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Senate Panel Approves Ridge as Homeland Security Secretary

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Jan. 17, 2003 – The Senate Governmental Affairs Committee unanimously approved the nomination of former Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge to be the first Secretary of Homeland Defense.

The full Senate will vote on the nomination shortly. President Bush has nominated Navy Secretary Gordon England as Ridge's deputy. Senate officials said they expect that nomination to go to the committee next week. The Navy has scheduled a formal farewell ceremony for England Jan. 23.

Ridge testified before the committee Jan. 17. He said the new department is a realization by the executive and legislative branches of government that the current structure of the federal government limited the ability to protect America. "So now, for the first time, we will have a federal department whose primary mission is the protection of our way of life of our fellow citizens," Ridge said.

The governor stated that he hopes to continue working closely with Congress as the agency becomes established. "We have worked together successfully during this past year," he said. "And I say as a result America is a safer place today than on Sept. 10th, 2001."

The new agency will have around 170,000 federal employees and amalgamates 22 agencies under one roof. Ridge stressed that the effort to protect America from terrorism is only beginning. "Terrorism directly threatens the foundation of our nation, our people, our freedom, our economic prosperity," he said. "We face a hate-filled, remorseless enemy that takes many forms, hides in many places, and doesn't distinguish between innocent civilians and military combatants."

The new agency has three basic missions: to prevent terrorist attacks, to reduce U.S. vulnerability to those attacks, and to minimize the loss of life and maximize the speed with which the country recovers if an attack is made.

The new agency will have four main branches: Border and Transportation Security; Information Analysis and Infrastructure Protection; Emergency Preparedness and Response; and Science and Technology.

The U.S. Coast Guard will be part of the new agency but will retain its independence, Ridge said. "The (Department of Homeland Security) will not lose focus of the Coast Guard's other critical missions," Ridge told the senators. "From search and rescue to anti-drug and illegal migrant controls to fisheries enforcement and aids to navigation, I will work personally to ensure that the department continues to support the entirety of the Coast Guard's mission."

Ridge said the support of the employees of the 22 agencies coming under the one roof is important. He vowed to not only listen to the employees in professional matters, but also as the department sets up its human resources management system.

"During our darkest hour on Sept. 11th, American spirit and pride rose above all else to unify our nation," Ridge said at the end of his testimony. "In the time since, we have fought a new kind of war, one that has a new kind of enemy, new methods, new soldiers. It's fought on a new battleground, our homeland."

He said the U.S. response to the new threat worldwide has been strong, measured, resolute and bipartisan. "But nothing has been more profound than the creation of one department whose primary mission is the protection of the American people," he said.

"The Department of Homeland Security will better enable every level of federal, state and local government, every private-sector employee, and ultimately every citizen, to help us prevent terrorist attacks, reduce our vulnerability to terrorist attacks, and effectively respond and recover when these attacks occur."

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