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Remarks by Secretary Janet Napolitano at the Clinton School of Public Service

Release Date: 
August 22, 2011

Little Rock, Arkansas
(Remarks as Prepared)

Thank you Skip for that kind introduction and warm welcome. I am honored to be here today at the Clinton School, which, I understand, is beginning its seventh academic year. It is named, of course, for our 42nd president, and also for someone I greatly respect for his service to his state, to his country, and now to the entire world.

President Clinton - as did President Kennedy - understood the power of public service as a tool for bringing people, ideas, and action together ... and to address some of the most difficult problems facing our communities and our world.

Programs his Administration developed have not only changed how we think about the possibilities of public service, but also created new opportunities for Americans to serve their fellow citizens and enrich their own lives. And the Clinton Global Initiative now is having an even broader impact, helping find practical solutions to some of our greatest global challenges.

Now, in this day of hyper-criticism of seemingly anyone involved in public service, you might question why enter that particular field at all. After all, there are a lot of ways to make a living. I was a partner at a major law firm making a good living when President Clinton asked me to serve as U.S. Attorney for Arizona. I loved that position, but after four years decided I needed to try my own hand at elected office.

I still remember the day I called my dad to tell him I was resigning as U.S. Attorney to run for Attorney General of Arizona. There was a moment of silence on the phone. He said: "Let me get this straight. You were a partner at a law firm making x. Then you became U.S. Attorney, and you made two-thirds of x. Now, you won't earn any money for nine months while you campaign for a job that pays less than one half of x."

I told him he was correct ... but that I wasn't worried. I said that he could now share with me the trust fund he had never told me about so that I would grow up to be hard-working and independent.

A few days later, I received a check in the mail, made out to my campaign account, in the amount of five dollars. The check was signed "Napolitano Trust Fund" and on the ledger he wrote, "exhaustion of principal and interest."

But I found that a career in public service presents its own opportunities and rewards far beyond paychecks. And the benefits go beyond the personal, of course. To have people who are dedicated, educated, and experienced in the public service is vital if our large and complex democracy is to function.

At the same time, public servants often don't get the thanks or credit they deserve. Indeed, they often get the opposite.

You see this at my Department - where there are hundreds of thousands of people doing their jobs every day to keep people safe. But as many of you appreciate, one of the rewards of public service is getting to see the impact you're making first-hand.

You get to know what you're doing is making a positive difference - because there's evidence of this everywhere around us.

Two weeks from Sunday, Americans, and people all over the world, will, in their own way, commemorate one of the most tragic events in the history of this nation.

The terrorist attacks on 9/11 were, of course, the reason that DHS was founded. We were stood up as part of the national security framework created to counter new threats, including the indiscriminate murder of thousands of men, women, and children because of an ideology of warped religious and political views.

For many people, the anniversary will summon the memories of those days immediately after 9/11 - a time of grief, anger, sorrow, and loss.

In the weeks and months after 9/11 we saw an outpouring of service, of effort, of compassion by Americans that was quite remarkable. We saw the men and women of the U.S. Congress - Democrats and Republicans - spontaneously sing "God Bless America" on the Capitol steps.

At Buckingham Palace they played the Star Spangled Banner. The headline of the French newspaper Le Monde was "We are all Americans."

My purpose today is to help re-ignite some of that national unity of purpose, but also to redefine it.

We need that kind of unity to meet the threats and challenges we face ... ones that have evolved, even within the last few years.

To this end, we need Americans to serve. We need Americans to engage.

There is an enormous role for our citizens, for Americans young and old, for our communities and places of worship, and for our businesses and private sector.

And just like with those pioneers in the Peace Corps and AmeriCorps, we have people leading the way now to make America more secure, one hometown at a time. And to build our resilience ... that ability to endure a crisis or catastrophe, and to bounce right back.

Over the past year, I've been speaking at colleges and universities across our country about the threats we face today, and what I believe our response to those threats should be.

Today's threats are different from threats of the past. Many of them are global in scope and origin; their potential impact is far greater; and they often target the systems and infrastructure that underlay global travel, commerce, and communication.

This means no single nation can address them alone.

Terrorist threats did not begin on 9/11, nor did they end with the death of Osama bin Laden. Today's terrorist threats are real, and rapidly evolving. They demand our constant vigilance. And they demand our willingness to learn and adapt.

One of the most striking elements of today's threat picture is that plots to attack America increasingly involve American residents and citizens, including individuals who may be in the United States and prepared to carry out terrorist attacks with little or no warning.

The fact that these new kinds of threats can come from any direction, and with little warning, changes much of our thinking about terrorism prevention from a decade - or even a couple years - ago.

