Transcript: Homeland Security Secretary-Designate Tom Ridge

The following is a transcript of a Fox News interview with Tom Ridge.

FOX NEWS' CATHERINE HERRIDGE: Thank you, Gov. Ridge, for joining us for your first interview.


HERRIDGE: Since the signing -- a piece of history today.

RIDGE: A very important day, for the country, for the president. A lot of history made today. Congress moved quickly in order to get the plan done. The president made it ... a priority for the lame-duck session of Congress. They got it done. We managed to work out our differences on management flexibility and national security authority. And it really gives the president the opportunity to take advantage of the 170,000 men and women that are working homeland security issues every single day -- better organize them; better equip them; better lead them. At the end of the day, it is a great day.

HERRIDGE: I was struck by a couple of things the president said. First of all, he said that you're the right man for this new and great responsibility. When did he ask you if you'd be the secretary for the new department?

RIDGE: Well, we've had discussions off and on. If you think about it, I think I committed myself to this enterprise way back when, when he called me the first time back in September 2001. I told him at that time, I'd do anything I could to help him defeat these terrorists and work with him in any capacity. So this is kind of an extension of that first, "Yes, Mr. President."

HERRIDGE: So did he ask you over the weekend?

RIDGE: Yes, he did.

HERRIDGE: Did he ask you weeks ago? Over the weekend?


HERRIDGE: Did you have any hesitation?

RIDGE: Oh, no. Actually, the president and I have had this conversation a couple of months, generally. But there were enough signals being sent. You know it was pretty busy this past week. And I knew it was coming my way and I'm grateful that he gave me the opportunity to work with him, work with an extraordinary group of people that we're putting together in order to lead this agency.

HERRIDGE: It's an incredible opportunity, but on the other hand, too, I mean, when you take on a job like this, you yourself become a target for the terrorists. Have you thought about that?

RIDGE: (Laughs) No, not really. Not really. I was -- I just had to laugh about the line. Sen. Lieberman -- who we had some differences of opinion with during the debate, but he was always accessible, and we've had this great relationship -- said to me, he said, you know, Tom, that was a wonderful sustained round of applause. That may be the last round of applause you get like that for quite some time.

I thought, well, that could be. But I'm really looking to -- looking forward to working with Republicans and Democrats. They all want us to be successful. Everybody on the Hill, everybody in America wants this department to be as effective as it possibly can. So I'm really encouraged by what I believe will be strong bipartisan support around the country, as well as on the Hill.

HERRIDGE: The president also said in his speech that we can't prevent every conceivable attack, and we can't guarantee safety with killers who plot in the shadows. Do you think another attack on this country is inevitable?

RIDGE: Yes, I do -- I think it's pretty clear that when you're as open and as diverse as we are, as freedom-loving and as welcoming. And I think we have to prepare for that eventuality or eventualities. But that does not, in any way, I think, deter us from doing everything we can every single day to make sure that at the end of that day we are safer and better protected than we were when the sun came up.

HERRIDGE: How long before the department is operational?

RIDGE: We have sent today, or will be transmitted to the Congress today, a reorganization plan, and according to that plan, the effective date will be Jan. 24. And all the agencies, most all the agencies, will be transferred into the department on March 1, 2003.

HERRIDGE: So is it going to be six months, is it going to be a year until the department really gets its traction?

RIDGE: Well, we want to get traction immediately. I mean, we don't have the luxury of time, we have to get to work immediately. What I think it's very important to underscore, is that we have 170,000 men and women -- patriots -- who go to work every single day, working on their own individual piece of homeland security. And we want them to continue to work on homeland security. Obviously, we're going to think about different kinds of organization and a little bit of restructuring. And we're going to have to work with them in order to get the job done. We can effect those changes without distracting them from the mission that they're on now, and in the weeks and months ahead, obviously, give them more resources to do an even better job.

HERRIDGE: That brings me to my next point. The General Accounting Office, the investigative arm of Congress, had a recent report that warned that when you have this sort of gigantic shift in personnel, there's a chance of disruption and also a degradation of security. Are you concerned about that?

RIDGE: I don't think we're really going to see a disruption of personnel. Whether at the borders, whether at the airports, whether at the seaports, whether in the labs, whether in the INS offices, wherever they are, they've been going to work doing homeland security work every single day. And our job is to make sure that they continue to do the job they've done and find ways to enhance their job performance to help them do an even better job. And I think those kind of management adjustments and organizational changes can be done without distracting each and every one of them from their primary mission. And that is to do the best job they can in that area of homeland security every single day.

HERRIDGE: It's such a big job, that you've got to have a short list of priorities. What would they be?

RIDGE: The first thing I think we need to do is get everyone vested in the ultimate mission. There's got to be a lot of anxiety out there. There was a lot of discussions, particularly among the men and women that work in organized labor I just completed -- one reason I'm running a little bit late for the interview is I had a good meeting with a couple of the labor leaders. We want to make sure that we reduce, ultimately reduce the anxiety about their job security because we want them focused on homeland security.

