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Interview with Peter Orszag


MR. BORGIDA:
And now joining us from the Brookings Institution here in Washington, Peter Orszag, one of the authors of a new study on the state of U.S. security following the September 11th terrorist attacks on New York and on Washington.

Thank you for joining us, sir.

MR. ORSZAG:
Thank you for having me.

MR. BORGIDA:
I think your study concludes, or at least has been alleged to conclude, that the Bush administration now does not -- does not -- have an overall homeland security strategy to deal with the potential of terrorist attacks in the United States. It sounds like it's quite critical. Is that your intention?

MR. ORSZAG:
No, that's not the intention. The administration has been making a lot of progress in many areas, but they themselves admit that they have not come forward with a strategy yet. One is expected this summer, and we look forward eagerly to reading it once it's out.

MR. BORGIDA:
What are your chief recommendations, though? I know you're an economist by trade, and so you're obviously talking about financial resources in the war against terrorism. What are your chief recommendations to the head of homeland security, Tom Ridge, and to the Bush administration?

MR. ORSZAG:
In terms of what the Federal Government should be doing, we put much more emphasis and much more spending in the areas of information technology and also just basic manpower -- so border patrol agents and FBI agents -- relative to what the administration has put forward in its budget request for next year.

In terms of the private sector, our biggest suggestion is that private sector firms will need some government guidance or government regulation in order to get the right level of security, but that they themselves will have to pay for it. And we go through in quite a lot of detail the types of facilities that are in the private sector that will need improved security, like chemical plants, like the transportation system, and like natural gas pipelines.

MR. BORGIDA:
Let's talk for a moment about biological weapons and the threat they pose. Still a serious one?

MR. ORSZAG:
I think absolutely it's still a serious one. The delivery of biological weapons is a non?trivial thing. It's not easy to get them or to have the population exposed to them. But, should that happen, I think most people think the nation is still, unfortunately, not particularly well prepared to respond to such an attack.

MR. BORGIDA:
Mr. Orszag, this study received quite a bit of attention. I'm sure you're delighted about that. But there is a flipside to that. And that is the impact that it might have on the psyche of the American people who read about this. Is that helpful at this stage or unhelpful in your view?

MR. ORSZAG:
I do think it's important for us to remember that the threat of a terrorist attack is still present. It has now been roughly six months since the attack, and I think some people, not seeing a subsequent attack, may start to think, well, maybe the risk is gone. And that's not the case. We do need to remain alert. The nation is more secure than it was before September 11th, but as the administration and our report both agree, there is still a lot yet to be done. And in that sense, remembering that there is a terrorist risk out there and that there are people out there who do want to do harm to the American people is absolutely essential.

MR. BORGIDA:
How did you conduct this study, Mr. Orszag? I'm sure people are curious about that.

MR. ORSZAG:
Well, it represents a unique combination of military and foreign policy-type experts here at Brookings, and a team of economists. Because homeland security raises all sorts of very difficult questions about the interaction between the government and the private sector that the security folks usually aren't used to thinking about and the economists, of course, have some experience in those types of issues having to do with regulation in other areas, like the environment and others, but don't have much of the security background. So it was really bringing the two sides together that we hope at least contributed to a good report.

MR. BORGIDA:
I know that the Homeland Security Office has said that it will be reviewing your study. Have you had any reaction initially from members of Congress or the law enforcement community to this study?

MR. ORSZAG:
We did have two members of Congress with us yesterday when we released the report, and they were quite supportive. And Governor Ridge came to speak at Brookings today, and he was also quite supportive, saying that he welcomed the report and had only had a chance to skim it thus far, but agreed with many of its conclusions. And I'm sure there will be some things that he disagrees with. And I think that is, in some sense, the whole point of this type of exercise.

MR. BORGIDA:
Well, I'm sure you'll have your supporters, your defenders and your opponents. That is the nature of Washington. Peter Orszag, of the Brookings Institution, on a new study about U.S. homeland security. Thanks so much for joining us today on Campaign Against Terrorism.

MR. ORSZAG:
Thanks for having me.

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