As a result, we often find that our state, local, and tribal law enforcement officers, our first responders, and individual citizens are often the first to notice signs of potential terrorist activity in their communities. And that means we need to reach a place where every part of our society is cognizant of the different threats that are out there, and empowered to take common sense steps to help counter them.

Even more than that, every element of our society must play a role in how we respond to those threats ... whether an act of terrorism, threats from cyberspace or a natural disaster, or even a fast-spreading pandemic disease.

In a crisis, local communities are the first to feel the impact of an attack or disaster. Individuals and civilians are almost always the first on the scene. So the more we equip our communities to effectively respond, the better we will be at saving lives and accelerating our recovery.

As we approach the 10 year anniversary of 9/11, there is no question that America is stronger and more secure than we were a decade ago. We have bounced back from the worst attacks ever on our soil, and have made progress on every front to protect ourselves.

DHS and its many partners have worked since 9/11 to build a new homeland security "enterprise" to better mitigate and defend against dynamic threats, minimize risks, and maximize our ability to respond to and recover from attacks and disasters of all kinds.

Last month, I released a progress report that shows in detail how we have: expanded information sharing with a full range of partners; strengthened transportation security and the screening for weapons and explosives; improved cybersecurity and the protection of critical infrastructure; and bolstered the security of our borders; and improved emergency preparedness and response by providing grants and training and exercises to states, cities, and communities across the country.

These efforts have provided a strong foundation to protect communities from terrorism and other threats, while safeguarding the fundamental rights of all Americans. But this is not just a role for government. The educated participation of individual citizens are an important part of that success.

Today, however, we don't talk about service, about community, as much as we did immediately following 9/11. It's perhaps not surprising that we settled back into more normal rhythms, and in some ways that's a good thing. But as we get farther from that day ten years ago, and as we continue to witness threats from individuals and groups using terror to achieve their goals, we need to re-sharpen our focus on the role for service.

Americans have shown again and again their desire and their capacity to serve.

When he came into office, President Obama brought a strong, personal commitment to revitalizing that energy that President Clinton sparked with the creation of AmeriCorps in 1994.

In proclaiming September 11th to be a National Day of Service and Remembrance, President Obama noted that "9/11 is an opportunity to salute the heroes of 9/11, recapture the spirit of unity and compassion that inspired our Nation following the attacks, and rededicate ourselves to sustained service to our communities."

In our networked world, new threats exploit technology in ways that make foolproof protections nearly impossible. We should react to these emerging realities with confidence, with resilience, and foresight, not with fear. As we have been saying at DHS, we build our homeland security by building our hometown security ... and we do it one hometown at a time.

How do we do that? First, we do it together – with federal partners like DHS working with local communities, with local law enforcement, with local leaders.

Over the past ten years, we have brought resources and expertise to our state and local partners and communities, and built new mechanisms to share information with each other, train together, work together, and respond to emergencies together.

We have done this, for example, by supporting the creation of state and local fusion centers, now in 72 states and cities.

Fusion centers enable the sharing of information at all levels of government, among law enforcement, first responders, and intelligence professionals, to give us the best possible picture of threats and dangers our communities.

We have greatly expanded and enhanced what’s called the Nationwide Suspicious Activity Reporting Initiative. This is a somewhat ominous name, but basically means training state and local law enforcement to recognize behaviors and indicators related to terrorism, crime, and other threats, and standardizing how those observations are documented, analyzed, and shared with other law enforcement,

We launched the new National Terrorism Advisory System in April 2011, replacing the outdated color-coded system of alerts. This gives people actual information on which to act should there be a specific, credible threat underway.

And, as you probably have heard, we are expanding the "If You See Something, Say Something" campaign, a simple and effective program to emphasize the importance of reporting suspicious activity to the proper law enforcement authorities. Look at a few examples we’ve seen of citizen involvement: It was a street vendor who tipped off police to the Times Square bombing attempt in 2010.

In January 2011, alert city workers in Spokane, Washington reported a suspicious backpack and, in doing so, thwarted what almost certainly would have been a deadly bombing along the MLK Day parade route, and in recent weeks, an alert store owner brought information to authorities that likely prevented attempted violence at Ft. Hood, Texas.

So that’s the first approach. Second, we all play a role. We communicate with and learn from one another. We have a lot to learn from our state and local partners, our communities, and from the public.

At DHS, we have more than 240,000 employees, but the vast majority of them – almost 90 percent – do not work in Washington, DC. They are working together with local partners in communities all around the country, and in some 75 countries around the world.

To tell some of their remarkable stories of dedication and service, we created Heroes on the Frontlines, which you can see at our site, DHS.gov. Among their ranks are heroes like Raymond Rivera, a Border Patrol agent stationed in Amado, Arizona, where he inspects vehicles with his canine, Zarrah.

