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.
Bush chose Kerik 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.
Secretary of Health and Human Services Tommy Thompson waves farewell after announcing his resignation at HHS headquarters in Washington.
(Gerald Herbert - AP)
Video: Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson resigned Friday, warning of a potential global outbreak of the flu and health-related terror attacks. "For the life of me, I cannot understand why the terrorists have not attacked our food supply because it is so easy to do," he said.
_____Bush Nominates Kerik_____
Video: Kerik accepts President Bush's nomination for secretary of homeland security.
Transcript: Bush and Kerik
MSNBC Video: The Post's Dana Milbank talks about the Kerik's nomination and Bush's recent trip to Canada.
_____Bush Nominates Johanns_____
Video: President Bush nominated Nebraska Governor Mike Johanns to succeed Ann M. Veneman as agriculture secretary.
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."
Kerik started with the NYPD as a beat cop in Times Square and was one of Giuliani's bodyguards during the 1993 campaign. Kerik wrote a best-selling autobiography, "The Lost Son: A Life in the Pursuit of Justice," covering the mystery of his mother, who abandoned her young son.
Administration officials had said that Kerik was on Bush's short list to replace Ridge, but the president's choice for agriculture secretary was a surprise. Johanns was the Republican front-runner to take on Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.), a freshman who is up for reelection in 2006 and is considered vulnerable by the GOP.
Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) had energetically promoted Johanns for Senate. Nebraska's lieutenant governor, Dave Heineman (R), is to serve the remaining two years of Johanns's term.
Staff writer Jim VandeHei contributed to this report.