Beyond the Ridge

Thomas R. Temin

This month I took one of those crowded, routine flights from Washington to Florida on one of the bankrupt carriers. At the airport, the security checkpoint people were mechanically polite at best, frowning and surly at worst. A far cry, I thought, from the early Transportation Security Administration days when the attitude was, 'Hey, we're all in this together.'

In a way, the general tiredness of the airline security apparatus is a metaphor for the Homeland Security Department itself. As its initial secretary, Tom Ridge, departs, a mixture of pride in progress and weariness at the complexity and endlessness of the DHS mission seems to pervade the place.

Ridge was given a nearly impossible job, and he did about as well as anyone could have.

Because of the volume of unfinished work at DHS, Ridge's successor needs to be a tough administrator, not a dreamy visionary'a bit of a kick-butt-and-take-names type who can recognize what's important and focus on that. Early indications are that Bernard Kerik, the former New York City police commissioner and one-time street cop, fits the bill.

When it comes to systems, DHS faces challenges in both business and tactical systems. On the business side, it is still not a unified agency. Yet as it tackles the melding of administrative systems it is also subject to the White House's directive to consolidate line-of-business applications across the whole federal government. This will be new territory for Kerik.

On the tactical side, DHS must fulfill strategies on everything ranging from case management to a pervasive and secure information network. Earlier this fall, CIO Steve Cooper outlined a new departmental strategy of tying acquisition to cross-agency domains rather than to the 22 legacy agencies bundled to form the department, but this is in its infancy.

Kerik must be a combination bandleader, drill sergeant and football coach; tough on the bureaucracy while shepherding it through the department's many critics. But above all, Kerik must choose the most important goals and focus relentlessly on them. At most, as the nation's next DHS czar, he'll have three budget cycles to get them done.

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