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Transcript: Tom Ridge Announces His Resignation

Tuesday, November 30, 2004; 4:05 PM

Tom Ridge, Secretary of Homeland Security announced his resignation Tuesday. A transcript of his appearance follows

RIDGE: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. 

Earlier today, I submitted a formal letter of resignation to the president. And with his concurrence, it is my desire to continue to serve as secretary of homeland security through February 1st of next year unless my successor is confirmed by the Senate earlier. 

It's obviously a very difficult decision, but a decision that I was please to be able to communicate in a personal way with my leadership team earlier today as well. 

We have, I don't know, 40 or 50 of the most incredible Americans who have been an integral part of the leadership team of this department from all walks of life that are on a two-day off-site session as we look at some budget matters and we do some strategic planning for the next five years. And I was also able to communicate by e-mail to the 180,000 men and women with whom I've been privileged to work for nearly two years. 

I think we've accomplished a great deal in a short period of time. As I said to the president, there will always be more work for us to do in homeland security, but if you take a look at many of the innovations, the improvements to security, the enhancements to safety at ports of entry, the partnerships that we've developed with the state and locals and the private sector, just all in all, I think it's a reflection of the commitment and the dedication and the energy and the professionalism, really the combined power of about 180,000 people strong. 

I know I've said to many of my co-workers, not only in Washington, but around the country during my tenure as their secretary that on a day-to-day basis, one could say that individual decisions that these men and women make out there at ports of entry have as much to do with the security of the country as any individual decisions we might make here at headquarters. 

As I said to you many times before, we have to be right a billion-plus times a year, meaning we have to make literally hundreds of thousands, if not millions of decisions every year or every day, and the terrorists only have to be right once. 

RIDGE: The president has given me an extraordinary opportunity to serve my country in this incredible period since September 11th, 2001. 

I will always be grateful for his call to service. I will always be grateful for the opportunity to serve my country with this president as its leader. 

Thank you. 

QUESTION: Mr. Ridge, since you're the first person to have this job as secretary of the Homeland Security Department, what would you say to your successor about how demanding a job it is? From the first moment you get up until you go to bed at night, is it just exhausting? 

RIDGE: Well, it's no more exhausting than the work that I think most of my cohorts do in headquarters around the country. 

I mean, there is a very specific job to do. There are many dimensions to the job. You have to be prepared to work like literally hundreds of thousands of people who work for government and elsewhere work. You have to work as long as it takes to get the job done on a day-to-day basis. 

And I think I would say to my successor that the opportunity to continue on a day-by-day basis to make your country safer and more secure within the constitutional framework is an enormous challenge and a great opportunity for leadership and to engage, frankly, our partners, not only within the federal government, but at the state level, the local level and our international partners as well.

Homeland security has never been to me just a department. It is about the integration of a country and taking the resources and the capabilities and the capacities we have in the federal government, the state level, the local level, the private sector, the academic community, you name it, and making sure that they are all engaged in a fundamental way, in a certain way that collectively we as a country are safer and more secure.

RIDGE: So I'd tell my successor: You get a phenomenal job at an extraordinary time, and you can do it -- hopefully you can go to work every day and enjoy it as much as I did.

QUESTION: Can you talk a little bit about your future? What's next for you, private sector or government? And can you walk us through your decision? Why...

RIDGE: Well, first of all, I'm just going to step back after 22- plus years of public service, in a row. I'm going to sit back a little bit, breath deeply and then decide.

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