Homeland Security: The Presidential Coordination Office
CRS Report for Congress
The Presidential Coordination Office
Updated March 30, 2004
Harold C. Relyea
Specialist in American National Government
Government and Finance Division
Congressional Research Service ˜ The Library of Congress
The Presidential Coordination Office
Responding to the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the World Trade
Center and the Pentagon, President George W. Bush, among other actions,
announced in his September 20 address to a joint session of Congress, his intention
to create an Office of Homeland Security (OHS), headed by a director who would
have Cabinet rank and would report directly to the President. OHS, as subsequently
chartered with E.O. 13228 of October 8, 2001, is an agency of the Executive Office
of the President. The success of this office as a coordinator of federal preparations
and response to terrorism, including the development of a comprehensive National
Strategy for Homeland Security, may be guided by past experience with similar such
entities. This report reviews past experience — principally with the Office of War
Mobilization and its successor, the Office of War Mobilization and Reconversion —
and its significance for OHS, as well as the administrative development of the new
agency. That OHS was not altogether successful in its efforts at homeland security
leadership may have prompted the President to propose the creation of a Department
of Homeland Security in June 2002. However, during the course of the establishment
of the department, attempts to replace or recharter OHS legislatively were not
successful. The establishment of the new department and the new Homeland
Security Council diminished the role of OHS by assuming most of its functions.
Although a presidential assistant for homeland security may be retained in the White
House, the continued need for OHS waned in 2003, and the agency disappeared from
the President’s FY2005 budget. This report is no longer being updated. CRS Report
RL31493, Homeland Security: Department Organization and Management —
Legislative Phase, assesses the development and enactment of the Homeland Security
Act of 2002. CRS Report RL31751, Homeland Security: Department Organization
and Management — Implementation Phase, assesses the implementation of the
Department of Homeland Security provisions of the Homeland Security Act of 2002.
A Presidential Charter..........................................1
A Model and Principles for Success...............................3
Institutional Status in the President’s Office.....................4
Jurisdiction Over All Agencies...............................5
Restriction of Functions to Top Policy and Program Issues.........5
Non-involvement in Normal Functions of Individual Departments...5
Maintenance of Reasonable Control...........................6
Qualifications of the Program Coordinator......................6
Small High-Level Staff.....................................6
Implications for the Homeland Security Office.......................7
The Presidential Coordination Office
In his September 20, 2001 address to a joint session of Congress, President
George W. Bush, as part of his response to the September 11 terrorist attacks on the
World Trade Center and the Pentagon, announced his intention to create an Office
of Homeland Security (OHS). According to the President’s initial description of
OHS, it was to be located within the White House Office and would be headed by a
director who would have Cabinet rank and would report directly to him.
Pennsylvania Governor Tom Ridge was named as the President’s choice for director.
His mission and that of his office would be, in the President’s words, to “lead,
oversee, and coordinate a comprehensive national strategy to safeguard our country
against terrorism and respond to any attacks that may come.”1
Following the announcement by President Bush, few details were forthcoming
regarding OHS. Because the President historically has enjoyed virtually complete
authority over the organization of the White House Office, it was not surprising that
no directive or charter for OHS was publicly released, although this omission
contributed to a lack of specificity regarding the office’s duties.2
A Presidential Charter
On October 8, 2001, President Bush issued E.O. 13228 establishing OHS as an
agency within the Executive Office of the President, which includes such other
agencies as the Council of Economic Advisers, the National Security Council, the
Office of Management and Budget, and the White House Office.3 Later in the day,
Tom Ridge was appointed as the Assistant to the President for Homeland Security.
The President’s directive specified that the head of OHS is the Assistant to the
President for Homeland Security, signifying that the individual directing OHS is a
member of the White House Office staff. The Assistant to the President for National
Security Affairs, Condoleezza Rice, has a similar status: she is a member of the
White House Office staff and directs the staff of the National Security Council.
Because the direction of OHS is vested in a presidential assistant, no Senate approval
of the appointment was necessary, because all White House Office staff are
1Weekly Compilation of Presidential Documents, vol. 37, Sept. 24, 2001, p. 1349.
2The White House Office was established with E.O. 8248. This order organized the primary
units within the Executive Office of the President, which had been created by
Reorganization Plan 1 of 1939 (53 Stat. 1423). Other than providing appropriations and a
personnel authorization for the White House Office, Congress has not legislatively limited
the President’s prerogatives regarding its operations.
3Federal Register, vol. 66, Oct. 10, 2001, pp. 51812-51817.
appointed without Senate confirmation. However, this situation and the advisory role
that senior White House officials play have the potential for limiting congressional
access to such presidential aides. Traditionally, they have come before congressional
committees only to explain very serious allegations of personal misconduct.
Otherwise, attempts by congressional overseers and investigators to require their
appearance and testimony before committees has usually been met by presidential
invocations of so-called executive privilege — the privilege of the President to
exercise a discretion, based upon the constitutional separation of powers doctrine,
regarding the questioning of his advisers.4 Also, because OHS has been established
by a presidential directive, its mission, responsibilities, and administration may be
readily modified through the issuance of additional executive orders, a situation that
initially contributed to congressional reluctance to appropriate significant amounts
of money for an agency so established for any length of time before requiring a
statutory charter.5 OHS began operations utilizing discretionary monies available to
the President for responding to the September 11 terrorist attacks. These conditions
limited the ability of congressional overseers to assess the success of OHS as a
coordinator of homeland security policy, planning, and preparations and as the
developer of a National Strategy for Homeland Security.
