- The Washington Times - Monday, December 6, 2004

President Bush apparently agrees the next terrorist attack will not be stopped by Washington but by a local cop on the beat. That’s what his nomination of a former New York City police commissioner to be secretary of homeland security really means.

The president chose wisely when he reached out to local law enforcement and decided to bring one of their own to Washington. Hopefully, it will result in refocusing homeland security policy on where the greatest threat is — Main Street America.

Tom Ridge has done a credible job of getting the federal interagency process better organized to meet the growing terrorist threat. He established new organizations and processes which, as they mature, will greatly strengthen the federal government’s ability to help prevent and respond to terrorist attacks.

However, it is now time to turn our attention to building capacity at the state and local level to deal with this greatest threat to America and our children’s future.

Washington must ensure that state and local police and first responders are not only trained to respond to attacks after they occur, but to prevent attacks before they occur. The new homeland security secretary must immediately work directly with state and local officials in finalizing achievable national standards and metrics for terrorism preparedness which emphasize prevention.

In this context Bernie Kerik brings impressive local credentials to the job. But his success is by no means guaranteed.

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is still a work in progress. Some departmental directorates continue to operate like independent agencies as if DHS had never been created. Mr. Kerik’s organizational skills will be tested as he strives to create one culture for DHS and continues to integrate the department.

He must recognize that overseeing the New York City police department is vastly different than leading DHS. He will need to surround himself with a strong deputy and chief of staff who understand the financial, organizational and administrative requirements of a major federal department. I assume the White House has already thought about how to surround the new secretary with subordinates who possess complimentary skills.

His political skills will also be tested as he seeks to reorient homeland security policy and resources on building state and local capacity to prevent attacks.

To succeed he must overcome two big challenges. First, as dedicated as the federal workforce is, it is a federal workforce. Fundamentally, bureaucracies at DHS, HHS, FBI, DOD and other agencies in Washington don’t understand what it’s like to be a cop on the street or a fireman responding to an alarm.

If Mr. Ridge failed at anything, he failed to bring to Washington the state and local talent needed to work directly inside DHS. Mr. Kerik, if confirmed by the Senate, should scour the country for the talent I know is out there. He should bring to Washington people who understand the challenges of America’s police, fire services and other first responders and first preventers. Only then will we be able to develop a truly shared and integrated national homeland security strategy.

Second, he must instill a renewed sense of national urgency. With each passing day, America’s memory of September 11 fades. Increasingly, people view terrorism as something that could happen, but only in New York and Washington. Many still don’t believe it could happen in Toledo or Kansas City.

Mr. Kerik will need to remind all of us that while homeland security policy and resources should be based on risk, that risk is shared across America. For try as we will, we will never get into the minds of the terrorist enemies who threaten us. We will never know for sure when or where they may choose to attack.

Maybe only a former New York City cop can help us understand that the threat of terrorism is not just an East Coast problem; it confronts us all.

Mike Walker is a former assistant secretary of the Army, former deputy director of FEMA and currently visiting professor at the Center for Homeland Defense and Security at the Naval Postgraduate School.

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