Remarks by Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff on DHS Accomplishments and Priorities

Archived Content

Please note that older content is archived for public record. This page may contain information that is outdated and may not reflect current policy or programs.

If you have questions about policies or procedures, please contact the TSA Contact Center.

Members of the news media may contact TSA Public Affairs.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005


SECRETARY CHERTOFF: Well, I want to thank the Provost, and I want to thank Frank, and I want to thank the University for hosting me in this return engagement at George Washington.

It is true that I was here about nine months ago outlining a first draft of a vision for where the Department of Homeland Security might go. And of course, at that point, I had no way of foreseeing the challenges we would face in 2005, but at least we had a sense at that point of some of the broad outlines of what we would be trying to develop during the course of this year as we position ourselves for, really, the 21st century challenge of homeland security.

So it's particularly, I guess, opportune for me to come back to this site of my first major speech on the topic of homeland security to take a look backward to 2005, give you a kind of report on where the Department is as I see it, and some prediction of where I think we're going to go in 2006.

I don't think it's a revelation for me to say that for the Department of Homeland Security, 2005 was a year of change and challenge. The year brought changes in the form of new leadership of the department, as well as a comprehensive plan, which we call the Second Stage Review, to change the department's priorities, operations, and organizational structure.

The year also brought some significant challenges, most notably in the form of unprecedented and devastating hurricanes that stretched our existing capabilities beyond the breaking point.

As a result of both the changes and the challenges, we see once again what an enormous opportunity but also an enormous responsibility we have, as we fashion this still-young department, and as we help it to mature as quickly as we can into the department that will serve the country for the balance of the 21st century.

What's our best assets and our strongest resources? Well, I'm happy to say there's no question that it is the over 180,000 men and women who I am proud to call my coworkers in the field of homeland security. I have had a chance in the last 10 months to get out and about and meet and talk to and shake hands with literally thousands of men and women who serve the nation at the Department of Homeland Security from sea to shining sea, in the air, on land, and in Coast Guard cutters on both oceans.

For me, the true spirit of DHS is summed up by some of the individual stories of what our men and women have accomplished in this last year.

During Hurricane Katrina, Coast Guard Petty Officer Matt Laub and his team flew 16 separate helicopter rescue missions. They lifted hundreds of stranded survivors to safety -- some from flooded rooftops, others from weakened balconies, and all facing rising flood waters. In all, Matt and his comrades saved 153 people.

Border Patrol agent Raymond Rivera risked his own life in a joint operation to break apart human smuggling rings in Nogales, Arizona. His actions led to the arrests of more than 100 illegal migrants, the seizure of more than 50 vehicles, and more than two dozen felony prosecutions.

Charles Dille and his team of TSA screeners worked non-stop over a 28-hour period to load more than 7,000 Katrina survivors onto airplanes at the New Orleans airport so they could be evacuated to safety.

These DHS employees, and thousands more like them, represent the best of this department. They are professional, they are tireless, they are dedicated, and all of them have made tremendous personal sacrifices for a cause greater than themselves.

To all of my colleagues gathered here today and to those stationed all around the country and overseas, I want to thank you for your hard work during the year 2005.

By any measure, it was a remarkable year for the department, in terms of what we faced. Across our country, we made significant strides protecting vital infrastructure and assets, preventing security breaches, ensuring safe travel and trade across our borders, protecting privacy and civil liberties, and expanding critical partnerships at every level.

At our borders, we caught more than one million illegal migrants attempting to enter our country. We seized more than $100 million in counterfeit goods, and prevented more than 2 million pounds points of illegal drugs from reaching our communities. We also stepped up interior enforcement efforts, arresting 1,600 illegal gang members and convicting 1,300 human traffickers and 5,700 drug smugglers.

By the end of this year, 2005, we will have fully implemented the biometric entry portion of the U.S.-VISIT system at 115 airports, 14 seaports, and 150 land ports of entry. This will strengthen our ability to allow legitimate travelers to come and go easily while we are still able to detect potential threats with greater speed and accuracy.

This completed rollout of U.S.-VISIT marks a major milestone for the security of our nation. We've also strengthened identity document security requirements and established more vigorous entry procedures for those requiring visas and those traveling through the western hemisphere.