E.O. 13228 also established the Homeland Security Council, which was
responsible “for advising and assisting the President with respect to all aspects of
homeland security” as well as serving as “the mechanism for ensuring coordination
of homeland security-related activities of executive departments and agencies and
effective development and implementation of homeland security policies.” Chaired
by the President, the council was composed of the Vice President, the Secretaries of
Defense, Health and Human Services, and Transportation, the Attorney General, the
Director of Central Intelligence, the directors of the Federal Bureau of Investigation
and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the Assistant to the
President for Homeland Security, “and such other officers of the executive branch as
the President may from time to time designate.”
Title X of the Homeland Security Act of 2002 reconstituted the Homeland
Security Council and made it responsible for advising the President on homeland
security matters; assessing the objectives, commitments, and risks of the United
States in the interest of homeland security and making resulting recommendations to
the President; and overseeing and reviewing homeland security policies of the federal
government and making resulting recommendations to the President. Still chaired
by the President, the council’s membership was modified to include the Vice
President, the Secretary of Homeland Security, the Attorney General, the Secretary
of Defense, and such other individuals as the President may designate.6
4See CRS Report RL31351, Presidential Advisers’ Testimony Before Congressional
Committees: A Brief Overview, by Harold C. Relyea and Jay R. Shampansky.
5See 31 U.S.C. 1347.
6116 Stat. 2135 at 2258.
A Model and Principles for Success
OHS emerged in an environment in which several entities, having established
reputations and turf, were potential rivals in some policy and administrative areas.
The situation was reminiscent of the efforts of President Franklin D. Roosevelt to
create an effective war mobilization and preparedness coordination entity. Success
was realized with the Office of War Mobilization (OWM), established by presidential
order on May 27, 1943, and the man Roosevelt selected to direct it, James F. Byrnes,
a former member of the House of Representatives, the Senate, and the Supreme
Court, and former director of the Office of Economic Stabilization.7 The OWM
mandate was sweeping and general; it was empowered:
(a) To develop programs and to establish policies for the maximum use of
the nation’s natural and industrial resources for military and civilian needs, for
the effective use of the national manpower not in the armed forces, for the
maintenance and stabilization of the civilian economy, and for the adjustment of
such economy to war needs and conditions;
(b) To unify the activities of Federal agencies and departments engaged in
or concerned with production, procurement, distribution or transportation of
military or civilian supplies, materials, and products and to resolve and determine
controversies between such agencies or departments, except those to be resolved
by the Director of Economic Stabilization under Section 3, Title IV of Executive
Order 9250 [concerning agricultural prices]; and
(c) To issue such directives on policy or operations to the Federal agencies
and departments as may be necessary to carry out the programs developed, the
policies established, and the decisions made under this Order. It shall be the duty
of all such agencies and Departments to execute these directives, and to make to
the Office of War Mobilization such progress reports as may be required.
Given an office in the White House, Byrnes “soon was regarded as second only
to the President on the home front,” and, with “his frequent exhibition of confidence
in Byrnes, the President helped established public and governmental understanding8
and recognition of his position.” OWM operated with a small staff, which Byrnes
“instructed not to constitute an isolating ‘layer between the director and the heads of
agencies [but] ... to facilitate the relations of the director with agency heads.’” A
small staff “prevented OWM from engaging in administrative activities and
operations and from undertaking or interfering with the normal functions of other
agencies.” It was also “inadequate to perform the type of central planning function
which many people considered OWM’s most important duty.” However, this was
not a limitation in Byrnes’s view, for he “felt that most planning should be conducted9
at agency levels and that it was his job primarily to coordinate such plans.” A
concise, clear understanding of OWM’s functions was offered in a July 27, 1943,
memorandum on the general plan for the operation of the agency.
7E.O. 9347, 3 C.F.R., 1938-1943 Comp., pp. 1281-1282.
8Herman Miles Somers, Presidential Agency: OWMR, the Office of War Mobilization and
Reconversion (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1950), p. 52.
9Ibid., pp. 55-56.
The Office of War Mobilization acts for the President. ... The job of the Office
is not to perform the functions of the established departments and agencies but
to see that these functions are well performed by those charged with
responsibility for their performance. The other primary task of the Office is to
assure coordination of separate programs, by securing policy integration,
resolving conflicts and rendering responsible authoritative and firm decisions in10
A few months after OWM’s creation, another presidential order expanded the11
agency’s authority to include aspects of U.S. foreign economic affairs. As a
consequence of congressional concern about the accountability of the OWM
director’s exercise of his discretionary power, as well as a desire to begin planning
for conversion to a peacetime economy, Congress enacted the War Mobilization and
Reconversion Act in 1944, creating the Office of War Mobilization and
Reconversion (OWMR) as an independent agency and making its presidentially12
appointed director subject to Senate confirmation with a two-year term. This act,
by one near-contemporary estimate, was “considered the broadest grant of power ever
legislated by Congress, creating for the first time by statute a superdepartmental
director over the whole range of home-front executive activities for war and
reconversion — powers so great that some critics questioned the constitutionality of
such a grant to anyone short of the President.”13 Upon signing the legislation into
law, President Roosevelt issued an order transferring the functions and resources of
OWM to OWMR.14 Byrnes, who was named the director of the new agency,
continued to operate from the East Wing of the White House. He left the office in
April 1945, and, three months later, was named Secretary of State. OWMR was15
dismantled at the end of 1946.
