Ridge touts accomplishments on department anniversary

Marking the one-year anniversary of the Homeland Security Department, Secretary Tom Ridge on Monday highlighted achievements and outlined goals for the year, including strengthening innovation to win the war on terrorism.

"[T]oday, I am laying down the markers for 2004 and the time frames in which we will achieve them," said Ridge at George Washington University. The department "will be buttoning up our lab coats a little higher," because science and technology is the "key to winning the new kind of war."

Ridge said the department's partnership with the private sector, national laboratories, universities and research centers "help us push the scientific envelope."

The department plans to develop technology to detect nuclear materials in shipping containers and vehicles and biological and chemical detector systems that can redirect airflow.

It also will use current technology to achieve its plans to deploy unmanned aerial vehicles for border security efforts.

Ridge also promised the department would "dig deeper" into efforts to work with the private sector to strengthen communication systems and put permanent safeguards at the nation's key infrastructures.

To accomplish this, the department is completing a unified database to identify the most vulnerable critical infrastructures and then allocate more resources to those areas.

But Ridge also said the private sector -- which the department estimates as owning 85 percent of the nation's key systems including telecommunications and transportation and oil and nuclear facilities -- would have to use their "own dollars and determination" to strengthen their systems.

The secretary said another goal is to maximize real-time sharing of intelligence with those who need to act on the information, such as emergency responders. The department plans to institute several new capabilities to share data, including securing real-time connectivity between all U.S. states and territories. The first phase of the program, cyber-connectivity, will be finished within the next three months, he said.

Officials also plan by July to install secure videoconferencing lines to all governors' offices to disseminate classified data to homeland security officials around the country.

For the nation's "first responders," Ridge said the department would issue new standards for "major pieces" of compatible equipment and create a Web site with information about grant money.

Ridge also touched on what the department has accomplished so far.

In its first year, the department completed the first high-level strategy plan, which includes a "vision, mission and strategic goals and objectives that provide the framework for the tactics used to carry out daily operations," he said.

In "eight short months," it also has launched a new system to track foreign visitors using biometrics technology. Ridge also touted a new database for foreign students, saying the department "retooled" the system that "ensures foreign students seeking academic opportunity are not delayed" and "those posing as students are stopped in their tracks."

On border security, Ridge said the department has focused attention and resources to bolster aviation security as well as expanding cargo security to foreign ports.

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