Ridge swears by cooperation

The new head of the Office of Homeland Security is calling on agencies to communicate like never before

Executive Order summary

The newly sworn-in head of the Office of Homeland Security is calling on agencies to cooperate and communicate like never before to protect the nation against terrorists.

A new executive order, signed by President Bush Oct. 8, makes former Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge the new assistant to the president for homeland security and director of the new office. Bush created the office in response to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, and Ridge's primary function will be to coordinate the counterterrorism policy and action at almost 50 federal agencies, along with state and local governments and the private sector.

The executive order specifically highlights the collection and exchange of intelligence information, calling on the office to ensure that agencies "have sufficient technological capabilities and resources" to do so. To prevent attacks, the office also will coordinate information exchange on immigration, visa matters and cargo.

Key to this new level of communication will be overcoming agencies' tendency to keep information to themselves. "We must be task-oriented. The only turf we should be worried about protecting is the turf we stand on," Ridge said at his swearing-in ceremony.

The office, with the director as the single point of responsibility, will also coordinate efforts to protect and restore critical information systems from terrorist attacks.

There is, naturally, overlap between the new office and the work done by the National Security Council, which was established in 1947, said Ari Fleischer, the White House spokesman, at his press briefing Oct. 8. Ridge's job "is going to be akin to the NSC job focused on terrorism," Fleischer said.

Richard Clarke held that job as the national coordinator for security, infrastructure protection and couterterrorism, a position created in 1998. Clarke is expected to take over as head of an office focused solely on cyberprotection efforts.

Although Bush made Ridge's position a Cabinet-level post, the office does not have the same staffing and budget mandates as a Cabinet-level agency. There are many members of Congress working on bills to make the office, or something similar, a permanent entity.

Under the executive order, all funding and staff for the office will come out of the budget of the White House Office of Administration. But the office will also have staff detailed or assigned from agencies throughout government.

Ridge will advise the director of the Office of Management and Budget on the level and use of funding for homeland security in each agency. He also will provide advice to the heads of departments and agencies on their programs and review their progress, but he will not have direct control over their budgets.

The office will work with the Homeland Security Council, another entity established by the executive order. The council will "serve as the mechanism for ensuring coordination," and is made up of the senior administration executives.

Besides the director of the Office of Homeland Security, the permanent members of the council are the president; the vice president; the secretaries of Treasury, Defense, Health and Human Services, and Transportation; the Attorney General; the directors of the FBI and the Federal Emergency Management Agency; and the director of Central Intelligence. The chief of staff, national security adviser and director OMB are among those invited to attend any meeting, while other members of the executive branch will be invited as necessary.

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