A few years after the demise of OWMR, it was evaluated in a study as “a
notable, although improvised, attempt to equip the President with a strong staff arm
for executive policy and program coordination, as distinguished from administrative
management and fiscal control.” The author of the study, a participant-observer who
served on the OWM-OWMR staff for 16 months, regarded the agency to be a
successful instrument of central control and coordination for the President.16 Why
was OWM-OWMR successful? In response to this question, seven guiding
principles were offered.
Institutional Status in the President’s Office. A presidential
coordination entity, like OWM-OWMR, “must have permanent institutional status
and must be clearly a presidential arm accountable only to him.” It is also “essential”
10Reproduced in ibid., p. 58.
11E.O. 9361, 3 C.F.R., 1943-1948 Comp., pp. 257-259.
1258 Stat. 785.
13Somers, Presidential Agency, p. 1.
14E.O. 9488, 3 C.F.R., 1943-1948 Comp., 345-346.
15See E.O. 9809, 3 C.F.R., 1943-1948 Comp., pp. 591-592.
16Somers, Presidential Agency, pp. 1-2.
that the director of such an office or “coordinator be known to have full presidential
confidence and backing.” While it was thought that “the permanent establishment
of such an Office [as OWM-OWMR] should probably be recognized by [statutory]
law,” it was also considered to be “undesirable that the coordinator have any statutory
powers or be accountable to Congress.”17 Byrnes did not have “statutory powers,”
such as responsibility for administering a program, so he was not accountable to
Congress in that regard, but he did serve as a presidential liaison to Congress to
negotiate the drafting of legislation.18 He also informally kept in touch with
Members of Congress, and agreed to follow up on conflicting war programs
identified by Senator Harry S. Truman and his Senate Special Committee to
Investigate the National Defense Program,19 but avoided interceding with Congress
on behalf of individual departments, and appears to have been an infrequent witness
before congressional committees, which is reportedly why Congress made the
appointment of the OWMR director subject to Senate confirmation.
Jurisdiction Over All Agencies. A presidential coordination entity’s span
of jurisdiction “must include all agencies and, in effect, be as broad as the
President’s,” but should “not involve curtailment of the existing policy-making
jurisdiction of any agencies.” While the “inclusion of the military within the
coordinative jurisdiction may prove most difficult to work out,” the “problems of the
military have to be reconciled with the interests of the other agencies, and this must
be done in the President’s office,” or in the office of the coordinator acting on behalf20
of the President.
Restriction of Functions to Top Policy and Program Issues. The
OWM-OWMR “experience demonstrated clearly that successful central coordination
must be completely divorced from any operating or administrative responsibilities.”
Indeed, when “the central unit is the capstone of an operating organization, it will
soon become just another operating agency, however important its operations may
Non-involvement in Normal Functions of Individual Departments.
The OWM-OWMR experience suggests that the “coordinator must avoid the two-
edged evil of either allowing departments to feel that some of their normal
responsibilities — either for administration or policy-making within their regular
jurisdiction — have been taken away, or of being drawn into the innumerable
detailed problems which they may bring to him to obtain support.” The coordinator
“should take jurisdiction only over issues not susceptible of settlement at the
department level ... or where inter-agency conflict has caused an impasse.” Similarly,
17Ibid., p. 224.
18Ibid., p. 74.
19Donald H. Riddle, The Truman Committee: A Study in Congressional Responsibility (New
Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1964), p. 98.
20Somers, Presidential Agency, pp. 225-226.
21Ibid., p. 226.
he “should not be concerned with development of methods of operation but only with
seeing that agencies concerned are following through.”22
Maintenance of Reasonable Control. Because reasonable discipline is
essential to effective coordination, in situations where “the coordinator’s authorized
decisions are flouted, he must take prompt and appropriate action either directly or,
preferably, through the President.” Also, the coordinator “should not attempt to
eliminate all disputes among agencies, but rather to reduce their volume and
magnitude through early delineation of general policy and the provision of a locale
for final arbitration.” As a corollary consideration, “Agencies must be given
relatively free rein for debate and for working out their differences among
themselves, within the broad framework of administration policies.” Ultimately,
when resolving a conflict, the coordinator should “indicate that he is bringing
together all elements in the issue for the President, and assisting him in arriving at a23
decision, but that the decision is the President’s.”
