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Full Committee Hears Testimony on Safety of American people.

Homeland Security Select Committee Chairman Christopher Cox (R-CA) held a hearing today for the purpose of gaining authoritative answers to the vital questions about the safety of the American people. Chairman Cox made the following statement today as he welcomed the testimony of Homeland Security Department Secretary Tom Ridge:

The Committee welcomes Secretary Tom Ridge for his testimony on the progress the Department of Homeland Security has made since he was sworn in as its first leader on January 24, and on two initiatives designed to improve America's readiness in case of another terrorist attack: Operation Liberty Shield, and TopOff 2.

It has been 116 days since Gov. Ridge became Secretary. It has been exactly 80 days since the majority of the agencies that make up the Department of Homeland Security -- including Customs, the Border Patrol, the Coast Guard, TSA, and FEMA -- officially joined the Department. Measured in bureaucratic terms, 80 days is the blink of an eye. But in the real war against terrorists who would destroy the United States, 80 days is a deadly serious long time.

Your presence here this morning, Mr. Secretary, is requested so that Congress and this Committee can get authoritative answers to the questions that are so vitally important to every American:

How safe are we?

How far has the Department come in fulfilling the mandate of Congress to establish this new Department?

What has become of the billions of dollars Congress has appropriated since Sept. 11, 2001, for anti-terrorism, homeland security technology, overseas operations, and first responders? How has Liberty Shield increased the protections for America's citizens and infrastructure?

And, what have we learned after $16 million and the energies of over 8,000 people from 100 federal, state and local agencies were invested in the simulated terrorist attacks on Chicago and Seattle?

Last week, Chicago was "attacked" by terrorists using pneumonic plague as a weapon. The panic and death that spread rapidly throughout the city were compounded by a disaster at Midway Airport, when a medical helicopter crashed into a plane full of passengers as it made an emergency landing. Two hundred victims littered the runway.

In Seattle's scenario, 150 people were "injured" by the explosion Monday, and 92 were taken to hospitals. Rescuers sought 20 people believed to have been buried in the rubble created by the blast and two were reported killed.

About 40 miles south of Seattle, participants at Pacific Lutheran University near Tacoma acted out a simultaneous attack on the campus, where a smoke bomb was set off to simulate a car bomb.

This exercise generated many questions:

Those participating in the exercise were given advanced notice of many of the details of the planned crises. Critics of the exercise argue that this made the exercise ineffective. Does the Secretary believe that this exercise was still a useful exercise? Will future exercises leave more uncertainty for the participants to confront?

Press reports indicated that there were capacity problems in Chicago's hospitals. Is this true? If so what contingency plans are being put in place?

Media reports indicated that the government had trouble quickly putting in place a system that could reliably track the radioactive plume from the supposed dirty bomb. What is being done to address this weakness?

These are just a few of the questions I hope the Secretary will address.

Mr. Secretary, we appreciate the fact that you have submitted extensive written testimony for the record concerning the achievements of the Department during 2003. We invite you to summarize for the Committee, with particular emphasis on those portions of your testimony concerning the lessons learned thus far from Liberty Shield and TopOff 2. We recognize that the 22 agencies comprising the Department have wide-ranging responsibilities, such as response to snowstorms, seizing illegal drugs, and icebreaking to keep commerce flowing in the Great Lakes, but our time here is limited and necessarily we must focus on the purpose of today's hearing.

With that, we are happy to have you here, Mr. Secretary. We look forward to your presentation.

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Tom Ridge