Ridge's recent resignation marks the end of a historic tenure. As
the Department of Homeland Security's first secretary, he had to be
"on-watch," protecting the nation against terrorist attacks every
day, while at the same time building an organization to serve the
nation well into the 21st century. Ridge leaves a legacy of many
accomplishments. His successor, however, still has much work to do,
learning the lessons of the department's first years and
restructuring the organization for the future.
Homeland security is a strategic problem, and in areas of strategy, thought should precede action. Ridge's greatest contribution to responding to the attacks of 9/11 was in forging a national homeland security strategy, a strategic approach to fighting terrorism. The fundamental principal of that strategy was building a "layered defense"-a balance of initiatives working together to prevent, respond to, and recover from terrorist attacks. As Homeland Security Secretary, Ridge began building the foundational pillars of a truly national homeland security system. These included:
- Establishing the US VISIT program. This automated entry/exit
system will, for the first time in our nation's history, allow
immigration officials to account for visitors entering and leaving
the country. It uses biometric data to verify identities, an added
precaution to prevent fraud and screen for terrorists.
- Implementing the Container Security Initiative, a cooperative
agreement with foreign ports to identify, target, and search
- Creating the first-ever National Incident Management System (NIMS), which establishes standardized processes and procedures for managing incidents for all emergency responders, whether federal, state, tribal, or local.
- Enhancing integration of department activities and building an
integrated leadership culture by creating an undersecretary for
policy, an assistant secretary for international affairs, and an
executive leadership program.
- Establishing a "flatter" department by consolidating agencies
in border and transportation security and reorganizing directorates
with regard both to preparedness and response and to
- Rationalizing security spending by establishing risk-based
mechanisms for department-wide resource allocation and grant
- Clarifying authorities and national leadership roles for biodefense, cyberdefense, and critical infrastructure protection by establishing and empowering lead executives.
James Jay Carafano, Ph.D., is Senior Research Fellow in Defense and Homeland Security in the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for International Studies at The Heritage Foundation.