Qualifications of the Program Coordinator. Recognizing that “paper
authority and organizational lines rarely prove adequate in the higher echelons of
government,” the OWM-OWMR experience suggests that a successful coordinator
“must not only be a man [or woman] of highest ability and broad perspective, but
should possess independent position and prestige based on wide experience and
public respect.” Those who suggest that a highly regarded individual appointed to
the coordinator position might become the President’s political competitor are
reminded that this individual is a presidential agent, whose “effectiveness can be
brought to a halt by a few public nods of disapproval from the President” because his
“office is empty of power without presidential backing.” Indeed, the likelihood
exists that, no matter how prestigious a coordinator may be, he may become
expendable when White House decisions require a scapegoat.24
Small High-Level Staff. The OWM-OWMR experience suggests that a
coordinator’s staff “should be small, probably not exceeding 25 persons, other than
clerical help.” Such a staff “should all have high rank, be of recognized high caliber
and broad-gauged ‘generalists,’” and “[s]taff work requiring technical expertise
should be assigned to other units of the Executive Office or regular agencies.” Also,
staff members “are political personnel in the high sense of the term” and “must be
willingly and patently identified with the President’s program.” Finally, because the
coordinator “must either review or direct the actions of heads of agencies on matters
not susceptible of final determination at the departmental level, unusual caution must
be exercised regarding delegation of authority to staff members.” However, this
consideration must be tempered by a caution against rigid adherence, so that the
coordination office does not become “an irritating bottleneck.”25
22Ibid., p. 227.
23Ibid., pp. 228-229.
24Ibid., pp. 229-230.
25Ibid., pp. 231-232.
Implications for the Homeland Security Office
What implications do these principles have for the Office of Homeland Security
(OHS) as chartered by E.O. 13228? Created by presidential directive, OHS does not
have the “permanent institutional status”of the statutorily established OWMR. A
statutory mandate for OHS might have relieved congressional concerns about funding
an agency subject to having its mission, responsibilities, and administration readily
modified by presidential order. Fashioning a statutory charter for OHS also might
have provided an opportunity to determine when and how the head of the agency
would be accessible to Congress.
It appears that the man initially named to direct OHS, former Pennsylvania
Governor Tom Ridge, had the President’s confidence and backing. He was allocated
office space in the West Wing of the White House. His mandate to “coordinate the
executive branch’s efforts” to combat terrorism, “work with executive departments
and agencies” in this regard, and “identify priorities” concerning same, however, did
not appear to convey authority equal to that of the OWM-OWMR director, who was
empowered to “develop programs,” “establish policies,” and “issue ... directives on
policy or operations to the Federal agencies and departments.” Consequently, in this
regard, the head of OHS, compared with the OWM-OWMR director, may of
necessity have had to make more frequent resort to the President to resolve disputes,
including opposition to his initiatives.
Stated in the executive order in the most general terms, the jurisdiction of OHS
for performing its functions is not clear, and it is questionable if it, compared with
OWM-OWMR, has had any jurisdiction “over” other agencies. The executive order
also mandated a Homeland Security Council, chaired by the President and composed
of at least 10 members, the head of OHS being among them. Five other officials
were invited to attend council meetings, and numerous other officials could be
invited to attend council sessions “when appropriate.” The relationship between the
functions of the head of OHS and the council was not clear.
The relationship of the OHS director to the Homeland Security Council created
by the Homeland Security Act is perhaps even more ambiguous. The OHS director
is not a specified member of the council, and a civilian executive secretary, appointed
by the President, is mandated for the council, a support role that the OHS director
might have been expected to play.
The OWM-OWMR experience also warned against OHS becoming involved
in operating or administrative responsibilities. Nonetheless, the Assistant to the
President for Homeland Security was designated “the individual primarily
responsible for coordinating the domestic response efforts of all departments and
agencies in the event of an imminent terrorist threat and during and in the immediate
aftermath of a terrorist attack within the United States.” Such activity not only
suggested the exercise of operating or administrative authority, but also a duplication
of, or intrusion into, the responsibilities of the director of FEMA. With Homeland
Security Presidential Directive 5 (HSPD-5) of February 28, 2003, the Secretary of
Homeland Security was designated the principal federal official for domestic incident
management. This designation is, according to the directive, in accordance with the
Secretary’s responsibilities pursuant to the Homeland Security Act for coordinating
federal operations within the United States to prepare for, respond to, and recover
from terrorist attacks, major disasters, and other emergencies.26
A former member of the House of Representatives and a popular governor,
Ridge, at the time of his appointment, was generally thought to be qualified to head
OHS. Early press accounts indicated that OHS might have a beginning staff of 100,
four times the number suggested by the OWM-OWMR experience. Most of these,
initially, were detailees — civil servants, not “political personnel” — from agencies
within the jurisdiction of OHS.27
Finally, apart from the OWM-OWMR experience, some argued early on that
OHS should have some authority over the budgets of agencies responsible for
combating terrorism or homeland security.28 A model in this regard was the director
of the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), a coordinator, who, in
conjunction with preparing a national drug control strategy, prepares a consolidated
national drug control program budget to implement the strategy. The ONDCP
director certifies the adequacy of agency drug control program budgets. In cases
where a budget is deemed inadequate, the ONDCP director recommends a new
funding level. These recommendations are considered during the preparation of the
President’s annual budget. Also, no national drug control program agency may
submit to Congress a reprogramming or transfer request for any appropriated funds
greater than $5 million in the national drug control program budget unless the request
has been approved by the ONDCP director. In the event of a disapproval, the agency
may appeal the ONDCP director’s decision to the President.29
E.O. 13228 authorizes the head of OHS to review agency budgets and make
recommendations to agency heads and to the director of the Office of Management
and Budget (OMB) regarding the levels and uses of funding for homeland security-
related activities. Prior to the forwarding of the proposed annual budget submission
to the President for transmittal to Congress, the head of OHS is to certify to the OMB
director the funding levels that he “believes are necessary and appropriate for the
homeland security-related activities of the executive branch.” No further guidance
in this regard is offered by the order. It does not appear that Ridge, during his tenure
as OHS director, sought to modify agency budgets for homeland security. Section
889 of the Homeland Security Act directs the Secretary of Homeland Security to
prepare a homeland security funding analysis, including homeland security needs.30
26HSPD-5 is available at [http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2003/02/20030228-
27Elizabeth Becker and Tim Weiner, “New Office to Become a White House Agency,” New
York Times, Sept. 28, 2001, p. B5; Eric Pianin, “Unresolved Issues for Ridge’s Job,”
Washington Post, Sept. 29, 2001, p. A16.
