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  6. Secretary Johnson and Former Homeland Security Secretaries Ridge and Chertoff Speak on DHS Funding

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Secretary Johnson and Former Homeland Security Secretaries Ridge and Chertoff Speak on DHS Funding

Release Date: February 26, 2015


Good afternoon. I am privileged to be here standing between two great Americans – two of my predecessors as Secretary of Homeland Security. I guess in this group I am known as number four. Number three, Secretary Janet Napolitano could not be here. She is in California. She has issued a statement in conjunction with this event, which those of you in the press should have.

I also want to acknowledge the presence of other great Americans – Judge William Webster, former director of the CIA and the FBI who is the chairman of our Homeland Security Advisory Council, with us here today and Deputy Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas and former Deputy Secretary Jane Holl Lute.

I am pleased that everyone could be here. I am particularly pleased to be here with Secretaries Ridge and Chertoff to, with them, stress the importance of reaching agreement in Congress so that we have a fully funded Department of Homeland Security in fiscal year 2015.

As I have said repeatedly now, for weeks, today, on Capitol Hill, meeting with Republicans and Democrats, and with the press and the public, in these challenging times, it is critical that the Department of Homeland Security receive a full year appropriation. There are concrete dramatic consequences for the homeland security of this nation if we allow the funding of the department to lapse. There are consequences if we have to exist on a continued CR, another continuing resolution past Friday night. There are huge drawbacks to that, which I have talked about repeatedly, over the last several weeks. And so we need – on behalf of the American public – a fully-funded Department of Homeland Security.

Now I want to turn it over to my predecessor number one, Secretary Tom Ridge. Thank you for being here.

Secretary Ridge: First of all, let me say Mr. Secretary, I’m grateful that you gave me an opportunity to participate in this press conference because I think your goal is one that – I am proud to say – and as you’ve indicated, all four secretaries of the Department of Homeland Security embrace.

Let me say at the outset, ladies and gentleman, that I personally believe, as a former member of the Congress of the United States, that the president has gravely overstepped his constitutional authority. That is my strong opinion. And I do think that from a political point of view and a legislative point of view, there is a party in opposition – the Republican Party has every right to challenge that.

But I don't think we right that wrong on the backs of the patriots who go to work every day to provide safety and security to the Department of Homeland Security. They may not like what has transpired, but the solution that they seek – in my judgment – is unfortunate from a policy point of view, it is wrong; it’s folly.

I would say that we would no more ask the men and women in harm’s way in Afghanistan, or the 3,000 boots on the ground combating ISIL to go out to provide safety and security in the interest of national security, without pay. And I think it is a very appropriate analogy.

There are many people in many departments and organizations in this government that have a responsibility to our safety and our security. And whether you work at ICE, or you’re Customs and Border Protection, you’re in the Secret Service or the United States Coast Guard, they wear the uniform of public service. And we would no more think of not funding our soldiers. But these are soldiers. They wear a different uniform but the goal, the mission, the objective is the same. Keep America as safe and secure as possible. So I would encourage a full and complete funding for the Department of Homeland Security. No more additional continuing resolutions.

And I would also say this, as someone who was proud to serve in the Congress of the United States for 12 years, I think there are legislative ways, not only to express your dissatisfaction with the president's executive order. I would recommend strongly a concerted effort in that regard, a bill or series of bills. Let's engage it in the right form. I think the right form is the traditional battle you have between executive and the legislative branch – send the president some measures that we can elevate the debate.  But you don't elevate the debate and you don't send a message by refusing to compensate the men and women who go to work every single day in a uniform of public service, when their mission is frankly to keep us safer and secure. And by the way, that includes the members of the House and the Senate.

So Mr. Secretary, I am grateful for the opportunity to share these thoughts with you. It is my great pleasure to introduce my successor, Secretary Chertoff.

Secretary Chertoff: Well first of all, I am delighted to be here, both with my predecessor and one of my successors. And I can't imagine anything more important to talk about than the need to continue to fund the Department of Homeland Security fully, as we go forward this year.

I understand, as Governor Ridge said, there are some deep concerns many people have about the executive order that the president undertook, with respect to people who are in this country without authorization. That matter, as it turns out, is likely to be dealt with by the courts. What I don't think makes sense, is to hold the entire set of operations of the Department of Homeland Security – in abeyance as a hostage, as the legislative branch starts to play a game of chicken with the president.

