Ridge takes reins of new agency

Sworn in as secretary of Homeland Security, Cabinet-level department

January 25, 2003|By Laura Sullivan | Laura Sullivan,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON - Former Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge was sworn in yesterday as the first secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, vowing that the huge new agency would safeguard the country against terrorist threats.

"Today marks one step in the process to protect our fellow citizens," Ridge said after the ceremony. "We also recognize we have a long way to go."

The department, which will combine 22 agencies with 170,000 employees, will open for business at its new offices at a Navy-run complex in Northwest Washington for the first time Monday.

The department's new Web site went online yesterday.

Most of 22 agencies that make up the new department, including the Secret Service, Coast Guard, Customs Service, Border Patrol, Immigration and Naturalization Service and Transportation Security Administration, will be incorporated by March 1, though many will not relocate.

The department will also have an intelligence arm, the Information Analysis and Infrastructure Protection unit. It will analyze terrorist threat information it receives from the CIA and the National Security Agency, also working with information the department gathers on its own.

The formation of the department is the largest government reorganization since 1947, when the Department of Defense was created.

Only Defense and the Department of Veterans Affairs will have more employees.

President Bush, who presided over the ceremony, called Ridge "a person of integrity" and "a decisive, clear-thinking executive who knows how to solve problems."

"We're taking every measure to protect the American people against a serious and ongoing threat," Bush said.

"The Department of Homeland Security will lead a comprehensive and unified effort to defend this nation."

The department faces an enormous task over the coming months to bring together many diverse agencies, including some that few people have even heard of, such as the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service and the Environmental Measurements Laboratory.

Ridge said the department would spend the next five weeks getting to "understand everyone's responsibilities" and focusing on the department's internal needs, such as establishing a comprehensive human resources and pay system.

The department's first-year budget is expected to be about $33 billion.

Ridge also said he wants to focus on working more closely with state and local "first responders" and getting them the money they need to do their work.

A number of local communities have complained recently that the federal government has been slow to send much of the promised funding their way.

Ridge said he expects that only about 800 to 1,000 employees will work out of the headquarters office and said he anticipates being at their new location, the Naval District of Washington's Nebraska Avenue Complex, run by the Navy, for at least four to six months.

Yesterday Sen. Hilary Rodham Clinton, a New York Democrat, criticized the Bush administration's efforts to establish the new agency and called the idea that the nation is now safer a "myth."

"Homeland Security is not simply about reorganizing existing bureaucracies," she said. "It is about having the right attitude, focus, policy and resources, and right now we are lacking in all four."

Ridge called her comments "unfortunate" and said that thousands of workers from agencies such as the TSA, Customs Service and Border Patrol have already made great strides to make the country safer than it was before the terrorist attacks.

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