To protect our skies, we've adjusted screening procedures and enhanced technology to counter the increasing threat of explosives. We've given our federal air marshals greater flexibility so they can blend into their surroundings and maintain their cover during airline flights. Here in Washington, we reopened Reagan National Airport to limited private and commercial aircraft, but under stringent security guidelines. And we also -- and this is probably the most popular decision I made during the year, eliminated a post-9/11 requirement that kept passengers in their seats coming in and out of Reagan National for 30 minutes.

All of these items I've discussed embody the principle of common-sense risk management that I outlined here when I spoke to you in March. And now we're going to put our money where our mouth is, as far as risk management is concerned.

To ensure that our homeland security efforts are targeted to areas of greatest risk and need, we have integrated additional risk-based criteria into our grant-making formulas. Now, any, federal, state or local entity that receives a homeland security grant has to demonstrate how that funding contributes to our national preparedness goals and enhances specific capabilities of the region and the nation. And later this week, I anticipate announcing the first wave of grants that will benefit from this enhanced, risk-based formula.

Partnerships, of course, are also critical to our success at home and abroad. We've made unprecedented efforts to reach out to state and local governments in the past years. In August, we hosted a first-ever national meeting between senior DHS leadership and state homeland security advisors and state emergency managers. We held this working meeting, actually, before Hurricane Katrina, because we recognized that, of course, all wisdom doesn't reside in Washington, and there's a tremendous amount of wisdom, creativity and also responsibility that has to reside at the state and local level. We're going to work to expand these partnerships with state and local leaders and the private sector as we move forward, particularly in the area of catastrophic planning.

We also continue to actively build partnerships overseas. With our neighbors in Canada and Mexico, we launched the Security and Prosperity Partnership to achieve better coordination on issues affecting our shared borders. These efforts have yielded agreements to developing a joint trusted traveler program, and to work together to address common threats. In Europe, Asia, and across the globe, we continue to expand vital screening, data-sharing, and cargo inspection programs to dismantle threats before they reach our shores.

Now, earlier this year, over the summer, I announced the results of a comprehensive review of our entirety of the department's operations, policies and structures, which we called the Second Stage Review. And I'm pleased to report that many of the challenges that we identified that needed to be made under this review have been made, and I want to thank Congress, because Congress acted earlier this year to appropriate the money to let us do that.

Among the things we've accomplished -- and some of them were recommended by people who have studied the issue in this room -- were a department-wide policy office, a strengthened and integrated intelligence shop with a chief intelligence officer and a larger role in the intelligence community, the ability to plan and the ability to conduct joint operations across the department, and a renewed focus on preparedness at every level.

Over time, these improvements are going to enhance and strengthen our ability to operate effectively as one department, particularly in emergency situations like those we saw in the hurricanes of this past autumn.

Ultimately, this is part of a significant step forward in getting the department out of the initial start-up phase, which has been accomplished over the last couple of years, and into the kind of organizational structure, system and process that will guide us for many years to come.

Moving forward, our goal is very simple: Build on the areas in which we've been successful, and continue to learn lessons where we have improvements that need to be made, and then put those improvements into effect.

So we meet 2006 with urgency and purpose. And now I want to talk a little bit about three principles which will drive our programs and our philosophy in the weeks and months ahead: working together as a team, following the discipline of risk-management, and turning adversity into opportunity.

Well, one lesson we have to take to heart is the importance of teamwork. If we are to really be a Department of Homeland Security and not a collection of individual components, we have to come together as a team and take full advantage of the tremendous assets, resources and capabilities at our disposal. Well, that's easier said than done. And here, I'm going to do the somewhat unusual thing of departing from the prepared text and talking a little bit just kind of almost conversationally about what I think we need to do in the area of teamwork-building.

What is a team? A team comes together to achieve a goal. And so the first step in our building a team at DHS is to be very clear about what our missions are and very oriented on what the outcomes are. The test of our success will be measured only by what we accomplished, not just by the effort that we put into it. And I want to tell you, when I look back on my own experience, I have a very clear sense of what it means to bring agencies together as a team.

In the '80s, one of the major initiatives of the Department of Justice was the war against organized crime. And of course, you all know the mafia had been around since the '30s. And there were decades of government efforts to break the back of the mafia that were not particularly successful. I've got two FBI directors here who remember this very well and were very instrumental in the changing strategy.

