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Tom Ridge’s resignation as the secretary of Homeland Security marks a new chance for the administration to make real steps forward in securing America. While Ridge faced a monumental task, the record demonstrates that he fell woefully short as a manager and failed to set priorities for programs that could best protect American families and communities. He spent more time issuing orange alerts than in tackling real threats with concrete action.

  • The administration has failed in its efforts to establish effective border security and terrorist watch lists while setting up new barriers to legitimate visitors and immigrants.
  • Bureaucratic obstacles, personnel shortages and sweeps by the Justice Department have weakened progress on domestic intelligence and counterterrorism.
  • Federal grants are not geared to what states and communities need most – keeping police on our streets and firefighters and emergency personnel and facilities equipped and ready.
  • Intelligence and money flows too slowly to areas where threats are most significant; the color-coded alert system has become dysfunctional; and federal, state and local authorities say they are handicapped in identifying risks and responding to increased threat levels.

There are clear, common sense steps that the next secretary must take. The Department of Homeland Security, for example, must place a higher priority on port security and require the U.S. chemical industry to strengthen security. The president would be wise to appoint a secretary who will not be afraid to fight for more funding in these areas, and who will be able to work effectively with state and local governments to ensure the best use of resources.

Robert O. Boorstin is the senior vice president for national security at the Center for American Progress.

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