For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
June 7, 2002
President Meets with Congressional Leaders on Homeland Security
The Cabinet Room
8:31 A.M. EDT
THE PRESIDENT: I want to welcome members of the Senate and the House, members of both political parties, to the Cabinet Room this morning to discuss how best to implement the strategy that I talked about last night, that other members of Congress have been talking about for a while, and that is the development of the Department of Homeland Security.
We've got a lot of work to do to get this department implemented. There's going to be a lot of turf protection in the Congress. But I'm convinced that by working together, that we can do what's right for America. And I believe we can get something done.
To this end, I'm going to direct Tom Ridge to testify before Congress about the need for the establishment of this Cabinet agency. I feel strongly that he is the -- he can represent the interests of the administration on the Hill, and he can bring our message to the Hill.
And I look forward to working with Senators Lieberman and Specter, and members of the House, to get this important legislation passed. Obviously the sooner the debate begins, the sooner the passage of this bill can happen. And that's good for the country.
Again, I want to thank the members who are here. I want to thank you for your leadership on this issue. Thank you for your willingness to speak out about the importance of protecting our homeland.
I'll answer a couple of questions. Yes, Ron?
Q Thank you. If I could, looking ahead the next couple days, it's been a couple months now since you asked all the parties to step up in the Middle East, and there are still suicide bombings, still the incursions by the Israelis. Is there any hope for any progress in the next couple days with the President of Egypt and the Prime Minister of Israel?
THE PRESIDENT: We're going to have good discussions, and that's always important. George Tenet has just come back from the Middle East. Ambassador Burns is coming back from the Middle East. There's been consultation with all the parties. And after my meetings with President Mubarak and Prime Minister Sharon, I'll talk to our country about how I think we should move forward.
Progress is being made. The Arab world now understands they need to be involved in pushing for peace, and fighting against the terrorist actions that make it very difficult to achieve a peace.
I still am disappointed in Mr. Arafat's leadership. He needs to cut off the terrorist activities.
Q So you're talking about a speech on the Middle East?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, I don't know if it'll be a speech. Maybe a discussion. Could be a paper. I haven't decided the forum.
Q But you'll lay out a new vision?
THE PRESIDENT: No. I'm going to lay out -- listen, if you're interested to know what I think, go back to the April 4th speech.
Q Mr. President, how are you going to deal with some of the turf battles that come up? And what made you change your mind about a Cabinet agency?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, first of all, I have always been -- ever since we first got going, I've been exploring this idea. My mind was never made up one way or the other.
I knew I needed to act right after September the 11th, and that's why I called upon Tom to serve in the capacity in which he has served. We needed to something very quickly right after the attack.
We've been exploring this idea for a while. I've been listening to members of the Congress, who have been quite articulate on the subject. And after doing a lot of work on the feasibility of setting up this Cabinet position, we decided to move forward yesterday.
Now, in terms of turf battles, there's nothing wrong with a good turf battle fight. And one way to win that argument is to call upon the good services of effective members of the House and the Senate. And that's what this meeting is all about; it's the beginning of winning the turf battle.
I think most members of Congress understand the need to act. I know members of Congress know that we're in a new type of war. And there's been precedent, as I talked about last night; Harry Truman moved, asked Congress to move, in the reforms of our warfighting capacities. And we need to do the same thing for the homeland.
And we've got members here -- if you look around this table, we've got members here with plenty of seniority and plenty of stroke, and plenty of credibility to move this package through both the House and the Senate.
Q Mr. President, many Americans, when they hear about this plan, may think it is a growth in the size of government and in the bureaucracy. What do you say to people who might have that concern, might be concerned that this is just a reshuffling of the deck?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, I would tell them that there's going to be savings by when we combine accounting units, and savings when we combine people in place to worry about administration. You see, when you combine agencies that are scattered throughout the government, there are inherent savings, which means that we're going to be able to have more money on the front line of our homeland security.
There is -- one of the things that's important about government is that there be accountability within government. And as I mentioned last night, there's over 100 different agencies involved in homeland security. In other words, the ability to protect the homeland is scattered throughout. So there really is no accountability.
I mentioned the example of Customs -- you know, they collect tariffs. But they report to the Secretary of Treasury, who really isn't in charge of homeland security. And so the idea is to configure those existing agencies that are responsible for pieces of our security into one agency, so that accountability is clear.
And obviously -- Harry Truman said "The buck stops here" in the White House. I understand that. But if that's the case, I want to make sure that accountability to me is clear, that we've aligned responsibility and authority.
And so this is a very important reorganization to -- it'll enable all of us to tell the American people that we're doing everything in our power to protect the homeland.
Q Mr. President, we were told yesterday that this would lead to no substantial changes at the FBI and the CIA. Since those are the two agencies under the most scrutiny right now, how can Americans rest assured that this reorganization will really do something to address the root intelligence failures behind the September 11th attacks?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, first of all, the FBI and the CIA are changing. They understand that there have been gaps in intelligence sharing. If you listen to the testimony of FBI Director Mueller, you will understand that the FBI is making changes.
Now, FBI Mueller came to work one week before September the 11th. He'd been one week on duty. And he has taken the testimony of the lady, the FBI woman out of Minneapolis, very seriously. He's looked at the report from Arizona. And he's reacted with reform.
The CIA and the FBI -- I've said this in many, many speeches -- that is, if you were paying attention to them -- that the CIA and the FBI now talk like they've never talked before. In other words, we've learned lessons from what took place prior to September the 11th. And so the reforms, they're already going on, and they're making great progress, and communicating in a much more seamless way, in a way that will help protect the homeland.
Thank you all.
Q Mr. President --
THE PRESIDENT: Yes, one question. I want to answer this. Yes?
Q Are you satisfied that the Philippine troops did all they could in the rescue attempt of the Burnhams? And have you contacted their family here at home?
THE PRESIDENT: First, let me say how sad we are that Martin Burnham lost his life. And I will call his parents. I'm pleased that Mrs. Burnham's alive; that's good.
I talked to President Arroyo of the Philippines. She told me that she had called the Burnham parents, and I thanked her for reaching out. She assured me that the Philippine government would hold the terrorist group accountable for how they treated these Americans, that justice would be done.
We are obviously going to look at all the particulars and the facts, and the State Department will be talking about that later on today.
END 8:42 A.M. EDT