Homeland Security: A National Mission

Aug 11, 2011

As the first U.S. secretary of homeland security, Tom Ridge helped guide the country through a period of crisis and change. Now, the former governor of Pennsylvania leads Ridge Global, his own international security and risk management firm, headquartered in Washington, D.C. Ridge, who is chairman of the U.S. Chamber’s National Security Task Force, recently sat down with Free Enterprise magazine to discuss global trade, energy, cybersecurity, and the role of the private sector in addressing national issues.

Free Enterprise: The global supply chain and trade facilitation are critical issues to most, if not all, of our member companies. How do they impact everyday business?

Tom Ridge: Security and prosperity intersect at the border. The nature of the 21st century world is such that America’s future success and security will only become more dependent on relationships in the Western world, not less dependent. So those who want to withdraw politically or economically—that’s a perilous approach in the 21st century because we are so interdependent and interconnected. Nothing exemplifies this more than the supply chain. How we go about securing this is a task that will require the consent and support of the business world.

At the same time, I’ve never felt you needed to sacrifice safety or competitiveness. It’s not one or the other. It’s all about managing risk. We could inspect every truck coming across the border and open every container, and you know what would happen? The economy would come to a screeching halt, and you’d have negative growth rates.

FE: Cybersecurity has become a high-profile issue. How can we strengthen public-private partnerships to help businesses protect their information and networks?

TR: The private sector has historically asked—and at times pleaded— to be included in the discussions. But there has been a mind-set across the board, and I don’t want to unfairly categorize it, but a mind-set that the private sector doesn’t have its own proprietary interests in cybersecurity. That’s not true. Doing the right thing for the company, the employees, the community, the shareholders—that is the motivation that has driven the private sector.

FE: What hurdles stand in the way of private-public partnerships in trade facilitation, infrastructure, and cybersecurity?

TR: Regulations have been promulgated with an eye toward thinking that those from the private sector would only be interested in advancing their own agenda, not the interests of the country. But that’s flat out wrong. Members of the U.S. business community want to help make their country more secure, more competitive. Theywant this great country to succeed.

FE: As governor of Pennsylvania, you were active on energy issues. How is energy linked to U.S. security?

TR: Being less dependent on foreign sources of fuel—notice I said less dependent. We’ll never be independent regardless of what presidents aspire to, and you don’t need to be independent from Canada and other friendly countries. Being less dependent, however, requires us to accept energy as a national security issue, an economic security issue, an environmental issue, a jobs issue, and a competitiveness issue.

I’m still frustrated by the fact that we don’t have a national energy policy. The answers to these problems aren’t external; they’re made in America. We can build more nuclear power plants, we can access shale gas, we can do combined cycle generation with coal and natural gas, and we can, hopefully, one of these days, have renewable fuels that are economically competitive. Right now, renewables rely on subsidies and mandates, but that’s a good place to invest in research and development.

FE: We are coming up on the 10-year anniversary of 9/11. What are some of the positive developments we’ve seen since the creation of the Department of Homeland Security? How has the private sector been engaged throughout?

TR: I think there’s been a tremendous amount of progress made vis-á-vis the private sector. The best example is what the department has done with the 18 sectors of the economy. We divided the economy into 18 different sectors, and sector coordinating committees have an ongoing dialogue with the department and the federal government generally on issues related to resiliency, protection, and prevention.

As I’ve said time and again, Homeland Security is a federal department, but it is a national mission. The federal government has no more important, or larger, or stronger partner than the private sector for a variety of reasons. One of the real challenges is to ensure that the private sector has a seat at the table as you’re developing these policies.

FE: Where will you be on the 10th anniversary?

TR: Shanksville, Pennsylvania, on-site that weekend for the dedication of the Flight 93 National Memorial and Sunday’s memorial service. I can close my eyes and still remember the scene there on September 11, 2001, but I’ll be happy to open my eyes and be there on September 11, 2011.

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