Well, what did we do? We stood back and we analyzed organized crime as a system. And we recognized that what mattered wasn't how we collected a lot of statistics in terms of output -- how many arrests we made, how many searches we accomplished, how many wiretaps we put up. What mattered was, what was the impact and the effect we were having on organized crime: Are we truly breaking the structure and the back of organized crime? And with that mission focus and a definition of the goal, the FBI and the Department of Justice retooled its strategy, and it started to look at a measurement of success that was, what is being accomplished.

And we quickly learned that in order to understand how to achieve success, we needed to look at every element of the enforcement process and analyze how it contributed to the goal of eliminating the top leadership and the biggest earners that were part of organized crime. And as we began that process, what became clear is, no effort mattered unless it contributed to the result of convictions and long sentences and forfeitures of illegal money and liberating labor unions and legitimate institutions from the grip of organized crime.

So we started to build intensive plans with very clear defined roles and responsibilities, in which everybody understood that the law enforcement efforts, the work in the laboratory, the searches, the wiretaps derived their meaning only in terms of their contribution to the ultimate success of conviction and sentence.

And that worked. I would venture to say the Department of Justice achieved unparalleled success in the 1980s and afterwards in transforming organized crime. And it happened because we learned to work as a team, clear understanding of what the goal was, clear understanding of how every piece contributes to achieving that goal, and then unifying everybody in the pursuit of that goal. The question was no longer, have I done my job; the question became, have I made my contribution to the completion of the mission.

Well, I think that's a pretty good template for what we do at DHS, and I think the reason DHS was established by Congress and signed into law by the President was to bring that mission focus and that teamwork approach to the big challenges we have in this country.

Right now we're facing a huge challenge at the border with illegal migration. Let's not kid ourselves; we've been digging ourselves into this hole for over 20 years. This has been talked about in the '80s, in the '90s, and in 2000. And we have that problem now maybe looming more largely than ever -- certainly a bigger issue for the public, I think, than it's ever been.

How do we address that problem? We can't afford to turn away from it, and we can't afford simply to use techniques that haven't worked. Well, I think our approach here in DHS is to bring the kind of mission focus and team approach that worked when we focused on organized crime to play into the challenge of dealing with illegal migration. The President has made it very clear that has to be our mission: securing the border and addressing illegal migration. And now our responsibility is to translate that mission into a clear set of goals and a team to make that happen.

Well, we did it by launching something we call the Secure Border Initiative, which was the result of planning, execution and evaluation that's been undertaken not by individual components, but components brought together as a team. And I think it's a good template for how we're going to move forward in other respects.

Let's talk about planning. We got together not only Border Patrol, who had real operational experience on the border, we brought our investigation agents, our detention and removal officials, the people who are responsible for arranging to get apprehended migrants back to their home countries. We got them all together in a group and we said, let's map and analyze the system. Let's remember that our goal is not just catching people at the border, or locking them up. Our goal is getting them from the point of apprehension back to their home countries, and doing it with sufficient regularity and precision that we will actually deter people from coming across, because they will come to realize that when they cross the border illegally, they will be caught and sent home again.

And so we looked at the entire process by breaking it down piece by piece. We analyzed where there were sometimes blockages in the process. Sometimes they're very simple things, like finding ways to compress the amount of time it takes to send somebody back to their home country so we don't have to detain them for months at a time.

And then we built a very rigorous and specific plan all across the system, from apprehension to return, to make sure that we could line up all of the elements of the team, everybody's position clear, and with a clear focus and understanding of how those positions contribute to the achievement of the overall mission.

How do we execute it? Having built the plan, we made it clear to the component head that this was going to be the template that they would be expected to use in moving forward. We got them together in regular meetings to plan and monitor the actual implementation of this integrated initiative.

And then we did the third thing. We built a set of tools to evaluate how we're doing. Every week, I sit with the Chief of the Border Patrol and the Chief of Customs and Border Protection and the Chief of ICE and the other significant players in this effort, and we go over exactly how we're doing in terms of apprehensions by country, how quickly we are able to move people back to their home country, what are the obstacles in terms of processing people, what are the obstacles in terms of getting resources to where they need to be, what are the additional tools we need to keep moving forward. And that process of constant review and evaluation means that, having set the goal, we are always marshaling our resources in a way that makes sure we achieve it.

