The work of the Department of Homeland Security today is “even more important than it’s been up till now,” President Biden said at a ceremony to mark the department’s 20th anniversary at DHS Headquarters in Washington.
Biden vowed to “keep making sure you have the resources you need to do the job, because your job is so expansive across the board.”
“In the 20 years since DHS began, the world has become more interconnected, more complicated than ever, and new threats are emerging with incredible advances in technology,” the president said. “…The threats are mounting; they’re not diminishing. But we have you. And I know the stakes and the stress of the job take an incredible toll, yet every single one of you answer the call every day.”
“God bless the patriots of the Department of Homeland Security,” Biden added. “And may God keep all of the folks you have in the field safe and secure. Because we need them. We need them badly.”
The Department of Homeland Security was established by President George W. Bush after the administration and Congress worked to forge a comprehensive and collaborative response to the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
“With a vast nation to defend, we can neither predict nor prevent every conceivable attack. And in a free and open society, no department of government can completely guarantee our safety against ruthless killers, who move and plot in shadows,” Bush said on Nov. 25, 2002, alongside his homeland security advisor Tom Ridge — who would become the first DHS secretary — when signing the Homeland Security Act of 2002. “Yet our government will take every possible measure to safeguard our country and our people. We’re fighting a new kind of war against determined enemies. And public servants long into the future will bear the responsibility to defend Americans against terror.”
Twenty-two agencies staffed by 180,000 public servants came together to officially form DHS on March 1, 2003 — a department “born of tragedy and necessity,” Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said today at the department’s anniversary event.
“But in that necessity, we evolved and grew, and we attracted and retained the very best America has to offer to solve its greatest challenges,” Mayorkas said. “As I speak before you now, Americans are in the skies and on the seas, traveling through our land ports, enjoying imported goods, protected from online and other criminal actors, relying on critical infrastructure, and so much more. They are doing so safely because of the United States Department of Homeland Security – because of you and those who came before you over the past 20 years. This legacy is thanks to each and every one of you here today; it belongs to you, your families and loved ones, and your communities.”
“You honor the victims of 9/11 through the work you perform every day,” he added. “Through your work, you also honor those colleagues of ours who made the ultimate sacrifice in the service of our country. We have lost friends and members of our community who died of cancers they developed after recovering evidence at the site of the World Trade Center, of gunshots from drug traffickers and while protecting our federal buildings, in vehicles on land and vessels at sea, on the frontlines from the pandemic, and too much more. We began today’s ceremony recognizing these fallen heroes. All of you who serve in our department are heroes.”
DHS today honored 32,000 “plank holders” — employees who were at DHS from the start and continue to serve to this day — including 100 from across the department who were at the event in person.
Mayorkas also paid tribute to the nearly 54,000 veterans — 21 percent of the DHS workforce — who “now work on the front lines in a different uniform, or who work in offices across the country and the world and selflessly keep giving of themselves for the safety and security of others.” He also asked the family members and loved ones of DHS employees at the event to stand and be recognized.
“Congress may not have predicted today’s diverse and complex threat environment when our Department was first created, but our mission has never been more vital, our components have never collaborated more closely, and our nation has never been more prepared because of your unwavering commitment and boundless ingenuity,” the secretary said. “You fulfill our mission every day amidst a dynamic and ever-evolving threat landscape.”
Mayorkas called out two prime examples of that adaptation to current threats: the Center for Prevention Programs and Partnership, which supports communities “in their efforts to detect and prevent the threat of the lone offender from materializing,” and the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, which helps “build our nation’s defenses to the cyber threat posed by criminals and adverse nation states.”
“Now, in the blink of an eye when it comes to the restructuring of government, we are the third largest department in the federal government, leading task forces and interagency initiatives, harnessing new technologies and innovating in ways that other nations seek to follow, forming unprecedented partnerships in communities and with the private sector across our country and around the world, and creating groundbreaking legislation,” he said. “…Over the next 20 years, our mission is going to grow even more complex as new threats emerge with increasing speed and perhaps even greater potential for harm.”
“In our increasingly interconnected world, our work to reinforce our homeland security has never been more important to our national security,” Mayorkas added. “Our Department will continue to evolve and meet the challenges not only of today, but those of tomorrow.”
Ridge addressed the DHS event today to express his gratitude and admiration for the department’s workforce.
“DHS remains the epicenter of our nation’s most difficult security challenges,” Ridge tweeted. “I am blessed to have served with our nation’s best and know today’s DHS workers continue the tradition of selfless service.”