Secretary Tom Ridge said Monday that he views the incident as another learning experience for those working on improving security.
Ridge said breaches in security like
the recent box-cutter incident
point to weaknesses in a security system that is being tested daily by his own department. He said improved security measures have helped confiscate more than seven million items, from knives to box cutters.
It is the items that get past airport security that have Ridge demanding answers.
"We'll go back and test and find out how, when and where this individual was able to get these items on board," Ridge said, "and we can potentially learn from that."
Ridge said global terrorism should be treated as a permanent condition and that many terrorist organizations view the United States as their No. 1 target. That means Ridge's Cabinet-level department will not disappear for a long time, he said.
"To deal with that permanent condition for the future, we had to permanently restructure government," Ridge said during a visit to Duke University.
Ridge earlier addressed a conference on leadership attended by business leaders on the challenges to running an agency with 180,000 employees. The
Homeland Security Department
opened in March after the largest government reorganization since World War II.
The pressure of the job comes from knowing that his job requires finding out and neutralizing any potential threat on U.S. territory, Ridge said.
"The reality is there can be no guarantees when it comes to terrorism," he said. "We cannot eliminate the risk. We can only manage it.
"We have to be right a billion-plus times a year. The terrorists only have to be right once."
Ridge said his most profound leadership lessons came when he was an Army staff sergeant leading small squads on patrols in the jungles of Vietnam. The experience emphasized recognizing every individual on a team for their talents and creating a climate where every member was confident in advancing a comment or contribution, he said.
Later, at a news conference, Ridge acknowledged critics who fault him for failing to get Congress to designate more Homeland Security spending for states most likely to be targeted by terrorists rather than seeing it distributed to every state.
Congress last month agreed to a $29.4 billion budget for the new Homeland Security Department. Millions of dollars will flow to states with small populations and limited targets.
"Some of these dollars should be distributed in a different fashion," Ridge said, "should be distributed based on population density, based on critical infrastructure, based on threat analysis."
But Congress being the battleground for many interests, Ridge said, it is inevitable that every state will claim some of the federal dollars. That is not necessarily a bad thing, he said.
"The random nature and the unpredictable nature of terrorism suggests to me that all states ought to get some dollars whether or not there is a potential threat to that state or people in that state," he said.
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