.

[ ... ]

I'm sure that those good people working in INS offices day after day after day, they're doing a good job, they're trying to monitor people coming in, monitor their conduct while they're here, seeing if they leave town. But you never thought of yourself as part of a homeland security operation. Certainly, the people at FEMA running out, trying to respond to tornadoes and hurricanes and the like, never saw themselves as part, necessarily, of a homeland security operation to defeat terrorists.

You know, I think the folks at the borders over the years have had an inkling that not only dealing with drugs and illegal -- other illegal contraband and illegal immigration, but there might be some terrorist that might filter through. But nobody, really, I think, on a day to day basis said, I'm wearing a uniform of public service. It's not the Department of Defense, but my mission is to help secure my country in my country. That's pretty heady stuff.

So it's not just about building a new department, it's about taking on this mission. And we calculated, I think, if you take a look at the number of people that come across the borders, cargos into the ports, ships into the ports, planes that land, there's an excess of a billion transactions that all of us have to monitor and watch annually. Think about that: a billion-plus, and we've got to be right every day. I think there is no greater unifying element that we are working together, we can fulfill this mission. (Applause.)

[ ... ]

Q I'm from the Immigration Service.


Q I think the DHS provides an opportunity for us to do our mission much more effectively. And my question is, is there a means or a way for agency employees to present ideas for change and improvement to DHS and the people who will be involved in handling the reorganization? Thank you.

GOVERNOR RIDGE: Absolutely. One of the things I've discovered in public service, but also interacting with the private sector and others, is when you ask the men and women who are involved -- whether it's in government or in a factory or elsewhere, how they might be able to do more or better with the resources they have, or what recommendations they might have so that they can do a better job -- because people go to work every day, you want to go a good job.

Everybody goes to work trying to do a good job. I believe that. I believe everybody here, when you go into that office, wherever you go, you say, I'm going to do as best I can -- myself, my country, and my job and today. That's the mind set that you bring in. Along the way, you say to yourself, gee, I wish the superintendent or so and so would rethink about how we get this information, or rethink about this process, or how we do that.

I'll give you perfect example, when I was Governor of Pennsylvania, I went into the J. Edgar Thompson works -- steel mill in Pennsylvania. And in Pennsylvania, the labor and management in steel mills didn't always get along. The fact of the matter is, management sat down with these individuals and they changed a lot of the process on the floor, increased safety, improved productivity, enhanced profitability, didn't cost anybody a dime. They just listened to the employees.

We know that you bring a lot of experience and a lot of ideas to what you do when you go into that office every day trying to do a good job. Part of our job is, like I said, we're in this mission together. We will only fulfill this mission if we work closely together and listen to one another. That doesn't mean we're going to accept every recommendation. But I tell you, we are all ears.

INS -- you've got a real tough job. A very important job. And as you know, the legislation really takes INS -- it terminates the agency, as it presently exists, on January 24th. You're divided into three sections, the judicial, review, stays of justice. And there's a citizenship and immigration bureau, and then there's an enforcement bureau.

As we go about creating this new 21st century department, it will be very important for us to hear how you think you can do your job better. And I am sure you have the opportunity to do that.

[ ... ]

END 3:01 P.M. EST