Presidential Radio Address - 21 September 2002
THE PRESIDENT: Good morning. In the past week, U.S. officials in Pakistan took custody of five al Qaeda members, including a key strategist for the September the 11th attacks. And here in America, federal agents arrested six men suspected of having trained at al Qaeda terrorist camps in Afghanistan.
These arrests remind us that we are engaged in a new kind of war, fought on many fronts, including the home front. The arrests also remind us that the enemy is still at large, threatening our safety and security. Defeating terrorism requires constant vigilance and preparation by our citizens and by our government.
One way for the Congress to protect the American people is to pass legislation creating a new department of homeland security. This new department must have a single, overriding responsibility, to coordinate our homeland defense efforts, which are now scattered across the government.
After less than a week of debate, the House of Representatives passed a good bill, a bill that gives me the flexibility to confront emerging threats quickly and effectively. Yet after three weeks of debate, the Senate has still not passed a bill I can sign. The legislation the Senate is debating is deeply flawed. The Senate bill would force the new department to fight against terror threats with one hand tied behind its back. The department of homeland security must be able to move people and resources quickly, to respond to threats immediately, without being forced to comply with a thick book of bureaucratic rules.
Yet the current Senate approach keeps in place a cumbersome process that can take five months to hire a needed employee, and 18 months to fire someone who is not doing his job. In the war on terror, this is time we do not have.
Even worse, the Senate bill would weaken my existing authority to prohibit collective bargaining when national security is at stake. Every President since Jimmy Carter has had this very narrow authority throughout the government, and I need this authority in the war on terror.
As Democrat Senator Zell Miller said, the daunting task of securing this country is almost incomprehensible. Let's not make it more difficult by tying this President's hands and the hands of every President who comes after him.
In an effort to break the logjam in the Senate, Senator Miller and Republican Senator Phil Gramm have taken the lead in crafting a bipartisan alternative to the current flawed Senate bill. I commend them, and support their approach. Their proposal would provide the new secretary of homeland security much of the flexibility he needs to move people and resources to meet new threats. It will protect every employee of the new department against illegal discrimination, and build a culture in which federal employees know they are keeping their fellow citizens safe through their service to America.
I ask you to call your senators and to urge them to vote for this bipartisan alternative. Senators Miller and Gramm, along with Senator Fred Thompson, have made great progress in putting the national interest ahead of partisan interest. I'm confident that every Senator, Republican and Democrat, wants to do what is best for America.
Creating a new department of homeland security will make America stronger and safer. It is time for the Senate to act.
Thank you for listening.