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Ridge: US Safer than on September 11 - 2002-02-11


U.S. Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge says Americans must get used to the idea that the threat of terrorism is a permanent condition in the 21st century. But he also says the United States is safer than it was when the terrorists struck on September 11.

Mr. Ridge has now been on the job four months. He told reporters at the National Press Club in Washington that while the country is more secure, Americans will have to face up to new realities in the aftermath of September 11. "The threat of terrorism, regrettably, is an inescapable, immutable fact of life in the 21st century," he says. "It will not change. It is a permanent condition to which America and the entire world is adjusting."

To counter the threat of terrorism, the Bush administration is proposing to double the amount of money the federal government spends on homeland security and is asking Congress to approve nearly 38-billion dollars this year.

Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge says the additional money will be used to improve border security, better track foreign visitors and expand the number of emergency workers available to respond to terrorist attacks. He also says Americans need to understand that they are facing a determined enemy. "An enemy that shows no hesitation about using biological weapons, an enemy that I believe would not hesitate to use any weapon of mass destruction," says Mr. Ridge. "This enemy is smart and is resolute. We must be smarter and more resolute and I'm confident that we are."

Mr. Ridge was appointed by the president to consolidate and streamline homeland security by working with the various federal agencies that have responsibilities in the homeland defense area. But The New York Times reported this week that some agency heads are resisting Mr. Ridge's efforts to consolidate efforts and resources, especially in the area of border security.

That is no surprise to former U.S. Attorney General Edwin Meese who has written about homeland security at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative public policy research organization here in Washington.

Mr. Meese says that since Tom Ridge does not have executive authority or control over agency budgets, he has been reduced to acting as a coordinator without the power to compel other agencies to work together or change their methods. "You can take Tom Ridge, you can give him four stars, you can give him five stars, you can give him six stars [like a military general] on his shoulder, but no functionary in the White House is going to have the clout to run the whole operation," says Mr. Meese. "That is going to take the elected leadership and that is the president and the vice-president. On the other hand, Tom Ridge can be the key person who is providing the coordination as the principal staff person for the president."

Tom Ridge brushes aside concerns about his effectiveness, saying the president has given him all the authority he needs to make the country safer from future terrorist attacks. "The president has made it a priority," he says. "I have been in town four months now and people have been worried about [my] authority, but I at least had $38 billion in budget authority in four months. That is not so bad."

Still, nearly five months after the attacks that changed America, political analysts say that Tom Ridge is finding out how difficult it can be to change the federal bureaucracy.

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