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Transcript of Secretary Napolitano's Remarks Highlighting DHS' Major Accomplishments in 2009

Location: Washington, D.C.

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U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services

Secretary Napolitano: Thanks all of you for joining us today. It's great to talk with so many of you. I think we could almost say it's a virtual get together, because we have employees from across the country--and indeed internationally--listening as well.

I'm coming to you today from USCIS [U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services], where we have a number of DHS [Department of Homeland Security] employees from across the Department. We're also joined on the videoconference by gatherings of employees across the country, and indeed we will be sharing this with all DHS employees very, very soon. So thanks to all of you for being a part of this, and most of all, thank you for the work that you do every day to keep our nation safe and to keep our nation secure.

Before we enter the holidays and make plans for the New Year, I'd like to talk a little bit about the remarkable year that has just passed. I am honored to serve in a department of roughly 230,000 men and women with a clear mission and a strong desire to make DHS ever stronger every day.

For that reason, we have built upon the spirit of collaboration in everything that we do. Within the Department, with our state, local, tribal, private sector and international partners and, I think, with your dedication and creativity, we can make DHS not just more effective at our mission but also one of the very best places to work in government.

Now over the past year, I have been speaking publicly about the Department's five major responsibilities. To audiences across the country and abroad, I've detailed our approach to our number one priority, which is to prevent terrorist attacks on United States soil.

I've spoken about the aggressive measures we've taken to secure our nation's borders. I've discussed the urgent need to reform our nation's immigration laws. I've addressed the responsibility we all share to make our country more ready and resilient in the face of a terrorist threat or a natural disaster.

But today I want to talk about the fifth priority and the steps that we are taking to create "One DHS." Shaping this Department is, as you might imagine, quite a large task. Tom Ridge, our first Secretary, said that the creation of DHS on March 1, 2003, was like launching the world's biggest public offering at a time when the wounds from September 11th were still fresh.

This work of creating the Department began with my predecessors, for which I think they deserve our recognition and our gratitude. And no doubt--the work of creating this Department will continue even beyond my time here.

We've made progress, but much more lies ahead.

I see One DHS as a strong, efficient and focused Department--one where all the talents and skills that we possess as individuals and as components come together and come together in new and exciting ways to serve our missions. So, for example, let's talk about some of the progress that we have made.

After I started--shortly after I started last winter, we saw serious flooding and ice storms in the Midwest. In short order, CBP [U.S. Customs and Border Protection] was providing overflights so we could get better maps. Coast Guard was taking on rescue missions. And FEMA [Federal Emergency Management Agency] was coordinating assistance to thousands of displaced residents. We saw a similar all-hands approach when a tsunami struck American Samoa this past September.

Now, stories about this kind of cooperation and creativity often don't make the headlines, but they don't go unnoticed, either. The diverse capacities of our components, far from being a weakness, are in fact one of our biggest strengths.

So those are just two examples of how DHS can be much more than the sum of our component parts--of how we can redefine the ideas of collaboration across agencies and departments to help keep the country safe.

Now in one sense, we will always be a department made up of agencies with their own unique histories. But what connects us all, what makes us look beyond the letters TSA [Transportation Security Administration], USCIS, or I&A [Office of Intelligence and Analysis] or S&T [Science and Technology Directorate], is our common mission and the responsibilities that go with it.

In fact, sometimes I don't even see DHS as an organization of components. I see it as an organization of missions and responsibilities.

So that is the genesis of my vision for One DHS. So the question is--what are we doing to get us there, right? How are we going to get there?

Well, one way is through efficiency review or ER. Over the past year we have launched a number of efforts to build one DHS--efforts that involve literally tens of thousands of you in ways big and small.

In efficiency review, we have looked at how we make our operations more streamlined and focused, and make sure it's not just about saving money, but avoiding unnecessary costs. ER is about being effective and efficient with the dollars that we have.

Central to this is being good stewards of the public trust. It was critical then that we leverage our collective buying power, reduce waste, [and] identify economies of scale.

Our steps this year alone are leading to millions of dollars of savings and cost avoidance.

But ER is about much more than dollars and cents. We're bringing employees together to build teams and to solve problems. We're uncovering new ways to share information and to collaborate.

The consolidated headquarters at the St. Elizabeths campus in Southwest [Washington] D.C. will help unify our many components into one cohesive Department, and that unification is, itself, expected to save taxpayers literally hundreds of millions of dollars over the next 30 years.

The new DHS-wide intranet we're launching over the coming year will greatly improve our ability to share and collaborate across the entire Department.

And the new programs and tools we're implementing now and in the future will encourage greater employee input, share ideas across components, strengthen the health and welfare of our workforce, and increase the ranks of veterans and of minority employees across DHS.

So that being said, let me give you a few examples of our shared progress. And as we look forward to an even busier 2010, I think we should take a moment and have some pride in the accomplishments we've achieved over the past year.

For example, in our mission to guard against terrorism--this remains a primary mission for the Department of Homeland Security.

DHS was forged in the aftermath of 9/11 to secure the country by working with our partners across the nation. It is the solemn duty of this Department that unites every one of our employees in a common purpose. So, indeed, in recent weeks we have seen arrests here in the United States of individuals suspected of plotting terrorist attacks or supporting terror groups abroad.

Home-based terrorism is part of the threat picture we must now confront, and our response must remain one of strength and resolve but also collaboration. So this year we expanded counterterrorism efforts in critical new ways. We launched a new joint fusion center program office to lead a unified, department-wide effort to ensure that threat information is appropriately collected and shared at all levels.

