Tom Ridge leaves the Department of Homeland Security after helping to plug gaping holes in areas like aviation security and biodefense, says the New York Times. He leaves his successor with daunting challenges in other areas that critics say the department has largely ignored. Experts believe that chemical and nuclear plants, ports, and parts of the aviation sector remain vulnerable. Internal and outside audits have questioned whether the mammoth operation that Ridge designed has the controls in place to do the job. His successor will face tensions about whether taxpayers or private interests should pay the lion’s share of the often-staggering costs of securing the country.
The government raised the terror alert to “high,” or orange, status six times on Ridge’s watch as domestic security officials sometimes squabbled with the Justice Department about dire warnings from Attorney General John Ashcroft. Ridge “seemed more interested in grabbing headlines than in developing, implementing and communicating to the American public an effective policy for preventing terrorist acts at home,” said Alon Ben-Meir, a professor of terrorism studies at New York University. Behind the criticism lay widespread recognition that Ridge had one of the most difficult jobs in Washington – trying to assemble 22 separate agencies into one.