Government's Hobbled Giant
But Ridge, widely liked and respected for his hard work, is not detail-oriented and has delegated most tasks to his chief of staff, Bruce M. Lawlor, administration officials said.
Lawlor is expected to take a lower-level job at Homeland Security after just eight months on the job, department officials said. Deputy Secretary Gordon R. England is stepping down to return to a previous post, secretary of the Navy.
Johndroe said Ridge, England and Lawlor all declined to be interviewed.
Soon after it was launched, Lawlor quickly cut England out of a number of important decisions, and England is widely seen as inattentive in many settings, their colleagues said.
In February, England told a congressional hearing that Homeland Security officials had abandoned plans to analyze intelligence on terrorism, though that was a key reason for the department's creation. Asked whether he was familiar with a provision in the recently approved Homeland Security law setting intelligence as a core mission, England said he was not. Hours later, a furious Ridge sent letters to Congress correcting England's misstatement.
Lawlor, an Army major general known for decisiveness during crises, alienated many people in the White House and in the department with a brusque and secretive manner, White House and Homeland Security officials said.
While a chief of staff's job includes giving the secretary advice that keeps him out of trouble, Lawlor has at times helped lead Ridge in the wrong direction, their associates said. Lawlor was involved in perhaps the most bitter dispute in the department's short history, officials said.
Deadline Too Ambitious
In May, Ridge signed an agreement with Attorney General John D. Ashcroft that had been vetted by Lawlor's aides. It established the Justice Department -- not Homeland Security -- as the lead agency investigating the financing of terrorism. But the memo's wording suggested that the Secret Service, which is part of the new department, would be required to halt hundreds of probes and forgo its tradition of financial investigations. Ridge apologized to enraged Secret Service officials, and the rift took months to heal, officials said.
Underlying problems at the department began a year before that. For months after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, the White House opposed creation of a homeland security department, but in June 2002, with Congress on the verge of establishing the department anyway, Bush reversed himself.
Top Bush aides were never enthusiastic about the plan, however. To save money, and in keeping with Republican opposition to big government, the White House ordered that the new department's top ranks be extremely lean, people involved in the department's planning said.
Once Congress passed the law establishing the new department last November, Bush set an ambitious four-month deadline to open its doors -- too ambitious, officials said. The planning process -- overseen by then White House personnel chief Clay S. Johnson III, with only limited involvement by then presidential homeland security adviser Ridge -- was done quickly and haphazardly, White House and department officials said. Phone lines and desks for the new offices were not lined up until just days before the launch, they said.
Plans for locating department headquarters fell to a junior White House aide, and only days before a skeleton staff went to work on Jan. 24, Ridge learned that the site selected was in Chantilly, Va., an hour's drive from Capitol Hill. Ridge rejected that choice, and officials scrambled to line up the crowded office space at a Navy facility in Washington.
On opening day, the result was an understaffed, undercapitalized organization.
The understaffing results from several factors, not the least being that many potential recruits for top jobs decline because they consider Homeland Security a government backwater, administration officials said. Another reason is that many fewer federal employees than were publicly reported actually transferred there from the agencies that were combined to form Homeland Security.
© 2003 The Washington Post Company
In February, at dedication of the new Department of Homeland Security -- 22 agencies and 170,000 employees -- Secretary Tom Ridge, left, is greeted by President Bush as employees in the audience watch.
(Frank Johnston -- The Washington Post)