- The Washington Times - Monday, September 24, 2001

The responsibilities of the new Cabinet-level Office of Homeland Security are just as its name implies, and its new director, former Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge, is certain of his marching orders. After all, President Bush outlined this in Thursday night's address. The question is this: Do Congress and D.C. officials understand?
Mayor Anthony A. Williams took considerable heat over the way his administration handled the city's affairs immediately following the attacks of Sept. 11. For the most part, however, his chief responsibilities were to declare a state of emergency (which he did), and to enact a traffic plan to get folks into and out of the city as quickly as possible, which he did his best to pull off. Indeed, it was a blessing that he didn't have to implement emergency plans anywhere near the magnitude of those still being orchestrated by New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani. (Talk about resolve.)
The important point is that there were no such plans then, and there are no such plans now. There is a $7 million emergency command center that federal and D.C. law-enforcement personnel use. But there are no adequate plans that jointly address public- and traffic-safety issues. We found that out on the morning of Sept. 11, when terror and chaos reigned in Washington. No single federal agency was in charge.
So, as we brace for what Mr. Bush has told us is "a lengthy campaign, unlike any other we have seen," the new Office of Homeland Security would do well to keep a few things in perspective. The president said Thursday night, before announcing Mr. Ridge's appointment, that "dozens of federal departments and agencies, as well as state and local governments, have responsibilities affecting homeland security. Their efforts must be coordinated at the highest level."
To that end, Mr. Ridge's people, who presumably would include the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and law-enforcement agencies, must speak as soon as possible with Mayor Williams' people some of who are beginning to sound a bit Alexander Haig-ish. That would, by itself, alleviate some local problems in the short term.
Even today nearly two weeks after those terrifying attacks of Sept. 11 Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport remains closed. Entire blocks in the nation's capital are gridlocked during non-rush hour times because of law-enforcement blockades. Likewise, Metro rail cars and buses are jammed with commuters who cannot drive to work because of the gridlocked spawned by blockades and heightened security at their places of employment. Even Washington's slug lines, where commuters hitch rides with other commuters, are shut down. In other words, traffic is a mess in most places, and at a standstill in many others.
It is equally important, however, for Mr. Ridge to remember that we do not have to destroy America in whole or in part to save it. We need not be forced to choose between going to war or maintaining our cherished civil liberties. As Wesley Pruden, editor in chief of The Washington Times, noted in his Sept. 18 column: "In the present superheated moment, some government officials may be too frightened to question security arrangements, and their constituents too terrified to object, lest objection be taken as churlish, or even 'un-American.' But the heat and passion of the present moment will subside, and what looks reasonable today will look irrational and foolish later."
To be sure, it is unwise for all the mayor's men (and his female public safety czar) to stand as lone soldiers preparing Washington for war. That's because this is beyond the mayor's charge. Washington is not just any city. This is the America's capital, and the seat of the federal government. As such, it deserves special attention.


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