Ridge Faces Tough Job
Coordinating Homeland Front
WASHINGTON-President Bush's newest Cabinet office
has a soothing name meant to evoke feelings of safety in a nation still
freshly wounded from terrorist attacks.
But the man tapped to head the new Office of Homeland Safety,
Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge, faces his new mission with a fairly loose job
description, a glaring national spotlight - and a potentially bruising
Already, current and former lawmakers are
wondering whether the White House office will carry enough clout to bring
together diverse and powerful agencies such as the FBI, CIA and Defense
Department to craft a national plan to combat terrorism.
homeland czar can possibly hope to coordinate the almost hopeless
dispersal of authority that currently characterizes the 40 or 50 agencies
or elements of agencies with some piece of responsibility for protecting
our homeland," former U.S. Sen. Gary Hart said during a Senate hearing
Former Sen. Warren Rudman, who co-chaired a commission
with Hart that warned earlier this year of the growing threat of a
domestic attack, said sitting at the right hand of the president is less
important than some control over purse strings.
"We believe that
without budget authority, command authority, accountability and
responsibility to the Congress and the President, nothing in this
government ever works very well," he said.
Bush's announcement of
Ridge's appointment, made during Thursday night's historic speech to the
nation, caught most at the Capitol by surprise. While the idea of creating
a point person for domestic security has been floating around Washington
for some time, the sudden creation of the office - and the sketchy
information surrounding it - left many more than slightly bemused.
"The job description for Ridge is still one of the best kept
secrets in Washington, as far as I know," said U.S. Rep. Porter Goss,
What is known is this: Ridge will head to
Washington in about two weeks, after wrapping up the last of his business
as governor. His first mission is to come up with some way to make sure
that anyone and everyone with a hand in fighting terrorism, from local
police forces to the National Guard, is talking and working together.
"The key here, when it comes to homeland defense, is to have one
very effective person at the pinnacle of it who can help coordinate it,"
White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said.
The role of Ridge and
his new agency, Fleischer said, is not to replace or usurp the CIA, FBI or
Defense Department in their intelligence-gathering activities. He said
Ridge will be something of a domestic counterpart to National Security
Adviser Condoleezza Rice, the White House's top foreign-policy expert.
The Office of Homeland Security probably will absorb some of the
country's existing internal-security branches, including the Federal
Emergency Management Agency, the U.S. Customs Service and the U.S. Coast
Guard. That was one of the recommendations of the commission led by Hart
U.S. Sen. Bob Graham also is using those suggestions
as a framework for his own plan, in which Congress would officially
authorize Ridge's job and grant the office its own budget-including
oversight of the money spent by the FBI and CIA on counter-terrorism
Graham, D-Fla., included the post in his slate of
anti-terrorism legislation Friday, saying Ridge needs more power of the
kind that only Congress can grant him. Bush created the job by executive
order, but Graham and others want to further validate the position by
adding it into federal law.
"We applaud what the president has
done by executive order; we want to build on what the president has done,"
said Graham, chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee.
Graham's legislation also includes a number of other measures
updating and expanding the laws governing wiretapping and other
surveillance tools. Graham also wants to require local and state police to
share any information about potential terrorist plots with federal
Goss applauded Bush's quick action but said there
are still a lot of details to be worked out between the president and
First and foremost are the almost inevitable turf wars.
Goss noted that when Ridge gets to work, he'll be faced with CIA director
George Tenet and FBI director Robert Mueller - both below cabinet level
And when he sits down with the rest of Bush's inner
circle, Ridge will be staring at Attorney General John Ashcroft and
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld - heavy hitters who will match Ridge in
rank but who control much more.
"Then you start talking about
these interrelationships and whose troops are where - and whether Gov.
Ridge is going to have any troops in this job, or whether he's just going
to have phone lines," Goss said. "There's a lot to be seen here."
(c) 2001, The Orlando Sentinel