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Archive for Saturday, September 22, 2001

Homeland Security chief wins widespread praise

September 22, 2001

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— Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge will soon shoulder the burden of helping secure the nation against terrorists. First, on Friday, the White House began finding him office space and feeding him paperwork.

Ridge, named to lead the new Office of Homeland Security, introduced his successor as governor at the Pennsylvania Statehouse, then went behind closed doors. The governor-turned-Cabinet member planned to spend his weekend reading reams of information about his new assignment.

"The White House is doing a pretty serious paper dump on him," said Ridge spokesman Tim Reeves.

So were Ridge's colleagues among governors and members of Congress. One note, from Rep. Tom Carper, D-Del., Ridge's mentor in the National Governors Assn., read: "T-Bone! Congratulations (I think). Keep your head down and your spirits up."

"He's interested in what works," Carper said. "A big part of this job description is to get people to work together. He's aces at that. ... And that's probably what's needed."

At the White House, aides looked for West Wing space for Ridge, a Republican and longtime Bush friend tapped to lead the Office of Homeland Security. Beyond that, there was precious little for them to work with; Ridge was expected to meet with Bush aides in coming days to talk about a budget and a staff.

The White House would not put numbers on either of those functions, other than to say Ridge would oversee a "significant" staff and that his operating costs would come out of the White House budget.

"We'll work with Congress if there's need for more money," said White House spokesman Ari Fleischer.

The lack of specificity about Ridge's position accompanied the gravity of his mandate and the fears that more deadly terror could unfold on American soil.

Congress responded Friday with support, and lawmakers wondered aloud whether they should move to provide Ridge with the maximum amount of enforcement power they can give.

"If you want to get a job done, there's no substitute for having an agency with a budget," said Sen. Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn., whose Senate Governmental Affairs Committee conducted a hearing on the issue Friday.

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