Bush Praises DHS for 'Incredible Year of Accomplishment'
By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, March 2, 2004 President Bush today marked the one-year anniversary of the Department of Homeland Security with a speech praising the department's accomplishments and people.
In his remarks to DHS leaders and rank-and-file employees at the Ronald Reagan International Trade Center here, Bush noted that Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge and other officials "are doing a fantastic job of leading this department."
Since the United States and its allies went on the offensive to combat global terrorists after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks on America, Bush pointed out that Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda terrorist network has been crippled, but remains dangerous.
Therefore, although the United States and its partners are winning the war, "we'll face the terrorist threat for years to come," Bush said, noting the DHS was created to make the nation more secure.
The president listed achievements by DHS leaders and employees over the past year: improved air travel security across the nation; strengthened border, port and infrastructure security; bolstered defenses against potential terrorist use of biological, chemical and nuclear weapons of mass destruction against the homeland; and assisted first responders nationwide to prepare for possible emergencies.
"You faced a challenge in standing up this department," Bush told his DHS audience, noting they deserve "a gold star for a job well done."
DHS is finishing "a massive overhaul of security" at American airports, Bush pointed out, while federal air marshals patrol hundreds of commercial flights.
"We are determined to protect Americans who travel by plane," the president said, as well as "to prevent those planes from being used as weapons against us."
DHS security officials are busy guarding the nation's borders and ports, Bush said, to ensure the nation "is closed to terrorists and criminals and weapons and illegal drugs."
Other DHS employees are working with state and local governments and the private sector, Bush said, "to strengthen the defenses of our key infrastructure: communications systems and power grids and transportation networks." DHS is assisting efforts to bolster security at the nation's chemical plants, he added, and is working with Congress and industry to establish uniform chemical security standards.
A national cyber security division has been created, Bush noted, to track and assess assaults on America's computer network and coordinate nationwide responses.
DHS also has placed sophisticated chemical and biological agent detection equipment in many metropolitan areas across the United States. The national stockpile for drugs, vaccines and medical supplies has been greatly beefed up, he added. Now there is enough smallpox vaccine "to immunize every American in the case of an emergency."
The president noted he'd proposed establishing Project BioShield to Congress last year, a program that would "speed the development of new vaccines and treatments for biological agents that could be used in a terrorist attack" on the United States.
Acknowledging there's no perfect security against terrorists, Bush pointed out that $13 billion has been earmarked to train and equip local first responders such as firefighters, police, and other emergency and health workers. Bush said another $5 billion has been identified for first responder needs in his proposed fiscal 2005 budget.
DHS is forming a national incident management plan to provide strategy, Bush said, to ensure that "first responders at all levels of government will know their responsibilities, will follow a clear chain of command, and will be able to work with each other effectively in a time of crisis."
Bush urged Congress to renew the Patriot Act that's set to expire next year. That act, he said, is a deterrent that "imposed tough new penalties on terrorists and those who support them."
DHS employees have participated in an "incredible year of accomplishment," the president added. And those charged with defending America and all Americans "must never forget the day when terrorists left their mark of murder on our nation."
"All of us have a responsibility that goes on," Bush said. "We will protect this country, whatever it takes."