Tom Ridge, named the US' first homeland security secretary after the Sept. 11 attacks, announced he is resigning after three years of reworking US security and presiding over color-coded terror alerts. He's the seventh Bush Cabinet official leaving so far.
Ridge presided over the most significant government reorganization in 50 years. He'll be remembered for his terror alerts and tutorials about how to prepare for possible attacks, including the controversial "disaster kits" that caused last year's run on duct tape and plastic sheeting.
Amid warnings that the country may face increased terror risks around the holidays and the Jan. 20 presidential inauguration, Ridge said on Tuesday he would remain on the job through Feb. 1, unless his replacement is installed sooner.
Ridge acknowledged he could not prove the costly and complex security measures that have been put in place have foiled any terrorist attacks inside the US, but he said the country is safer today than before the suicide hijackings on Sept. 11, 2001, killed nearly 3,000 people in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania.
"I am confident that the terrorists are aware that from the curb to the cockpit we've got additional security measures that didn't exist a couple years ago," Ridge told reporters at the department's Washington campus, which he helped create.
"His efforts have resulted in safer skies, increased border and port security and enhanced measures to safeguard our critical infrastructure and the American public," President George W. Bush said in a prepared statement on Tuesday evening.
Ridge sent his letter of resignation to Bush at midday Tuesday, after attending a morning White House threat briefing with CIA and FBI officials. Ridge, a former governor of Pennsylvania, thanked Bush for giving him the opportunity to fight back against terrorists, as did the passengers on Flight 93, who forced their hijacked plane down in a Pennsylvania field.
"There will always be more to do, but today, America is significantly stronger and safer than ever before," Ridge wrote Bush.
Ridge is the seventh of Bush's 15-member Cabinet to announce they won't be part of the second term. More are expected, and officials say Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson appears to be next.
The turnover in the Bush Cabinet is typical of second-term presidencies. Presidents Bill Clinton and Ronald Reagan had seven Cabinet seats change hands after they won new terms, Richard Nixon nine and Harry Truman and Lyndon Johnson four each.
Among those mentioned as possible candidates to replace Ridge are Bernard Kerik, the former New York City police commissioner who helped rebuild Iraq's police force; former Federal Emergency Management Agency director Joe Allbaugh; Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Mike Leavitt and White House homeland security adviser Fran Townsend.