Bush: Federal Employees Vital to Homeland Security
By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Jul. 10, 2002 "Public service in America today is not just another job. It is an important act of citizenship," President Bush said today.
President Bush addresses federal employees at Constitution Hall in Washington, D.C., July 10, 2002. He stressed the importance of public service in providing homeland security. Photo by Linda D. Kozaryn.
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
More than 3,000 government workers nearly packed Constitution Hall here to hear the president talk about their vital role in protecting America. He commended them for their sacrifice and dedication and for using their time, talent and energy to work for others.
With Secretary of State Colin Powell, Attorney General John Ashcroft and several other Cabinet secretaries and agency directors in the audience, Bush called on the government workers to support his plans for a new Cabinet-level Department of Homeland Security.
"We've got to do everything we can to ensure the American people that our government and the fine folks who work on behalf of the taxpayers work in a smart way, a dedicated way," Bush said.
More than 100 federal agencies and organizations have a role in homeland security, the president said, and that means "that despite everybody's best intentions, hard work and sacrifice," there is a dispersal of authority, a lack of accountability and a needless drain on critical resources.
Bush said a Department of Homeland Security would unify federal efforts and avoid administrative overlap and duplication. Creation of the department would be the most significant reorganization of government since 1947, he said.
"For the first time," the president said, "this new department will merge under one roof, the capability to identify and assess threats to the homeland, to match those threats against our vulnerabilities and to do what's necessary to secure America."
He said he understands people's reluctance to change and desire to "guard turf." "But there is an overriding and urgent mission here in America today and that's to protect our homeland. We've been called into action and we've got to act."
One of the new agency's primary tasks would be controlling U.S. borders to prevent terrorists and weapons from entering the country. "We need to know who's coming in, why they're coming in, and if they're leaving when they're supposed to," Bush said. "And if they're not leaving, we need to know why."
A Department of Homeland Security would foster a new culture of cooperation in the nation's capital, the president said. By uniting essential agencies, the nation would gain new tools to meet new challenges. It would help set new priorities.
"The single most important priority is to protect the homeland. We're at war," Bush stressed. "We must do everything we can to funnel resources and to set priorities to protect the American people. It is by far our most important challenge."
He called upon the federal employees' continued sense of duty to support plans for the new department. "There's no doubt in my mind that we'll do what's necessary to protect America," he said.
The nation is making progress in the war against terrorism overseas and at home, the president said. "What is for certain is, we've got a great military who are doing everything they can to hunt the killers down one person at a time and bring them to justice," he said, "and that's exactly what this government will continue to do."
U.S. officials have strengthened aviation security and tightened U.S. borders, he noted. Medical authorities are stockpiling medicines to defend against bioterrorism. Intelligence agencies are improving information sharing. Officials are taking steps to protect critical infrastructure.
"What's important for the American people to know is that our public servants are working longer hours and working harder and working smarter to defend the American people," Bush said. "We will win the war on terror -- there's not doubt in my mind -- thanks to the heroism of our fighting troops, and thanks to the patriotism of our people and thanks to the hard work of government officials here."
As examples of federal employees' extraordinary service, Bush cited the deeds of three people in the audience. The president said Secret Service Special Agent Tom Armas went into the World Trade Center's North Tower to help the seriously wounded after the Sept. 11 attack. "In the midst of chaos," Bush said, "he was a calm and steady soldier."
David Hart of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, made sure that New York victims received aid quickly, that assistance centers were staffed and that people willing to help were properly trained. "He showed compassion to people in need. He put the best face on our government for people who suffered," Bush said.
Chantice James, the president said, is one of the first U.S. Customs Service inspectors ever to work abroad with the sole purpose of protecting America and other countries from weapons of mass destruction that could be concealed in cargo.
"We worry about weapons of mass destruction, and so we've asked Chantice James to leave her family, to move to Vancouver, Canada, where she's been for the past five months," Bush said. "She and her Canadian counterparts are reviewing all shipments ultimately destined for the United States that come into that port."
James is training U.S. customs inspectors and developing techniques that will be used around the world. "She's using her time, her talents and her efforts to help us assure the American people that we're doing everything we can to protect the homeland," Bush said.
These public servants, he said, have shown the American people "a willingness to go the limit, and then some more, for the sake of your fellow citizens." Public service, he added, "is a way to fulfill our obligation to those who have gone before us, to those who will follow us and to those who have sacrificed and died for us. That's how I view your job and my job."