So I think we can manage the change once everybody understands how their own individual goals are absolutely critical to the success of this effort. And obviously we want to look at where we can create a different technology architecture so there's more information shared. We have to latch up -- not only information within the federal government, but get it down to state and locals. We have to continue to build on the partnerships we have with firemen and the policemen -- training and exercises and equipment. We've got to deal with critical infrastructure protection. That's a new product within this agency -- where we fuse the intelligence, and we go out and we harden targets. There's a lot of work to be done. And I'm convinced that people have the mind-set, the will, and the drive right now to get it down as quickly as possible.

HERRIDGE: How will you end the turf battles?

RIDGE: Well, one of the ways to end the turf battles is to put 22 departments and agencies under the direction, command, and control of one secretary. When you were in the Office of Homeland Security, the responsibility I had was basically to coordinate activity. Here, there's an opportunity to direct that activity. And I've had preliminary discussions with a lot of the heads of the agencies that are moving into this new department. They understand the president's mission. They understand that if we work together and remind ourselves every single day that the only turf we need to protect is the turf we're standing on. We understand there's a challenge blending cultures and people and assets and history. But at the end of the day, we do that to advance a larger cause. And that's homeland security. And I'm convinced people understand. And I think in their heart of hearts they understand it now. But when we get people to buy in and understand that we're not protecting bureaucratic turf, we're protecting our homeland, we'll get it done.

HERRIDGE: You're not expecting any resistance from the agencies?

RIDGE: Well, I think it's fair to predict -- I think it's human nature.

HERRIDGE: It's hard to give up power -- especially in this town.

RIDGE: And I think it's human nature. It's not a matter of surrendering power, authority or autonomy. It's that you've been doing certain things a certain way for a long, long period of time. You never had that relationship with these other agencies. So I think there's an evolutionary process that would occur. But at the end of the day, I believe the overriding mission will drive everyone to work together to secure their homeland.

HERRIDGE: For a lot of Americans, they're looking at the creation of this department, and they're asking themselves, how is this going to improve or make a difference to my everyday life? What would you tell them?

RIDGE: Well, first of all, every single day there will be -- they'll know that there's one agency in the federal government whose primary mission is to make their community, their state, and their country a safer place. They'll know that there's a single place within the federal government that is working to get information and distribute it to the state and locals.

They'll know there's a single place in the federal government that's working on enhancing security at the land borders, and at the seaports, and at the airports. They'll know every single day that you've got the federal government working with states and locals on training and exercises. So at the end of the day, Americans will know that there's one agency whose primary mission is to prevent terrorist attacks and reduce vulnerability to terrorist attacks and prepare for the eventuality that one might occur. There has to be some reassurance in that notion that all these good people are working in the same direction.

HERRIDGE: One of the main components of homeland security is bioterrorism and the like. Have you made a decision yet on making the smallpox vaccine available to all Americans?

RIDGE: That decision -- that very difficult, complex decision is to be made and will be made by the president of the United States.

HERRIDGE: Has it been made yet?

RIDGE: It has not been made. But the complexities associated with this decision obviously involve, do we have the infrastructure, do we have the vaccine?

The answer is, yes, we have the vaccine. In an emergency situation we can inoculate everybody. By Dec. 1, all the states will have their mass inoculation plans in. The president, very appropriately, is moving toward a decision. But there are some side effects to take the vaccine. And that's a real complexity that the president is wrestling with. But he will make a decision.

HERRIDGE: In this debate what are you concerned about? Are you concerned about the side effects?

RIDGE: Well, I think it's a series of concerns that the administration has addressed over the past several months. The first concern was whether or not we had enough vaccine. And Secretary Thompson took care of that.

The second concern was whether or not we would have the capacity to inoculate everyone after attack -- a post-attack inoculation. We weren't satisfied. We did not have that capability several months ago. But Secretary Thompson has been driving the states and the territories to come up with a mass inoculation plan.

Now, we come down to the decision. If we are to inoculate Americans, whom do we inoculate? What is the sequence? And the decision will be made by the president.

HERRIDGE: And just a couple final questions, when you're looking ahead to the environment that we're in, everyone's thinking about Iraq, and if we go to war against Iraq, what would a war with Saddam Hussein mean for homeland security?

RIDGE: Well, that's on everyone's mind, and there are some people that suggest that we can't combat terrorism at the same time engage Iraq militarily. And I don't accept that premise. We have to be prepared for a terrorist attack, whether it's state-sponsored, i.e., Iraq or somebody else, or there's another source, another state. And we have to be prepared for an attack if it's a terrorist group, affiliated or not affiliated with a sovereign government. So obviously, if that decision is made by the president, and he certainly has not made that decision, there may be additional things we have to do, depending on the intelligence and the information we have at the time. But regardless of whether or not we would go to war with Iraq, we have to be prepared for terrorism -- whether it is state-sponsored; or a surrogate, or for a state; or whether it's a terrorist group like al Qaeda.

HERRIDGE: Gov. Ridge, I want to thank you very much for joining us today and congratulations on this very historic day.