28Noelle Straub, “White House, Senate Clash on Ridge’s Role,” The Hill, Oct. 3, 2001, pp.
2921 U.S.C. 1703(c)(3).
30116 Stat. 2135 at 2250.
Prior to Ridge’s October 8, 2001, appointment as Assistant to the President for
Homeland Security, President Bush, as he indicated in an October 5 letter to the
Speaker of the House, authorized the transfer of $195.9 million from the emergency
response fund established by statute (115 Stat. 220) for recovery from, and response
to, the September 11 terrorist attacks, $25.5 million of which was allocated for the
establishment of OHS.31
Ridge launched OHS operations in early October with a dozen staff assistants.
By October 18, when he held his first press conference, he had added a couple of
individuals to his staff, and indicated that he talked at least once daily with the
President and did so, as well, with key Cabinet officials and the director of the
Federal Bureau of Investigation. He described himself, as a coordinator, as being like
an orchestra conductor.32 “The music doesn’t start playing,” he said, “until he taps
the baton.” When agencies respond to terrorist activity, “my role would be to
participate in that effort to make sure that the response — agency-wide, cross-
government-wide — is coordinated so that it is quick and is aggressive and is [as]
complete as possible. That’s my job,” he proffered. He also indicated that his role
was that of an overseer: “[I]f there is a gap, if there is something I think that needs
to be done differently, if there are additional preventive measures I think need to be
taken, if I think we have overlooked something, I make the call.” He added,
however, in response to a question, that he did not have tactical or operational
What President Bush asked me to do was [to] come to Washington to work to
create a comprehensive national plan, to deal with homeland security ... and to
do whatever I could in conjunction, in consultation — and yes, I have the
authority — I certainly have access. I have the President’s ear. But my job is
... The President has tasked me to take a look at the 46-plus agencies, to take a
look at everything that everybody considers to be homeland security, and over
the next several months [to] put together a comprehensive national strategy to
deal with this ... threat that perhaps we thought about, but really didn’t think too
long or hard about.
Concluding his remarks on his role, Ridge said: “I’m the one person in the
government that can stand back from the different agencies, stand back from their
missions, and stand back from their history and say, ‘Well, Mr. President, I would
recommend that we strengthen our national ability to respond to these threats with
this strategy.’ That I have been asked to do, and that’s what I’ll do.”
31The White House, letter to the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Oct. 5, 2001,
Washington, DC (copy in the possession of the author).
32Transcripts of the press briefings of OHS Director Tom Ridge are available at
[http://www.whitehouse.gov/homeland/archive.htm]; also see August Gribbin, “Ridge Sees
a Secure U.S. Homeland,” Washington Times, Oct. 19, 2001, pp. A1, A11.
Later, in his October 25 remarks to the U.S. Conference of Mayors Summit,
Ridge commented that he was “very open-minded to the notion that once I get done
doing my work and present a national strategy to the President, that the realignment
of some of those agencies [having something to do with homeland security] may be
an outcome. I can’t tell you which one[s],” he quickly added, “but my challenge is
to give the President a national strategy based on what I learned from you and
everybody else. And so, I may just do that.” Government organization for homeland
security arose again at Ridge’s November 27 press briefing, where he said that “one
of the challenges that the Office of Homeland Security has is to make sure that it
becomes a permanent part of how the federal government does business.” Regarding
the federal agencies having a role in maintaining homeland security, Ridge
commented that “we will have to take a look at whether or not we will enhance
security if we merge their functions.” In late December, aides to Ridge reportedly
produced a tempest within the Bush Administration when they unveiled a broad
proposal to create an agency that would consolidate border security management.
