- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 30, 2001

Tom Ridge took over the job of building and running the new White House Office of Homeland Security 21 days ago and has been running ever since. Yesterday, he appointed six top staffers and began building the office.
Mr. Ridge was confronted from his first day in the West Wing with the daunting task of informing and reassuring the American public about an anthrax attack something no other U.S. official ever had to do. He laid low for a week, trying, as he put it, "to get his arms around the situation."
Then, going at a furious pace, he met with Cabinet secretaries, administrators, health officials and others. He also began meeting with the news media and, in what he called a "roundtable session" with reporters, promised to create a staff based on "the best and brightest" recruits from the Department of Defense, Health and Human Services, other agencies and also the private sector.
His top recruit comes from the military.
Mr. Ridge appointed Adm. Steve Abbot as his deputy. Adm. Abbott is a navy flyer who served as deputy commander in chief of the U.S. European Command during the Kosovo conflict. He currently is executive director of the group reviewing national preparedness for Vice President Richard B. Cheney.
As Adm. Abbot's assistant, Mr. Ridge hired lawyer Mark A. Holman. Mr. Holman is a D.C. lawyer. He was Mr. Ridge's top adviser when Mr. Ridge was a member of the U.S. House an office he held from 1982 to 1994.
The other appointees are:
Becky Halkias, Mr. Ridge's Washington liaison when he was governor. She will function as the office's liaison to the Congress.
Carl M. Buckholz, a Philadelphia lawyer and formerly special assistant to the late Sen. John Heinz, Pennsylvania Republican. Mr. Buckholz will be executive secretary for the office.
Barbara Chaffee, deputy secretary of Pennsylvania's Department of Community and Economic Development. She will fill the role of public liaison.
Susan Neely, a communications executive at the Association of American Medical Colleges. She will be the office's communications director, or top media representative.
Miss Neely fills what many see as a vital gap.
Although Mr. Ridge seemed well versed on high-level agency operations in three major press briefings prior to this week, he sometimes seemed unprepared when reporters questioned him about specific news developments, of which they, but not he, were aware. Press aides typically ensure their boss knows the latest news.
Then too, the office's response to the anthrax attacks has been called confused and contradictory. The criticism is based on the White House's appraisal of the threat from the letter sent to Sen. Thomas Daschle, South Dakota Democrat. At first the anthrax was said to be a "common" variety. Later came the admission that the substance in the letter was highly toxic, weapons-grade anthrax.
Additionally there was a dispute over the government's treatment of workers at the post office that processed the Daschle letter. At first the government announced it was not necessary to dose the workers with antibiotics. Only after two postal workers died of anthrax inhalation did officials belatedly realize the Daschle letter had contaminated the postal facility. Then the policy was changed.

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