Governor Tom Ridge, who served as the first secretary of the Department of Homeland Security under President George W. Bush, recently visited the Bush School of Government and Public Service at Texas A&M University. Ridge was on campus to take part in the 2017 George H. W. Bush Foundation Distinguished Lecture Series presented by Wells Fargo.
Prior to the lecture, Ridge met with a group of Bush School students and fielded their questions on a range of topics, responding thoughtfully and with humor. The wide-ranging discussion covered cybersecurity, immigration, transitioning between elected and appointed office, and his reflections on his achievements as the first secretary of the Department of Homeland Security. During the one-hour meeting, the students—most of whom are pursuing the Certificate in Homeland Security—gained a valuable perspective on the career of a public servant. After the meeting, they commented on what an incredible opportunity it was to meet and talk to Secretary Ridge and expressed their gratitude to the Mosbacher Institute for making the meeting possible.
That evening the Bush School’s Mosbacher Institute and the Scowcroft Institute co-hosted a conversation between Secretary Ridge and Bush School Dean Mark Welsh. Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah gave remarks by video, in which he urged those in attendance to remain vigilant against evolving threats to US security and do their part to join a strong, dynamic workforce that the senator described as the foundation of national defense.
In the conversation that followed, Secretary Ridge articulated his belief that the United States is stronger when it engages more with the rest of the world, not less. He identified the current threat landscape as one of the most complex the United States has ever faced, with the addition of the space and cyber dimensions to the traditional air, land, and sea.
Dean Welsh then engaged Secretary Ridge in a fast-paced question and answer session on emerging national security issues. One major theme was concern about the development of new superpowers like China and Iran—which Secretary Ridge warned cannot be deterred from acquiring nuclear weapons—in the global threat landscape. A second concern was the resurgence of Russia as a dominant player on the world stage. Secretary Ridge frequently emphasized the need to forge stronger international ties, a strategy that could bear fruit by mediating Russia’s influence and preventing radicalization of young people recruited by groups like ISIS.
In addition to the discussion of military security issues, Ridge and Welsh discussed energy independence, cyber security, and biosecurity. Ridge suggested taking greater advantage of domestic energy resources to free more energy dependent countries from their reliance on Middle Eastern or Russian oil. Ridge also noted that cyber security is an especially important issue for private entities as well as the government. Regarding biosecurity, Secretary Ridge explained that he assesses the emergence of a novel pathogen from nature to be a greater threat than development of a biological weapon by a rogue nation.
Secretary Ridge closed the program by encouraging those considering a career in public service, saying the fulfillment is greater than can be imagined.