Opponents represented a wide range of agencies, including five Cabinet
Returning to the October 18 press briefing, Ridge, responding to a question
about his being included in the national security and intelligence briefings given daily
to the President and his aides, said: “I am cleared by the President to have as much
information as I want or need, which means that I have access to that kind of
information.” Asked if he would be “the spokesman — the main person who will
interface with the public” regarding administration efforts to effect homeland
security, Ridge said “yes,” and indicated that there were plans “to try to have more
regular briefings of this type.” Indeed, he subsequently held nine such briefings
during the year, in addition to some speeches he also offered during the period. This
activity prompted some to question whether he would be “an effective overseer or
At his October 19 press briefing, Ridge announced the creation of the Homeland
Security Support Team at FEMA to gather information concerning consequence
management for OHS and help state and local government officials with access to
such information. By the end of the month, the task force reportedly consisted of
eight staff members, with others to be added, drawn from several agencies.35
On occasion, Ridge directly intervened in homeland security administration. At
his October 19 press briefing, Ridge revealed that, at the request of New York
Governor George Pataki, he had obtained an extension of the stay of a Coast Guard
cutter protecting the greater New York harbor area. Ridge reportedly acted on behalf
of South Carolina Governor Jim Hodges to ensure that there would be no plutonium
deliveries to a Savannah River nuclear power plant until a security and storage
33See Alison Mitchell, “Official Urges Combining Several Agencies to Create One That
Protects Borders,” New York Times, Jan. 12, 2001, p. A8.
34See, for example, David Corn, “Ridge on the Ledge,” The Nation, vol. 273, Nov. 19, 2001,
pp. 19-20, 22.
35Bridgette Blair, “Task Force is Bridge to State, Local Governments,” Federal Times, Oct.
dispute was resolved. Similarly, he assisted Michigan Governor John Engler, who
was having difficulties in his efforts to keep National Guard troops on duty to help
customs agents clear the way for goods and workers to cross the bridges from
Canada. Ridge also shifted money in the budget to enable the Postal Service to
quickly purchase equipment to irradiate mail that might contain anthrax spores.36
The presidentially mandated Homeland Security Council held its initial meeting
on October 29. That same day, the President inaugurated the issuance of Homeland
Security Presidential Directives (HSPDs) “that shall record and communicate
presidential decisions about the homeland security policies of the United States.”
Additional details about the issuance of HSPDs were not immediately available, but
they are not published in the Federal Register. The initial directive concerned the
organization and operation of the Homeland Security Council; the second, also issued
on October 29, pertained to combating terrorism through immigration policies; the
third, issued March 11, 2002, established the Homeland Security Advisory System
of five graduated threat conditions to apprise the executive branch and the nation of
the risk of a terrorist attack.
Ridge also named six senior members of his OHS team on October 29. They
!Steve Abbot, a retired Navy admiral, former deputy commander in chief of the
United States European Command during the recent Kosovo conflict, and
executive director of a national preparedness review group for Vice President
Richard B. Cheney, to be the OHS deputy director;
!Mark A. Holman, an attorney, former administrative assistant and chief of
staff to then-Representative Ridge, and former chief of staff to then-Governor
Ridge, to be an assistant to the OHS deputy director;
!Becky Halkias, former deputy chief of staff for federal affairs in then-
Governor Ridge’s Washington office, to be the OHS liaison to Congress; she
subsequently left her OHS position in early April 2002;37
!Carl M. Buchholz, an attorney and former special assistant to the late Senator
John Heinz, to be the OHS executive secretary;
!Barbara Chaffee, a former senior assistant to then-Governor Ridge, to be the
OHS public liaison; and
!Susan Neely, a communications professional, former press secretary and
communications director for then-Governor Terry Branstad of Iowa, and
former senior vice president for communications of the Association of
36See Eric Planin and David S. Broder, “Ridge Defends His Role as ‘Coordinator,’”
Washington Post, Nov. 18, 2001, p. A5.
37John Bresnahan and Ben Pershing, “Ridge’s Hill Liaison Leaves,” Roll Call, Apr. 8, 2002,
pp. 1, 26.
American Medical Colleges, to be the OHS communications director and
senior media representative.38
By mid-December 2001, as the internal organization of OHS was taking shape,
plans called for a staff of 186 personnel, 170 of whom were anticipated to be
assigned temporarily from a range of agencies. OHS Deputy Director Abbot was
responsible for supervising two program clusters, one composed of directorates on
programs and budget as well as policy and plans and another including directorates
on research and development, protection and prevention, response and recovery, and
intelligence and detection. OHS Deputy Assistant Holman was heading a cluster
counting directorates on public liaison, intergovernmental affairs, and
communication. An administration and support directorate, as well as the OHS
coordination center, were supervised by OHS Executive Secretary Buchholz.39
Located in a former naval communications complex off Ward Circle in Washington,
DC, the OHS coordination center was unveiled in early May 2002 and was scheduled
to become operational within the next few weeks.40 Earlier, with E.O. 13260 of
March 19, 2002, President Bush established the President’s Homeland Security
Advisory Council with four Senior Advisory Committees to assist it, members being
drawn from state and local government, academia and the policy research
community, the private sector, and emergency services, law enforcement, and public
health organizations and hospitals.41
By late January 2002, Ridge was reportedly “facing resistance to some of his
ideas, forcing him to apply the brakes on key elements of his agenda and raising
question about how much he can accomplish.” OHS plans engendering opposition
from within the executive branch included those to streamline or consolidate
agencies responsible for border security; improving intelligence distribution to
federal, state, and local agencies; and alerting federal, state, and local officials of
terrorist threats using a system of graduated levels of danger. It was noted that, “even
though he works a few steps from the Oval Office, Ridge has been left out of
important intelligence discussions” concerning homeland security. For example, “he
is not included in a more expansive intelligence briefing provided daily to the
president, the vice president, the White House chief of staff and several others,” and
Ridge also acknowledged that he was unaware of the details of late November
meetings in Pakistan by the Director of Central Intelligence.42
38August Gribben, “Ridge Appoints Six Staffers to Homeland Security Team,” Washington
Times, Oct. 30, 2001, p. A4.
