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Ridge sworn in as homeland security chief

President Bush and Tom Ridge at Monday's swearing-in ceremony at the White House
President Bush and Tom Ridge at Monday's swearing-in ceremony at the White House  

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Former Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge was sworn in Monday as director of homeland security, taking over a new Cabinet-level position charged with coordinating U.S. efforts to defend against and respond to terrorism.

"I'm honored to join the extraordinary team you've assembled to lead America," Ridge said with President Bush at his side. "The size and scope of this challenge are immense ... an extraordinary mission. But we will carry it out."

Ridge -- a decorated Vietnam veteran, former congressman and two-term governor of Pennsylvania -- took the oath of office from Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas at the White House.

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Vice President Dick Cheney, who originally was scheduled to deliver the oath, remained at a location away from the White House as a security precaution after Sunday's U.S. and British strikes against Afghanistan.

Earlier Monday, Bush signed an executive order creating the new position.

"Together we will confront the threat of terrorism," Bush said. "We will take strong precautions aimed at preventing terrorist attacks and prepare to respond effectively if they might come again."

Bush said Ridge's job would be to take the strongest possible precautions against terrorism; strengthen and help protect the nation's transportation, food and water systems and critical infrastructure; coordinate federal assistance with state and local efforts; and work with the newly created Homeland Security Council, chaired by Bush and made up of his Cabinet and other top officials.

The job will require Ridge to marshal the resources of more than 40 federal departments and agencies that play a part in counter-terrorism efforts.

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 U.S. 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."


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