Now, we've already started to show some real accomplishments. Some of them are in the area of resources. We've now got 1,700 additional Border Patrol agents who are going to be deployed to the southern border over the next year. In the last year, since I came into office in 2005, we have gotten the authorization to train and hire 1,500 agents nationwide. We've finally given the green light to finishing that border fence, that border infrastructure system near San Diego, which languished in litigation for probably close to a decade. And we've deployed new technology, including unmanned aerial vehicles, to give us better tools to assist our Border Patrol agents to carry out their missions.

We've also accomplished, in some less visible ways, by increasing the bed space in our detention facilities and by compressing the time it takes to remove people from the country when they're here illegally, using expedited removal, we have dramatically cut the time we need to process people that we get from certain countries that we apprehend from certain countries. And as a consequence, for the first time, we're beginning to see more people being sent back to their home countries than we're catching coming in from those countries.

That statistic is ultimately the measure of success. In order to be able to move to the ultimate goal of detaining and holding everybody we catch at the border who comes across illegally, we have to make sure that our exports of illegal migrants exceeds our imports of illegal migrants. And we're going to continue to watch that every week to make sure we are moving forward to that goal.

To me, the Secure Border Initiative, with all of these tools -- joint planning, joint execution, and joint evaluation -- is the way forward, not only to finally coming to grips with and addressing this intractable problem of illegal migration, but it is the way forward for everything that we will do in this department. Whether it's preparedness, whether it's dealing with cargo containers coming in, whether it's dealing with intelligence reform, we've got to operate in a unified way with a joint plan, joint execution, and joint measurement.

Now let me talk about risk management. I remember standing here about ten months ago, nine months ago, in March, talking about risk management as the principle that would guide our department. And of course, we all know that means we look at threat, vulnerability and consequence as the template for allocating our resources and ensuring we're getting the best protection for our homeland security dollars.

Now, when I did that, there was a lot of applause in the room and then there were a series of editorials and articles that were written afterwards saying how great that was, and I didn't find a single person who disagreed with that. But I knew, as you know, that while everybody likes talking about risk management in theory, when you apply risk management in practice, people don't necessarily like the way it plays out. And the fact of the matter is, we have begun to apply risk management, not in theory but in practice.

Risk management means not risk guarantee. It doesn't mean we protect every single person against every risk at every moment in every place. And that means we make tough choices. And tough choices means focusing on the risks which are the greatest. And that means some risks get less focus. I understand -- and I know all you understand -- that to each individual, the risks that touch him or her personally are the most urgent and of greatest concern. But I know you also know that as someone who has responsibility for making decisions that touch on all Americans, I have to weigh, with limited resources, the allocation of resources based on the greatest risk, and that means some people are going to be disappointed.

So it's not surprising to me that as this year has gone on, risk management has often been a virtue that is applauded in theory but actually criticized in practice. I am here to tell you that notwithstanding the criticism, and in full recognition that I am going to make people unhappy sometimes, I'm still going to abide by risk management, because I think that is my responsibility to the public at large.

nd I'm going to give you an example of that in something that has been in the news lately, and that is the retooling we are doing at TSA. When I came on board, TSA was much criticized for being rooted in the threats that we faced on 9/11, with no adaptation to any changes in the threat picture, with a very rigid way of making decisions, and almost a comical way of deciding who is a risk and who is not a risk. And I'm not going to say that we have completely addressed those concerns or we have reached an end state. But we have started to do some things, I think, that do respond to the need to be more risk- focused and more rational in the way we do our work at TSA.

First of all, we've gotten consequence-focused. 9/11 taught us that perhaps the greatest danger, or the greatest consequence that can happen when a plane is hijacked is when it becomes a weapon of mass destruction. We all remember than 19 hijackers used box-cutters or knives to get into cockpits and take over planes. Experience also tells us that another risk with big consequences is when a plane gets blown up. And we've dealt with that issue, we've seen that play out over decades of dealing with terrorism. And we also acknowledge that there are risks that happen every day in airplanes when you have a passenger who gets a little violent, or maybe has too much to drink, or is disturbed and threatens to attack or assault someone on the crew. But we do have to assess which are the greatest risks and which have to be the principle focus of TSA.