39Bridgette Blair and Gail Kaufman, “Homeland Director Turns to Trusted Advisers,”
Federal Times, Dec. 10, 2001, p. 4.
40Joseph Curl, “High-tech U.S. Security Center to Open, “ Washington Times, May 9, 2002,
p. A10; David E. Sanger, “Ridge Guides Tour of New Situation Room to Coordinate Action
in Crises,” New York Times, May 9, 2002, p. A22.
41See Federal Register, vol. 67, Mar. 21, 2002, pp. 13241-13242.
42Eric Pianin and Bill Miller, “For Ridge, Ambition and Realities Clash,” Washington Post,
Jan. 23, 2002, pp. A1, A10.
At about this same time, Ridge began to become embroiled in controversy over
his refusal to testify before congressional committees. Among the first to request his
appearance were Senator Robert C. Byrd and Senator Ted Stevens, respectively, the
chairman and ranking minority member of the Committee on Appropriations. Ridge
turned down their initial, informal invitation and later formal requests of March 15
and April 4.43 When Ridge declined the request of Representative Ernest Istook, Jr.,
chairman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Treasury, Postal Service,
and General Government, appropriations for the Executive Office of the President
were threatened, prompting Ridge to offer to meet with Istook and other
subcommittee members in an informal session.44 Thereafter, Ridge arranged other
informal briefings with members of the House Committee on Government Reform
and a group of Senators, and agreed to a similar such session with members of the
House Committee on Energy and Commerce. These informal meetings did not
appear to abate the controversy that Ridge’s refusals to testify had generated.45
Assessing the situation in early May, a New York Times news analysis proffered
that, “instead of becoming the preeminent leader of domestic security, Tom Ridge
has become a White House adviser with a shrinking mandate, forbidden by the
president to testify before Congress to explain his strategy, overruled in White House
councils and overshadowed by powerful cabinet members reluctant to cede their turf
or their share of the limelight.” In support of this view, the analysis noted that the
Pentagon did not consult with Ridge when suspending air patrols over New York
City — a special assistant to the Secretary of Defense explained this action by saying,
“We don’t tell the Office of Homeland Security about recommendations, only about
decisions” — and the Attorney General unilaterally announced a possible terrorist
threat against banks last month.46 Asked about this assessment by Jim Lehrer on the
PBS Newshour, Ridge called it “false” and said, “I just don’t think they have spent
enough time with me on a day-to-day basis.”47 Shortly thereafter, a New York Times
43Dave Boyer, “Ridge Reluctant to Testify in Senate,” Washington Times, Feb. 27, 2002, p.
A4; Alison Mitchell, “Congressional Hearings: Letter to Ridge Is Latest Jab in Fight Over
Balance of Powers,” New York Times, Mar. 5, 2002, p. A8; Mark Preston, “Byrd Hold
Firm,” Roll Call, Apr. 18, 2002, pp. 1, 26.
44George Archibald, “Panel Ties Funding to Ridge Testimony,” Washington Times, Mar.
Washington Times, Mar. 23, 2002, pp. A1, A4.
45Bill Miller, “Ridge Will Meet Informally With 2 House Committees,” Washington Post,
Apr. 4, 2002, p. A15; George Archibald, “Ridge Attends Private Meeting on Hill,”
Washington Times, Apr. 11, 2002, p. A4; Elizabeth Becker, “Ridge Briefs House Panel, But
Discord Is Not Resolved,” New York Times, Apr. 11, 2002, p. A17; Bill Miller, “From Bush
Officials, a Hill Overture and a Snub,” Washington Post, Apr. 11, 2002, p. A27; Amy Fagan,
“Democrats Irked By Ridge’s Closed House Panel Meeting,” Washington Times, Apr. 12,
Washington Post, May 3, 2002, p. A25.
46Elizabeth Becker, “Big Visions for Security Post Shrink Amid Political Drama,” New York
Times, May 3, 2002, pp. A1, A16.
47NewsHour Focus, Newsmaker: Tom Ridge, May 9, 2002, transcript available at NewsHour
editorial observed that one of the reasons Ridge “lost these turf battles is that he
failed to build a constituency for change in Congress. His refusal to testify before
Congressional committees has not helped.”48 Others — Senator Bob Graham and
Brookings scholar Paul Light, former Lieutenant General Edward L. Rowney, and
former White House Chief of Staff Leon Panetta — have contended that Ridge needs
“tools” or direct authority to do his job effectively.49
Ridge’s problems had not escaped White House attention. In his April 11, 2002,
testimony before the Senate Committee on Governmental Affairs concerning Senator
Joseph Lieberman’s proposal for a homeland security department, Mitchell E.
