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Ridge faces challenges as homeland security chief

"The task is enormous," Tom Ridge says of his newly created position.  


WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Tom Ridge is no stranger to challenges. And Monday, he takes on what could be the biggest one of his career: coordinating U.S. defense against terrorism.

Ridge -- a former Marine, decorated Vietnam veteran, former congressman and two-term governor of Pennsylvania -- will be sworn in as director of homeland security, a newly created, Cabinet-level position.

Ridge's task is two-pronged: to strengthen the country's defenses against terrorism and to develop more detailed plans for responding when there are terrorist attacks. The job will require him to marshal the resources of more than 40 federal departments and agencies that play a part in counter-terrorism efforts.

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"I am saddened that this job is even necessary," Ridge said. "But it is necessary. So I will give it everything I have. The task is enormous."

President Bush still must issue an executive order outlining exactly what Ridge's responsibilities will be. Congressional sources said Ridge will have input on budgetary matters and federal agencies will be directed to cooperate with him.

"It's a coordinating post, a policy post," said White House press secretary Ari Fleischer. "But clearly various agencies continue to have their vital functions, which are much more operational and mission-oriented."

Ridge will have to coordinate information that is now dispersed among agencies as diverse as the CIA, Federal Emergency Management Agency, and the departments of Justice, Defense and Energy.

Even the National Fish and Wildlife Service will fall under his jurisdiction; it has a law enforcement component and manages millions of acres of land.

Ridge has a close working relationship with Bush, something that may serve him well in his new role.

"He's got something that (agency heads) don't have, and that is immediate access to the president if the president wants to get this job done," said U.S. Rep. Porter Goss, R-Florida. "And believe me, the presidential cache will go a long way on this one."

Ridge will take the oath of office from Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. Vice President Dick Cheney had been scheduled to deliver the oath, but administration sources told CNN he is staying at a secure location away from the White House as a security precaution.





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