Presidency: Why Tom Ridge's Office Was Slated for Failure

Mr. Wolfe is currently a Ph.D candidate at Oklahoma State University, Stillwater, Oklahoma. He was a practicing Lawyer for 34 years.

Congress is now considering President George W. Bush’s proposal to establish a Department of Homeland Security that would consolidate the homeland security functions of nearly 100 federal departments and agencies. It would have approximately 170,000 employees, making it the third largest federal agency with a budget of approximately $37 billion. 1Bush, in his nationwide address on June 6, 2002, characterized this as “the most extensive reorganization of the federal government since the 1940s,” referring to President Harry S. Truman’s reorganization of national security in 1947. 2A more appropriate example from the Truman Administration, the Psychological Strategy Board (PSB), illustrates the reasons that this proposal must be enacted into law.3

On October 8, 2001, in the wake of the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, Bush, by Executive Order, 4established the Office of Homeland Security and appointed Pennsylvania Governor Tom Ridge as Assistant to the President for Homeland Security. 5The purpose of this Office “shall be to develop and coordinate the implementation of a comprehensive national strategy to secure the United States from terrorist threats or attacks.” The specific functions of the Office are to coordinate several executive branch efforts.6

Personnel and funding for the Office is provided by the Executive Office of the President and by the agencies whose efforts are to be coordinated. 7The Office is not a cabinet-level agency, does not have its own budget, is not subject to Congressional oversight, 8and, most important, there are no teeth built into the structure permitting the Assistant to the President for Homeland Security to compel cooperation of other agencies in the coordination efforts. The Homeland Security Council is composed of very senior Executive Branch officials who all have full-time jobs elsewhere.9

This scenario is reminiscent of Truman’s directive of April 4, 1951, establishing the Psychological Strategy Board to promulgate “overall national psychological objectives, policies and programs, and for the coordination and evaluation of the national psychological effort.” 10Truman’s purpose was to end the interagency infighting and debate between the Department of State, Department of Defense, and the Central Intelligence Agency over control of psychological warfare coordination and planning that was crippling the ability of the United States to compete with the Soviet Union for the minds of men in the Cold War.

Truman appointed Gordon Gray as PSB’s first Director although Gray had a full-time job (which he kept) as President of the University of North Carolina. 11The Board itself consisted of the Director of Central Intelligence, the Under Secretary of State, and the Under Secretary of Defense, senior officers of the three departments whose quarreling had necessitated the Board in the first place. PSB’s Director was not a cabinet-level position, its funding and personnel came from the very agencies it was supposed to coordinate, there was no congressional oversight, and, most important, Gray and his successors had no authority to compel cooperation between the discrete agencies whose work was to be coordinated. Does this sound familiar?

Truman’s effort to coordinate psychological warfare failed for precisely the same reasons that the Office of Homeland Security, if left in its present state, will fail. In fact, Ridge’s problems are much greater than those faced by Gray and his successors because of the overwhelming number of federal, state, and local entities with which he must deal in his coordination efforts. The entities that Gray dealt with could be counted on the fingers of both hands. Ridge must deal with thousands of entities to fulfill his mandate.

The turf wars over psychological warfare in the early Cold War period pale by comparison to the potential for turf wars, bureaucratic foot dragging, and outright refusal to cooperate in the coordination efforts of Homeland Security. Permanent employees of agencies who are temporarily assigned to an ad hoc agency (whether PSB or Homeland Security) owe their principal loyalty to the agency that permanently employs them. In the event of conflict between the ad hoc agency and the permanent agency, the employee’s decision would logically come down on the side of the permanent agency.

Bush’s proposal for a Department of Homeland Security raises interesting questions that must be answered by Congress and the President. Will the secretary have authority to compel coordination of duplicitous and frequently overlapping functions of the federal government? Can the turf war between consolidated departments and agencies be eliminated? In the event of failure, which was the PSB experience, will Bush be willing to expend the political capital necessary to remove department heads and senior officials in order to accomplish the necessary cooperation? Since the president only appoints about 3,000 of the 2.8 million executive branch employees, the remainder being protected civil service employees who are notoriously difficult to remove expeditiously from their positions or to punish, 12will Bush or Ridge be able to overcome the foot dragging that accompanies any order that the bureaucrats do not want to enforce? Will congress be able to resist the temptation to encumber this legislation with so much pork that it collapses under its own weight? Can homeland security be effective and simultaneously provide United States citizens with the protection of their constitutional rights? Will intelligence-gathering agencies turn over to the department sufficient intelligence to permit the analysis of risk to the United States from, among others, foreign terrorists?

These questions and others must be answered. Assuming that the problems can be worked out and the politicians and bureaucrats place the interests of the nation above the protection of their own turf, then real progress may be made in preventing another September 11th and in strengthening and protecting our people and our infrastructure. No higher priority exists on the domestic front today.


1. “Press Briefing by a Senior Administration Official [Tom Ridge] on President’s Announcement on Homeland Security,” June 6, 2002. click here

2. President George W. Bush, “Speech Proposing Department of Homeland Security, June 6, 2002. click here

3. Earl William Wolfe, “The Psychological Strategy Board: An Effort by the Truman Administration to Provide Coordination to Psychological Warfare Operations in the Early Cold War Period, 1951-1953,” Master’s Thesis, University of Tulsa, 2000.

4. George W. Bush. “Executive Order Establishing the Office of Homeland Security and the Homeland Security Council.” October 8, 2001. click here

5. Ibid., §2.

6. Ibid., §3

7. Ibid., §4 (b) and (c). Detailing of employees of an agency to the Office of Homeland Security would presumably be a temporary assignment.

8. President Bush refused to permit Governor Ridge’s testimony before Congress prior to the June 8, 2002 proposal for the Department of Homeland Security although he was permitted to meet informally with members of Congress for the purpose of briefing them.

9. Ibid., §5 (b).

10. Harry Truman to The Secretary of State, The Secretary of Defense and the Director of Central Intelligence, April 4, 1951; WHCF: CF; Psychological Strategy Board, Correspondence, 1951-52; Truman Papers, Truman Library.

11. Gray was former Assistant Secretary of the Army and former Special Assistant to the President in the Truman Administration and went on to serve the Eisenhower Administration in three different executive branch positions.

12. Thomas R. Dye. Politics in America, Third Edition. Upper Saddle River: Prentice Hall, 1999, p. 398.

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