Daniels, Jr., the director of the Office of Management and Budget, indicated that the
President might eventually decide to create the department as envisaged in the
Lieberman bill. In addition, Daniels said he would consider creating a working group
with Senator Lieberman to discuss the legislation.50 Subsequently, Daniels, Ridge,
White House Chief of Staff Andrew H. Card, Jr., and White House counsel Alberto
R. Gonzales would constitute the principal members of a secret group that would
begin drafting the President’s departmental plan on April 23. This proposal was
unveiled on June 6. The President’s surprise announcement was viewed not only as
an attempt to regain the initiative in the nation’s efforts at combating terrorism, but
also to move beyond the coordination efforts of the Office of Homeland Security to
a strong administrative structure for managing consolidated programs concerned with
border security and effective response to domestic terrorism incidents.
As Congress began considering legislation to establish a Department of
Homeland Security in early July, Ridge began appearing before various congressional
committees to explain and garner support for the President’s proposal. On July 16,
the President released the National Strategy for Homeland Security, which Ridge and
his OHS staff had developed. An important contribution made by the strategy is a
definition of homeland security, which had potential for guiding the program
composition of the new department.51 However, in the end, the Homeland Security
Act establishing the Department of Homeland Security did not include a definition
of homeland security.
When signing the Homeland Security Act into law on November 25, 2002,
President Bush said he intended to nominate Tom Ridge to be the first Secretary of
Homeland Security. The Senate confirmed Ridge in this new role on January 24, the
day the Homeland Security Act took effect. His deputy, Steve Abbot, assumed
48Editorial, “Faltering on the Home Front,” New York Times, May 12, 2002, p. 14.
49See Bob Graham and Paul Light, “Tools for the Homeland Security Chief,” Washington
Post, Nov. 22, 2001, p. A47; Edward L. Rowny, “Tom Ridge Needs Tools to Win,”
Washington Times, Nov. 19, 2001, p. A17; Leon Panetta, “Homeland Security Chief Needs
Direct Authority,” Federal Times, Apr. 29, 2002, p. 15.
50Elizabeth Becker, “Domestic Security: Bush is Said to Consider a New Security
Department,” New York Times, Apr. 12, 2002, p. A15.
51See U.S. Office of Homeland Security, National Strategy for Homeland Security
(Washington: July 2002), p. 2.
direction of OHS. On April 29, the White House announced that President Bush was
appointing retired general John A. Gordon — who has held high-level intelligence,
energy security, and counterterrorism positions — to be Assistant to the President
and Homeland Security Advisor, which will bring him to the directorship of OHS.
However, some of the functions of OHS — incident management, budget review,
alert advisory determinations, and various coordination efforts — were, or soon
would be, performed by the new department. The director of OHS was not a
statutory member of the new Homeland Security Council mandated by the Homeland
Security Act. About the only major responsibility left for OHS is maintaining the
National Strategy for Homeland Security. In view of the uncertain relationship
between the National Strategy and the homeland security funding analysis to be
prepared by the Secretary of Homeland Security, this responsibility also may come
to be vested in the Secretary.
In late July, further doubt was cast on the future of OHS when House
appropriators, in their report on the Departments of Transportation and Treasury and
Independent Agencies Appropriations Bill, 2004 (H.R. 2989), revealed that the Bush
Administration had changed the “Office of Homeland Security” account to one for
the “Homeland Security Council.” The report also questioned the role of OHS,
saying “it is not clear what work remains that cannot be effectively performed by the
Department of Homeland Security.” The account change apparently also implied the
shift of 66 staff from OHS to the council, which the report questioned “given the
existence and support of the Department of Homeland Security.” The committee cut
the President’s request of $8.3 million for the council to $4.1 million.52 Senate
appropriators, in their report, recommended the $8.3 million sought by the President,
but did not provide these funds for the council as an entity within the White House
Office, saying “the Homeland Security Council should be funded as a separate
account, which is consistent with the budgetary treatment of its predecessor, the
Office of Homeland Security.”53 Conferees on the Consolidated Appropriations Act,
2004 (H.R. 2673), which included funding for agencies of the Executive Office of
the President, made no recommendation of funds for OHS, but did propose $7.2
million for the Homeland Security Council in the White House Office account.54 The
House agreed to the conference report on December 8 and adjourned sine die; the
Senate completed action on the legislation on January 23, and the President signed
the measure the following day (P.L. 108-199). The President’s FY2005 budget made
no mention of OHS, which, while not formally abolished, has become dormant, like
the Council of National Defense of the World War I era and the Office for
Emergency Management of the World War II period.
52 U.S. Congress, House Committee on Appropriations, Departments of Transportation and
Treasury and Independent Agencies Appropriations Bill, 2004, a report to accompany H.R.thst
53 U.S. Congress, Senate Committee on Appropriations, Transportation, Treasury and
General Government Appropriations Bill, 2004, a report to accompany S. 1589, 108th Cong.,st
54 See the conference committee report as it appears in Congressional Record, daily edition,
vol. 149, Nov. 25, 2003, p. H12409.