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Homeland Security 5 Year Anniversary 2003 - 2008, One Team, One Mission Securing the Homeland

Remarks by Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security Fifth Year Anniversary

Release Date: March 6, 2008

Washington, DC
Constitution Hall
Fifth Year Anniversary
(Remarks as Prepared)

Secretary Chertoff:  Well, happy birthday, everybody.  Thank you for attending the department’s fifth anniversary celebration.

I’d like to begin by thanking Secretary Tom Ridge for being here today.  He is the original plank-owner of this department.  There wouldn’t be a fifth anniversary without his hard work and vision and sheer determination in standing-up this department from scratch at a critical moment in this nation’s history.  He deserves our enduring gratitude for his lifetime of service to our country.

I’d also like to recognize the many pioneers and plank-owners who contributed their blood, sweat and toil to the department’s initial formation and who laid the cornerstone for so many of our efforts to come.  Some of you are still with the department.  Some of you have moved on to other pursuits.  Wherever you call home, you remain members of our extended family and we appreciate your attendance today.

Of course, we could not achieve our mission without the partnership of a vast network of colleagues and associates from across the federal government, in states and cities, in the private sector, and working internationally.  Thank you, as well, for your participation and for your partnership.

Finally, I’d like to recognize the real heroes of today’s event:  the 208,000 men and women of the Department of Homeland Security.  Every day you put service before self, patrolling our borders, protecting our ports, defending our skies, enforcing our immigration laws, and responding to disasters of all kinds.  You have difficult jobs, you do them well, and you deserve immense credit for keeping the American people safe for the past five years.  Thank you for your dedication and your service. 

Now, for many of us, it’s hard to believe that five years have passed since all the legacy programs and agencies were joined together to form a single, unified Department of Homeland Security.  Now, of course, when you are Secretary every day feels like a year -- so it’s actually useful to reflect on how we’ve -- how far we’ve actually come during the last five years, because in just five years, we have built a set of critical national capabilities that in many instances did not exist prior to September 11, 2001.  And I’d like to give you some examples.

Before September 11th, we did not have an effective system for identifying dangerous people arriving at our ports of entry.  We could not confirm their identities or check fingerprints in real time or run names against integrated watch lists.  That is no longer the case.  Today, through US-VISIT, we have checked the fingerprints of more than 113 million travelers; we can validate identities within seconds; and we have expanded watch list checks and information sharing across all levels of government.  This has created a formidable barrier against the entry of known -- and unknown -- terrorists and criminals.

Before 9/11, our country did not have a sensible strategy for securing our vast land borders or enforcing the nation’s immigration laws.  That too has changed.  Through a mix of tools, technology and manpower, we have reinforced the land borders -- building hundreds of miles of fencing, doubling the size of the Border Patrol by the end of this year, and deploying new technology in the air and on the ground to prevent people and goods from illegally entering our country.  We have also strengthened enforcement in our interior -- arresting and deporting thousands of fugitives, criminals, and gang members who represent a threat to the American people.

Before September 11th, we did not scan cargo entering our seaports for radiation and we did not require advance information about every shipment destined for the United States.  But today, we scan almost 100 percent of cargo for radiation at our seaports so that we can prevent dangerous weapons from entering the country.  We’ve also deployed our Customs and Border Protection officers overseas to work with their foreign counterparts so that we can inspect cargo before it leaves to come to the United States.

Before September 11th, we did not have national chemical security standards to protect chemical plants from attacks or to make sure that dangerous chemicals did not fall into the wrong hands.  Today, with authority given to us by Congress, we have implemented tough new chemical security standards that will protect chemical facilities as well as chemicals in transit, while ensuring that the products safely reach their intended destinations.

Before September 11th, we did not have an effective aviation security system to protect the 2 million domestic air travelers who rely on commercial aviation every single day.  Today, the traveling public benefits from 20 layers of screening -- from hardened cockpit doors to Federal Air Marshals to 100 percent screening of passengers and their bags by the dedicated men and women of the Transportation Security Administration.

Finally, prior to 9/11, we did not have an effective emergency preparedness and response system capable of handling an unprecedented catastrophic disaster like Hurricane Katrina.  By integrating lessons painfully learned from that hurricane and countless other disasters, we have rebuilt and reinvigorated the Federal Emergency Management Agency, giving it capabilities it has never had before.  We have released a new National Response Framework that builds upon its predecessor plans and will further unify and strengthen federal, state and local emergency response.  And we have engaged the American people as never before in a nationwide effort to build a culture of preparedness for individuals, communities and businesses.

For every one of these reasons, our nation is safer, it is stronger, and it is better prepared to confront the challenges of the 21st century.  We have made it much more difficult for dangerous people to enter the country to carry out attacks.  We have made it much more difficult for dangerous cargo to pass through our ports.  We have protected critical infrastructure in partnership with the private sector.  We have refashioned and modernized our emergency preparedness and response systems.  And we have continued to break down bureaucratic barriers so that this department can function as one team, with one mission.

All of this work is a testament to five years of effort, five years of diligence and dedication by the men and women of this department, and five years of acting with urgency and purpose to defend our great nation.  Most important, these accomplishments have laid the foundation for a strong, efficient and vigilant, mature Department of Homeland Security -- one that will protect the American people and our way of life for many years to come.

Thank you all for supporting this national effort, for working with us, and for being a part of today’s historic ceremony.

And now it’s my great pleasure to introduce and now it’s my great pleasure to introduce the first Secretary of Homeland Security.  Please welcome my predecessor, a true American patriot, Secretary Tom Ridge. 


This page was last reviewed/modified on March 6, 2008.