Homeland Security Chief Ridge Resigns

Times Staff Writer

Tom Ridge, the nation’s first secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, announced his resignation today, creating yet another opening for President Bush to fill as he reshapes his administration for a second term.

Ridge’s departure had been expected. He said he would remain on the job until Feb. 1, unless the Senate confirms his successor before then.

Ridge, the governor of Pennsylvania when Bush asked him to become his advisor on domestic security issues after the Sept. 11 attacks, moved into the Cabinet-level job as soon as Congress approved legislation creating the department.

“We’ve accomplished a good deal over a short period of time,” Ridge said at a news conference at the department’s headquarters this afternoon.

He said that through innovation, the agency had improved the security of the nation, making points of entry more secure and increasing cooperation between the federal government and state and local agencies.

But, he said, there’s no room for mistakes.

“We have to be right a million-plus times a year… . The terrorists only have to be right once,” he said.

Among those considered potential replacements are Frances Townsend, who replaced Ridge at the White House as Bush’s domestic security advisor; Asa Hutchinson, the undersecretary of homeland security for border and transportation security, and Rep. Chris Cox, a Californian who is part of the House Republican leadership.

Bush initially objected to creation of the department, but grew more enthusiastic as members of Congress pushed for it. The department absorbed more than 20 agencies, and is made up of roughly 180,000 employees. Its annual budget is about $32 billion.

While some parts of the huge department are considered to be functioning better than others — some working as independent entities, and others at war with competing offices — the department on the whole is seen as operating effectively.

And while officials remain concerned about the prospects of another attack, the country is seen by many observers as better prepared to deal with a terrorist strike than before the department was established.

Among the more public innovations of the department has been the color-coded system that alerts the public and security officials to the level of the threat facing the nation.

Asked to evaluate the department’s success in preventing attacks, Ridge said, “I am confident that the terrorists are aware that from the curb to the cockpit we’ve got additional security.”

He said that ports and other points of entry into the United States have undergone increased security, and that the federal government was better able to communicate security concerns and needs to state and local governments.

“If you increase your security and your vigilance, that’s a deterrent” to attack, the secretary added.