President Bush has chosen Bernard B. Kerik, the New York police commissioner during the attacks on the World Trade Center, to take over the Department of Homeland Security from its first leader, Tom Ridge, administration officials said yesterday.
White House officials described Kerik, who campaigned aggressively for Bush's reelection, as a proven crisis manager who can straighten out the lines of authority in the infant department and work to prevent a catastrophic attack or cope with its aftermath. Other Republicans said Kerik would provide a telegenic presence, and one presidential adviser pointed out that Kerik "brings 9/11 symbolism into the Cabinet."
Ex-New York police commissioner Bernard B. Kerik joined President Bush at an October stump stop.
(Larry Downing -- Reuters)
_____Bush Nominates Johanns_____
Video: President Bush nominated Nebraska Governor Mike Johanns to succeed Ann M. Veneman as agriculture secretary.
Kerik will appear with Bush at the White House today, a senior administration official said. Some Bush officials said they were concerned about his lack of Washington experience, because commanding respect within the Cabinet and with Congress remains a challenge for the agency.
Bush also surprised Republicans yesterday by naming Nebraska Gov. Michael O. Johanns, 54, a dairy farmer's son who was the party's leading candidate in an upcoming U.S. Senate race, as secretary of agriculture. If confirmed, he will succeed Ann M. Veneman, an original member of Bush's Cabinet who said two years ago that she is fighting breast cancer.
In a third change as Bush reshapes his government for a second term, U.N. Ambassador John C. Danforth, 68, a former U.S. senator from Missouri, submitted his resignation after five months on the job.
Officials said Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy G. Thompson will announce his resignation soon and is likely to be replaced by Mark B. McClellan, a physician and economist who is administrator of the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services
Bush chose Kerik, 49, after the commissioner's former boss, former New York mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani, "made an impassioned personal plea to the president to give Kerik the job," one administration official said. White House officials said several people recommended Kerik and he was chosen on merit, not because of Giuliani.
The department that Kerik inherits from Ridge faces challenges on nearly every one of its high-priority fronts. The department, a collection of 22 preexisting agencies and offices, is under criticism for what some say is a failure to address many security gaps, such as protecting U.S. ports and chemical plants, securing the United States' borders with Mexico and Canada, and helping the country's first responders to prepare for attacks.
A number of panels of experts have concluded that the department is severely underfinanced and understaffed in many of its key functions. In particular, Homeland Security has almost no high-level staff members who are assigned to develop strategies about key policy problems.
At the New York City Police Department, Kerik is credited with improving relations with the city's minority communities after years of friction. He also was in charge during a period of declining crime rates in the city, although some experts say that was less a result of Kerik's policies than of demographic factors.
Kerik resigned as commissioner two months after the Sept. 11 attacks, citing a desire to spend time with his family. After the invasion of Iraq, he took the job of directing the training of Iraqi law enforcement officials, an effort that has met with mixed success. Many of the trainees have fled at the first sign of danger, but Kerik's defenders say he can hardly be blamed for that.
A high-ranking business executive who is familiar with Kerik's tenure as police commissioner and as head trainer of Iraqi police recruits expressed shock at his selection, and said Kerik is not an accomplished manager. "Management just simply isn't his strong suit," the executive said.
A number of New York elected officials praised the selection. "Coming from New York, Bernie Kerik knows the great needs and challenges this country faces in homeland security," Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) said in a statement.
Bush said during an October campaign appearance with Kerik in New Jersey that the former commissioner "knows something about security -- he's lived security all his life."