In the wake of 9/11, TSA did a lot of things to deal with that very top risk, which was plane as weapon of mass destruction. We hardened cockpit doors, we licensed federal flight deck officers to carry weapons, we dramatically increased the flight air marshal program, and we did a lot more screening at the entrance to our airports, to the gates. What that has done is it has really reduced the risk that someone is going to get into a cockpit and take a plane and make it a weapon of mass destruction.

We have to take account of that change in risk. If we're not, we're not adjusting to meet the new threats. At the same time that that risk went down, we see an ever-increasing sophistication in the kinds of explosive devices that we encounter all over the world. And we have to train our screeners now to become more alert and more adept at detecting devices that are not as obvious at they might have been ten years ago, and that means looking, for example, at the way detonators operate and different kinds of chemicals that can be part of explosives.

So TSA made a very deliberate and careful study of the amount of time and effort screeners were putting into looking for potential weapons that could be used to get into a cockpit, as opposed to explosive devices. And judging the difference in the risk, based on some very concrete steps that had been taken to secure those cockpits and make sure people cannot take over airplanes, the common-sense judgment, backed up by reliable data, was, we ought to shift our focus away from some things like nail scissors or sewing scissors or little screwdrivers, and into areas like increased training and increased focus on possible explosive devices.

This was, to my mind, an example of adjusting risk based on changes in vulnerability, changes in what our protocols are, and, therefore, changes in consequence. And I think that while people may disagree -- and I know there's vigorous disagreement about this change and this increased focus on explosives and less focus on nail scissors or sewing scissors -- I think we've got to be doing this kind of thing if TSA is going to live up to the promise of being a risk management focused organization.

Now, I think that the experience we've had with TSA teaches us a couple of other lessons. First of all, some of the criticism about the change on the nail scissors has been, well, if you allow people to come on with nail scissors, you have the possibility of passengers getting unruly and using nail scissors to attack a flight attendant or attack another passenger. Well, I acknowledge that as a possibility. But I want to come back to the original foundation of TSA. I don't think TSA was stood up in order to deal with what are serious but nonetheless non-terrorist related threats on aircraft. TSA was stood up and was given the authority to impose restrictions on passengers because there was a particular high risk threat from terrorists. TSA owes it to the public to keep that mission focus.

If you look at the history of government programs -- particularly programs that deal with restrictions for security -- they have a tendency to get mission creep. You start out by saying, we're going to put this program into effect for a really serious risk, and then pretty soon people start to migrate the risk into all kinds of other areas. We've seen that with some of our database screening. It started out as an anti-terrorism program, and then pretty soon people were saying, well, we should use it to get people who are fugitives in drug cases, or deadbeat dads. And without denying that all of these are worthy goals, mission creep is a problem with the integrity of our programs because it undercuts the promise we make to the public when we impose a restriction. And that promise is we're going to do only what is necessary to restrict you to deal with the threat that we have identified.

So to me, again, what TSA has done here, it has kept faith with the American public by saying, we're not going to do mission creep; we're going to keep focused on the original mission.

And, finally, I think it's important that we lighten up restrictions sometimes. We did, in fact, lift the 30-minute rule out of Reagan. We did, in fact, open the door to some private aviation into Reagan. We did, in fact, allow a little bit more flexibility with respect to what you can bring on a plane. The message to the American public has to be this: We are constantly retooling and reevaluating the measures that we put into place because we want to make sure we're not over-protecting, just as we want to make sure we're not under-protecting. If we can lighten up, we're going to do it. We're not just going to put the heavy hand of the government on the scale pushing downward; sometimes we're going to put the light hand pushing upwards. I think that's a philosophy that the American public understands.

We're going to continue to do smart things in TSA. We're going to inject an element of randomness into searches. That's something which has been proven overseas to be, and proven in the New York City subways to be a useful technique in making sure that terrorists can't predict what we're going to do. We're now looking at behavioral pattern recognition as a way of increasing the tools that our screeners have in identifying people who may be threats. That's a technique that's used overseas in other countries and has worked well.