And I think at this particular moment, given what is going on in the world and even in this country, in terms of security challenges we face – we cannot afford to be distracting the men and women on the frontline of our homeland security with concerns about whether they will get the administrative support they need, the equipment they need and even their salaries and their paychecks.

Now I know there has been a little bit of discussion on the Hill about whether a shutdown would really be that much of an impact on homeland security, and I have had the experience over the years I have been in government, in dealing with shutdowns. So let me talk for a couple of moments about the practical effect. First, there will be some people – about 15 percent – who will be sent home. And although they may not be the people at the tip of the spear, they are the people who are providing the administrative support, the managerial support, working on the acquisitions, helping to deploy equipment. All of which is necessary to support those people who man the frontlines. Our ability to help state and local enforcement with grants will be suspended.

And in many cases, as we’ve seen, some of what we worry about from a security standpoint occurs in the cities and towns around this country. And without the support of the United States government, local law enforcement is going to be overstretched. The ability to prepare for and deal with disasters – and we are dealing with some rough weather now – will also be suspended while this goes on. So for all of these reasons, having a shutdown of the Department of Homeland Security is going to cause a lot of pain and a lot of difficulty for American citizens, as well as for the hundreds of thousands of people who work for DHS. So I am delighted to join with Secretary Johnson and Secretary Ridge, bipartisan approach, in saying, let us fund DHS. And let them do the job that’s most important to all of us; protecting America. Thanks a lot.

Reporter:  The fact that all of the former department heads have to come here, speaks to the whole vulnerability of the department right now – which many still see as an unnecessary layer of bureaucracy atop our national security state, how do you responded to that dim, and what has become, a lasting view of the Department of Homeland Security overall more broadly?

Secretary Johnson: Well, I couldn’t agree.  I couldn’t disagree more strongly with that characterization.  First of all, you’ve got to remember that this department, which I have the privilege to lead – in which these two gentlemen had the privilege to lead – is responsible for counterterrorism, cybersecurity, border security, aviation security, maritime security, port security, protection of our national leaders, protection of critical infrastructure and responding to natural disasters – all under the rubric of homeland security.

When you look at where all of those functions existed prior to 2003, they were spread over at least ten different agencies or departments of our government; many of whom did not have law enforcement or homeland security as their core mission. And so they were brought together in 2003 in the wake of 9/11. And in many ways – and Mike and Tom can testify to this – in many ways, resembles the ministries of interior of a lot of our foreign counterparts who have some of the same missions.

Just in my 14 months, I have seen the efficiency brought about by having, in one department, at one conference table, the persons responsible for aviation security, border security, security of our seaports, and so forth. And dealing with various situations that we’ve had to deal with over the last year. Now, we have, in the department, also, a unity of effort and initiative to more centralize, as the department becomes more mature. How we go about the business of budgets, acquisitions, so that we look at those things from a more strategic centralized point of view. And I think that is necessary. And I'm sure my predecessors would agree with that.

Secretary Chertoff: I'm in total agreement with what Secretary Johnson said. And by the way, I want to applaud him for the focus he has on bringing about greater cohesion. It does take a while to mature a department. But let me give you an actual concrete example of how the department works and the value it brings. Let me bring you back to August, 2006. Many of you will remember there was a plot uncovered in the United Kingdom to blow up between ten and 12 airliners headed to North America. And when that was uncovered, we had to deal with a whole series of measures, necessary to make sure that parts of that plot didn't actually get carried out. That required a unity of effort with respect to aviation security, border security, maritime security and intelligence. And because we had brought those functions together at the Department of Homeland Security, we were able to – in the course of a single day –  to make sure all of these elements of the plan were executed. If someone had had to convene a committee of department heads, it would have been weeks. And that would have been weeks in which planes were not flying and commerce was not moving. That would have been a real disaster. So I think with all of the fits and starts of growing a new agency, the proof of the pudding is and what we have actually seen accomplished.

