Ridge leaves mixed legacy

The first head of the Department of Homeland Security forges a single organization, but spearheaded some questionable initiatives.

When Tom Ridge, the first Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, announced he would be leaving the post as soon as February, it was inevitable that the grading would begin. Giving pundits an even greater incentive is his claims to be leaving a safer nation behind.

Ridge has created a single organization out of 22 disparate agencies, kicked off the US-VISIT program to log visitors to the United States, tightened the borders using various technologies and created incident response centers for major infrastructures.

From a technology standpoint, the greater failure of Ridge's stewardship is his failure to fix the agency's oversight of Internet security. Part of the problem: Not giving his top cybersecurity adviser enough authority to make changes. Moreover, the Bush Administration's National Plan to Secure Cyberspace failed to garner enough momentum within the DHS to create real change. And while private industry has continued to offer advice to industry and government through the National Cyber security Partnership, the situation is frustrating enough to have left a trail of resignations, including that of the director of the cybersecurity branch of the DHS, Amit Yoran.

However, until the DHS is required to react to a true threat or attack, it will be hard to judge the legacy that Ridge has left behind. Even then, Ridge will likely be best remembered for the much-criticized color-coded alert system, which he leaves as it first began: at yellow.

 

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