The message here is always going to be we're not going to lay the heavy hand of the government on simply to lay the heavy hand on. We're going to lay the smart hand of the government on; we're going to retool; we're going to reevaluate; we're going to keep focused on the mission and we're going to try to do our job in a way that is consistent with American liberty and American prosperity.

Finally, let me turn to the third principle: turning adversity into opportunity. No discussion of 2005 would be complete without talking about Katrina and Rita. These hurricanes demonstrated weaknesses in our preparedness, response and recovery efforts at all level of government, federal state and local. And while so many of our employees and agencies distinguished themselves with tremendous acts of heroism and devotion to duty, I have to acknowledge candidly that one agency still bears a burden in the aftermath of that storm. This was by far the largest disaster ever faced by FEMA. And let me be very clear about it, it was a catastrophe that was truly without precedent; a catastrophe that this agency had never faced before.

Despite the heroic efforts of many FEMA employees, this agency continues to face enormous criticism. So I want to be very clear about something. To the men and women of FEMA, let me say this: This department supports you a hundred percent; we acknowledge the extraordinary effort put in by FEMA employees who worked literally day and night to do what they could, sometimes with very inadequate tools, in order to help people who were in distress. We had people who were living in the Superdome with evacuees, who were suffering with the evacuees. And I think we deserve -- they deserve our acknowledgment of their heroism and sacrifice.

So this agency faces a little bit of a tough time now. And I have to tell you, I'm sure it's not pleasant to see FEMA being made the butts of joke -- be the butt of jokes and the butt of criticism even now, months after the hurricanes. But the challenge in this adversity is an opportunity. It's an opportunity to dramatically retool FEMA and make it better -- not because the people aren't terrific, but because we need to give the people the tools they are entitled to have to carry out their mission. So out of this challenge and out of this adversity we will rebuild and we will retool FEMA -- maybe even radically -- to increase our ability to deal with catastrophic events.

Now, when we talk about retooling FEMA, we're going to do it in a way that's focused on people -- the victims of the disasters that we are here to serve and the dedicated people who sacrifice so much to serve those victims. Our effort is going to be designed to empower the men and women of FEMA to act with efficiency and urgency, to cut some of the bureaucracy out, and to let them do their job where it's most needed, as quickly as possible. We don't want to stifle the people in the field with unnecessary bureaucratic process and procedure; we want to make sure we have accountability, we want to be responsible stewards of the public funds, but we want to make sure we can act quickly to save lives and address people's anxieties and concerns on the spot, as quickly as possible and as thoroughly as possible.

This is a big effort. We're working now with the White House, which of course is conducting a comprehensive lessons-learned in Katrina. But I am convinced that out of this review, in very short order, we're going to announce measures that will allow us to build the capability of FEMA into a 21st century organization, one that can deal with the routine hurricane -- if there is such a thing -- but also one that can deal with a catastrophic event, maybe an event that comes only once a hundred years, maybe one that will come next year, but one we surely have to be able to face and ready to respond to in a 21st century fashion.

So I think in the next weeks you will be seeing that we come forward with some specific plans to strengthen FEMA's logistic systems, give the leadership of the department better situational awareness about conditions on the ground, and to improve our customer service, our service to the people, who, after all, are our clients, the people who suffer when they are the focus of a catastrophe.

So these are just some of the areas we're going to explore in 2006, but we do anticipate some very significant, far-reaching changes in FEMA to get ourselves ready for hurricane season in 2006 and whatever else nature or human beings have to throw at us.

As the year draws to a close, I guess I'd like to echo some remarks I made when I spoke in March. I said that as a nation, we have every reason to be resolute about our fight against terror, every reason to be optimistic about our ability to enhance security but also preserve liberty, and every reason to act urgently in doing both of those things.

For me, the experiences of 2005 have surely tested our capabilities, but they have demonstrated our resolve. They've strengthened our determination, increased the urgency of our efforts, and underscored the solemn responsibility that all of us have to face on behalf of the American people.

I look forward to working with you, with those who are part of DHS and those who are merely admirers and supporters in 2006, as we continue to protect our nation against all hazards, manmade and natural, and as we carry out our other important duties in protecting the homeland.

Thank you. I wish you the best for the holiday season and a very happy New Year.