During his service with the Border Patrol, Agent Rivera risked his life as part of an operation to disrupt human trafficking rings in Nogales, Arizona, acting as an undercover agent to arrange the purchase and delivery of illegal Iranian passports and make arrangements to smuggle Iranian nationals into the United States from Mexico. His actions led to more than two-dozen felony prosecutions.

Or consider Nouri Larbi, a TSA representative for the Middle East and North Africa. On October 29th, 2010, the United States and our allies disrupted an attempt to conceal and ship explosive devices on board aircraft bound for the United States. Nouri was part of the team that assisted the Yemeni government in strengthening air cargo security operations following the attempted attack.

And there is Sidney Melton, a Public Assistance Infrastructure Director in the Florida Recovery Office at FEMA. Last May, he arrived in Hackleburg, Alabama after an EF-5 tornado destroyed most of the community. This tornado was one of 64 that impacted Alabama, killing 241 people. Over the next two months, Sidney assisted with the recovery efforts, working long hours to help those communities start to recover. Sidney is also a veteran of the Army – one of nearly 50,000 veterans who work at DHS, and who are continuing their service to our nation as DHS employees.

And then the Third way we build our hometown security is by building on what works. For instance, we know that preparedness for a natural disaster like a hurricane or wildfire saves lives, and that we can build on what we’ve learned to help communities prepare for any kind of crisis.

We also know that community-oriented policing strategies have had major impacts on reducing violent crime related to gang and drug activity. And DHS is now working with frontline police officers all around the country to adapt their knowledge for use against the evolving threat posed by violent extremism.

As I noted earlier, we also know that an alert and engaged public can help us prevent crime and terrorism, just as prepared and resilient communities stand a better chance of recovering and rebuilding after a disaster, and that’s why we want to continue to get the public involved in homeland security – because it benefits all of us. There are many points of entry for individuals to engage and serve as heroes like those I just mentioned. For example:

It could be learning to assist law enforcement or first responders in an emergency – being a force multiplier for their efforts, and another set of eyes and ears. It could be a small business owner lending his or her expertise to other businesses that survive a disaster and need help getting operations back up and running.

It could be an individual in the cyber security field helping to build stronger firewalls or design more resilient software or networks to shield our critical information systems from attacks.

Indeed, people with experience and expertise across a full range of fields and professions can be working and connecting ahead of time to be ready to step in and support response and recovery efforts in their states, cities, and communities.

In other words, public service in support of our security is broader than, say, going to work for the government. It is actually part of our citizens joint commitment to each other - that we are all in this together. This is the philosophy underlying the kind of work that DHS supports through CitizenCorps, and that communities from coast to coast support through their local CERT programs, Red Cross, and other partner organizations.

CERT, by the way, stands for Community Emergency Response Team, which is an all-volunteer group of community members who have been trained in basic disaster response skills such as fire safety and search and rescue.

In short, they have given part of their time and energy - in the classroom and through training and exercises - to help their communities be more prepared. This is a model that has been replicated in states, cities, and communities all across the United States.At the national level, then, the challenge for us is to pivot from the old view of seeing the public and the private sector as liabilities to be protected, and instead, helping empower them to be even more active partners and powerful assets ... to prevent and prepare, and when called upon, to respond and rebuild.

Communities that are more prepared and more resilient not only stand the best chance of bouncing back after a disaster, but because they know how to take care of themselves, they free up our first responders and emergency managers to focus on those who need help most.

Our tradition of banding together to prepare for tough conditions or respond to a crisis runs deep in this country. More than a century and a half ago, perceptive visitors, such as Alexis de Tocqueville from France, wrote with astonishment about the civic-mindedness in America, a nation founded on ideals.

He said, "Americans of all ages, all stations in life, and all types of dispositions, are forever forming associations." In fact, we’ve involved our citizens more formally in preparedness and national defense since we established the country’s first civilian defense office in 1916.

During WWII, when our economy was mobilized for war, the American people found a way to feed themselves by growing 40% of all the vegetables we needed in 20 million Victory Gardens.

In the early years of the Cold War, Americans all knew where the closest fallout shelter was, and we kept children indoors when polio outbreaks were the biggest threat to public health.

But we’re confronting some new realities here and we need some new thinking and new energy. The active participation of our society has helped our nation get through some of our toughest times in the past.

In those times, Americans understood what was at stake; they understood that they had to contribute; and they knew that their efforts would make a difference, in ways large and small.

We saw that same spirit of contribution and service immediately after the 9/11 attacks, and I believe, ten years later, we can and will find it again.

So I want to thank you for being involved in this effort, helping champion the public service we need today, and helping define the future. Thank you.

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