When President-elect Obama nominated me to become our country’s third Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, I was warned that the vast Department was too cumbersome to lead; that the 225,000-strong workforce was too big to manage; that the 22 agencies with 22 corresponding missions that were brought together in 2003 were too disparate to meld into a coherent structure with a clear vision.
Yet, nearly five months into my tenure, the purpose of our Department is unambiguous: we must guard against terrorism; we must secure our borders; we must enforce our immigration laws; we must improve our readiness for, response to, and recovery from disasters; and we must unify the Department so that we can even more effectively carry out our mission.
On each of the five fronts, we have already made important strides.
Protecting the American people from terrorist threats is the founding principle of the Department and our highest priority. This is an effort where everyone--families and communities, first responders, the private sector, state and local governments, as well as the Department--must contribute. My approach is simple: direct every resource available towards prevention and preparedness, and ask Americans to live in a constant state of readiness, not a constant state of fear.
Since January, we have forged new partnerships with our international allies to provide more tools in the fight against terrorism. We have dedicated new resources to detect threats at our transportation hubs and protect our critical infrastructure. And, we are strengthening information-sharing efforts, working hand-in-hand with state, local and tribal law enforcement.
Fulfilling our mission also means securing our borders—our Southern border, our Northern border, and our air and sea ports. Every year, we apprehend and deport more than one million illegal immigrants, no doubt deterring countless more from trying to cross the border. Recently, we announced a new initiative to strengthen security on the Southwest border to disrupt the drug, cash and weapon smuggling that is helping to fuel cartel violence in Mexico.
When it comes to immigration, we need to facilitate legal immigration while we crack down on those who violate our nation’s laws. A few weeks ago, we issued new guidance to our agents in the field to focus our efforts on apprehending criminal illegal aliens and prosecuting employers who knowingly hire illegal workers. At the same time, we are committed to providing employers with the most up-to-date and effective resources to maintain a legal workforce. This new focus is drawing widespread praise--from law enforcement to the business community--because it addresses the root cause of illegal immigration.
As a nation, we must develop a more urgent sense of readiness. Hurricanes happen. Tornadoes happen. Floods happen. And as we recently experienced, so do health outbreaks like the H1N1 flu. The Department plays a critical role in helping communities in all stages of a disaster--preparation, response and long term recovery. Since January, we have worked in close coordination with state and local authorities to respond to severe storms in Arkansas, Kentucky, and Missouri and flooding in North Dakota and Minnesota. We have taken bold new steps to accelerate recovery efforts in the Gulf Coast region, streamlining decision making and consolidating offices to eliminate redundancies.
And we took immediate and aggressive steps to lead the federal government’s efforts to confront the H1N1 flu outbreak.
Finally, we must unify and mature our Department. Our goal is simple: one DHS, one enterprise, a shared vision, with integrated results-based operations. Through a consolidated headquarters, we are bringing 35 locations together. We have launched an expansive efficiency initiative that is leveraging the economies of scale in our Department in order to recover hundreds of millions of dollars and create a culture of responsibility and fiscal discipline.
Throughout these five priority areas, we are applying a series of cross-cutting approaches. We are bolstering cooperation with our partners at the local, tribal, state, federal and international levels; we are expanding our capabilities through the deployment of science and technology while developing and maturing new technologies for tomorrow; and we are maximizing efficiency to ensure every security dollar is spent in the most effective way.
We cannot afford to relent on any of these five fronts because together, they amount to our one overarching mission—a mission whose scope is massive, challenging, and humbling, but also a mission so straightforward and clear that it is contained in our name: securing the homeland.