Reporter: Yesterday, at the White House press briefing, the press secretary said that DHS is taking very specific steps to prepare for the shutdown and to mitigate the impact that it would have. Can you get into the specifics of what those steps are that you have taken? And had any of that involved communicating with the rank and file of the workforce?

Secretary Johnson: We actually have been, I think, pretty forthcoming with the workforce. I have sent out several email messages to the entire workforce over the last couple of weeks, updating them on the progress, including a report this Monday when I really didn't have anything new to report, just to let the rank and file – the men and women of our department – know what is going on.

I think it’s important that when men and women of our department are faced with the possibility of being required to come to work, but missing a paycheck, and not knowing when and if you're going to be paid – and we are talking about working men and women here – that is material information for them. And they are entitled to know what the status of the negotiations in Congress is because their paychecks are hanging in the balance.

The only other thing I will say about that is what I said this morning. We did a press conference with the senior leaders of DHS. And Craig Fugate is very upset about all of this. He is very much into advocating for full funding of our department. Craig Fugate is a national asset because of his leadership with FEMA. And I asked him, ‘why are you so upset about this?’ And he said, ‘I feel as though my people are being treated as pawns; as if they don't matter.’

And so I think it is important that we continually emphasize – we continually get information to our workforce. We are in the midst of planning right now, for a possible shutdown. We have gone through the list of who can be furloughed and who has to come to work. We have begun informing people of that on an informal basis. Because I think they are entitled to know what is going to happen next week in their daily lives. So we have begun that process. I remain optimistic. I remain optimistic that Congress is going to work this out. But we have to plan. We have to prepare.

Secretary Ridge: I can't say it any better than that. But I want to give you another dimension to this whole public debate. The breadth and the depth of the threat streams and threats directed to the United States of America today, in 2015, in my judgment, are far greater and more complex than as of September 12, 2001. That is a fact of life. It is not just al-Qaida and Pakistan and Afghanistan. It has metastasized in North Africa to the Arabian Peninsula. You’ve got all of the other terrorist organizations and the look-alikes and the wannabes. You have ISIL.

So we need to remember that this was an aggregation of people who worked in disparate departments – who had traditional mission – some of which related to the border and some did not. So on top of everything else these people were doing before 9/11, we added another responsibility. And they take that sense of mission in their head, in their heart, to work every single day. And I want somebody up on the Hill, as much as I disagree with the president, to look into the eyes of that man on horseback or an ATV along the southern border – or look into the eyes of that Coastie who’s just being dropped into 30-foot waves to rescue some crab fisherman outside of Alaska – I want you to look in their eyes and say, ‘Well we appreciate what you do; but we don't appreciate it enough to fund you.’

And so it becomes very personal for the three secretaries or the four secretaries. Because what you are saying to the good men and women who we have had the privilege to work with and represent, we care about you, but we don't care about you enough to fund you. And in order to show our disagreement, which may be legitimate politically with the president of the United States, we are not going to fund you.

So the tuition payment is due. The mortgage payment is due. Well you just have to figure a way around that. And so I think it has become almost – for me, it has become very, very personal. These people go to work every single day trying to make us more safe and secure. On top of that, they do a lot of other things. We need to recognize that. And this is just not the way you deal with it. You think it is wrong, fine. But this is not the solution. This is not the way you right that wrong

Reporter: Do you have any reaction to the news that the Senate may actually start voting on a way forward? This afternoon, GOP Senate Majority Leader McConnell said they will allow a vote on a clean bill.

Secretary Johnson: I’m not going to get in the middle of Hill politics. I think we are all hoping and counting on Congress to come to agreement on a clean appropriations bill for the Department of Homeland Security.

I remain optimistic. I hope, and I don't believe that the men and women of Congress would allow for the Department of Homeland Security to be shut down because our funding lapses.

Given, for all the reasons that Secretary Ridge laid out and all of the other reasons right now that they would allow the Department of Homeland Security to simply run out of gas and hit E. So I remain optimistic. And I believe that we will come to agreement sooner or later. I hope it is sooner rather than later, so that we can get on with the business of homeland security. And the men and women of this department, in this building – a lot of other buildings in Washington, and all around the country and the world – can get their minds off of this and go back to the work of protecting the American people. So thank you all very, very much. Thanks for being here.


Last Updated: 03/05/2021
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