We opened the new National Cybersecurity and Communications Integration Center--NCCIC--a 24-hour, DHS-led, coordinated watch and warning center to address threats and incidents affecting the nation's critical information technology and cyber infrastructure. And we announced our plan to hire up to 1,000 additional cyber professionals to tackle our major cyber security challenge.

And to foster greater collaboration with our international partners, we signed new agreements with key allies to share information that would [bolster] our counterterrorism and law enforcement efforts and facilitate scientific research and collaboration to combat transnational events.

Securing the borders--a secure nation must have secure borders.

This year we took decisive action to protect these borders while strengthening our partnerships, particularly with Mexico and with Canada. We announced a new Southwest Border Security Initiative--a joint effort of the Department of Homeland Security with the Department of Justice [and] the Department of State to crack down on Mexican drug cartels to enhance border security.

As part of that effort, we added unprecedented personnel to the border, increased our intelligence capacity and improved coordination with state, local and Mexican law enforcement authorities.

For the first time, we also implemented a southbound inspection strategy, including 100 percent screening of all rail cargo leaving the United States. The results of the strategy have been striking. Seizures of guns, cash and drugs are up, while the number of illegal crossings is at decade low--transforming the border environment and paving the way for much needed immigration reform.

And we've strengthened our borders against illegal entry. We've made them more efficient, as well, for travel and for commerce.

This year we fully implemented the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative [WHTI] at our land and sea ports of entry. We expanded the Global Entry program, which reduces average wait times by 70 percent for trusted travelers arriving at our airports. And those are just a few of the things that we have done to facilitate lawful trade and commerce and travel.

Enforcing our nation's immigration laws--coupled with stronger border security--we took unprecedented steps in the interior to enforce immigration laws and improve legal immigration services and benefits that we provide to millions of lawful immigrants every year.

At ICE [U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement] we implemented a comprehensive strategy to reduce the demand for illegal employment by targeting employers who knowingly hire illegal workers. We expanded our efforts to identify, arrest and remove criminal aliens who pose a threat to our cities, to our communities.

We also took action to reform the immigration detention system, enhancing security and efficiency while prioritizing the health and safety of detainees.

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services also launched a redesigned website available in English and in Spanish which provides a one-stop location for immigration services and information, including real-time alerts on the status of immigration applications via text message and email. I have to mention that that website came in ahead of schedule and under budget--that's a great thing to do.

At the same time, USCIS cleared the backlog for background checks of over a year or more on people seeking to work and live in the United States or to become citizens. Now the vast majority of these checks are answered within 30 days, and average processing times for naturalization applicants have been reduced by nearly five months compared to last year.

Preparing for and responding to disasters--now, to be sure, our nation did not face a major hurricane this year, but we did face other disasters, including Midwest floods, California wildfires and a very serious flu virus that traveled around the world and back--infecting millions of people.

We've continued to help lead the response to the H1N1 flu--creating regional coordination teams with our interagency partners to oversee, coordinate and effectively respond to the virus.

And while we're not yet out of the woods, our agencies have continued to work together to keep the American people informed about H1N1 and to help reduce its spread. You [DHS employees] all should have received an email yesterday from [Assistant Secretary for Health Affairs and Chief Medical Officer Dr. Alexander Garza] discussing the availability of vaccine for our own employees.

Building a ready and resilient nation remains our priority, but we also know that we need to effectively rebuild and recover after catastrophe strikes. And no where has our commitment to rebuilding remained more firm than in the Gulf Coast which, four years after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, still faces many challenges.

When I first came to the Department, I promised to visit the Gulf and implement reforms that would help cut through red tape and streamline and expedite the decision making process for public assistance. I'm proud to say that this Department kept that promise.

This year, FEMA established two joint public assistance teams and a new arbitration process to resolve long-standing issues over public assistance funding in the Gulf Coast.

Over the past 10 months, these teams have resolved 156 projects--accelerating the pace of funding to the applicants.

In all, more than $100 million has supported the repair and replacement of facilities, such as fire and police stations; schools like the Southern University of New Orleans and the Holy Cross School; libraries and other infrastructure critical to the recovery of communities and communities in the Gulf.

We also continue to provide new resources to the people of Louisiana and Mississippi, including more than $2 billion in public assistance grants for debris removal and emergency protective measures, infrastructure projects, mitigation and education. It gives you some sense about what has been happening.

There are many more things to recount, so I am going to be posting a fact sheet about all that the Department has achieved this year, and we'll post it on dhs [dot] gov, which we also revamped this year, by the way.

So I want to close by coming back to the point I began with, which is that these successes belong to all of us. None of them would have happened without our dedicated employees believing first and foremost in the DHS mission. I know all of you know that the range of potential threats or crises our nation faces requires us all to do the best and to be the best at what we do.

That means setting aside narrow concerns to focus on big ones. And it means being resilient as a department--looking out for each other and learning from our mistakes, bouncing back from them even stronger then we were before.

At the very center of this is you--you are the Department.

It's not the buildings, it's not the equipment or the computers or the paper or the forms or the acronyms--we've got a lot of acronyms--but the Department is you.

And without you, the American people would be less safe. Without you, the American people wouldn't have as great a capacity as we do have to respond and react to emergencies of whatever type.

Without you, the American people wouldn't have confidence that our borders are secure, they wouldn't have confidence that we're using our [intelligence] and analysis and science and technology capabilities to their highest extent--they wouldn't have confidence that our coasts are protected--they wouldn't have confidence that dots are being connected now that weren't connected prior to the creation of this Department.

So the Department is you, and while there are many of you, when we are united as a whole--when we are all working together--when we're all sharing this vision and moving it forward every day, coming to work and leaving work always saying what did I do today to improve the safety and security of the American people--that is what makes a great department. And that is exactly what DHS is.

Thank you.

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