- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 13, 2002

Tom Ridge, the White House homeland security adviser, is the odds-on choice to head the new department that Congress will create to help guard America against another terrorist attack, administration officials said yesterday.
As soon as President Bush announced his plan last Friday to create a new Department of Homeland Security, Mr. Ridge was immediately considered the obvious choice to run it. But then some White House officials cautioned against reaching any premature conclusions on that score. If Congress did not give the post sufficient scope and powers, Mr. Ridge might not want the job, said White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card. Another official pointed out that Mr. Ridge has small children and might not want to remain in government much longer.
But administration officials, some of whom were involved in the preliminary work on Mr. Bush's reorganization plan, said the former Pennsylvania governor is still the leading choice to head the department if Congress sets it up as the president has proposed.
"No one knows the terrain better than he does," said a White House adviser.
"It will definitely be Ridge," said another official. "This is a job where you need a consensus builder, someone who is not seen as partisan and who has the complete confidence of the president."
The White House, however, has been evasive about who the president will pick to head the department. Officials say they are sticking to their long-standing personnel policy of refusing to speculate on appointments until the president makes his announcement.
Mr. Ridge himself has said that such speculation is "premature." Besides, the post of secretary of homeland defense has not been created yet, so talking about who will get the job would be pointless until it actually exists, administration officials say.
"We never speculate on personnel. When the president has an announcement to make, he will make it at that time," White House spokeswoman Claire Buchan said yesterday.
The only other candidate for the post who has been mentioned thus far is former New York City Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani, who was praised for leading the city through the September 11 terrorist catastrophe in his final months in office. But political advisers in and out of the administration say that he is too much of a loose cannon and would be ill-suited in that role.
"He's much too independent and undisciplined. He'd be off the reservation from day one. He speaks his mind nine times a day," said one Republican strategist.
Others said that Mr. Giuliani would be uncomfortable in a Cabinet post where he would have to answer to White House officials and political barons in Congress. "I'm not looking for a job right now," he told reporters.
"A Cabinet secretary's spot is somewhat of an executive position, but it's one where you have a lot of different masters, a lot of bureaucracy. You have to deal with the White House, Congress. You are not number one," said Republican strategist Ed Gillespie, a former Bush campaign adviser.
It will take months before legislation is passed to create the department, which will consolidate more than 20 government agencies and programs. Mr. Ridge's job, in addition to his current post, will be to guide the president's plan through Congress. That alone makes him the likely choice to run the department, advisers said.
"The very process of getting the position created is one that makes him qualified for the job because he'll know the department's structure inside and out, the interrelationships of all the agencies and how they fit into the overall plan and understanding its mission," Mr. Gillespie said.
"Ridge will be up on the Hill all the time, working on the legislation, lobbying for this. He will be the salesman. He's going to be the public face on this effort," a White House official said.
But Mr. Ridge is described by associates as someone who has been frustrated by the lack of authority in his present post and the bureaucratic obstacles he has encountered.
If Congress "doesn't give the department broad authority, I don't think Tom Ridge would want it," Mr. Card said Sunday.
If Mr. Ridge chooses not to take the post, insiders say there is no other obvious choice right now. One administration official said that if he turned it down, the White House might turn to someone with military credentials. Another official said that Mr. Bush might turn to Mr. Card, who played the central coordinating role in putting the reorganization plans together.

Sign up for Daily Newsletters

Manage Newsletters

Copyright © 2020 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

Please read our comment policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide