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Ridge Sworn in as Homeland Security Secretary

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Jan. 24, 2003 – Vice President Dick Cheney swore in Tom Ridge as the nation's first secretary of Homeland Security at a White House ceremony today.

President Bush said during remarks after the ceremony that Ridge, a decorated Vietnam veteran, is "a superb leader who has my confidence."

With his swearing in, the Department of Homeland Security "goes live" as the 15th executive department. Bush called the legislation establishing the department the greatest shake-up of the executive branch since the Defense Department was established in 1947.

The new agency has a budget of around $36 billion for fiscal 2003 and will have just over 170,000 employees. The department will now take 22 separate agencies and amalgamate them into one entity. The agencies affected will transfer to the new agency starting March 1.

Bush said the new department would take every measure to protect the American people from the serious and on-going terrorist threat. "The Department of Homeland Security will lead a comprehensive and unified effort to defend this nation," he said. "The department will analyze threats, guard our borders and airports, safeguard critical infrastructure, and coordinate the response of our nation to future emergencies."

During a press conference later in the day, Ridge said the transition staff has worked around the clock to refocus and reorganize the department's workforce "to accomplish the unified mission of protecting America."

He said the staff has developed the necessary information-technology systems, human-resources processes and general management practices to ease the transition of 22 separate agencies into one overarching department. The headquarters will commence operations "immediately" at the Navy's Nebraska Avenue Center in Washington.

Ridge said that effective today he has resigned as the special assistant to the president. He said he thanked the president for the opportunity to work with the homeland security team. "I also reiterated to the president my commitment to do everything I can to harness the energy and the creativity and will of 170,000- plus people to do everything they can every single day to accomplish the mission of homeland security," he said.

The president had plenty of praise for his newest secretary. "In October 2001, when I established the White House office of Homeland Security, I knew immediately that Tom was the right man for the assignment," Bush said. "He's a decisive clear-thinking executive who knows how to solve problems. He's a person of integrity and good judgment. At the White House he has done an outstanding job, and he has earned the gratitude of the American people."

Ridge will continue to meet daily with Bush, Cheney and others. Bush has nominated former Navy Secretary Gordon England to be the deputy secretary of the new department. A Senate panel held his confirmation hearings today.

The department's web site is up and running at www.dhs.gov.

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