Sunday, December 05, 2004

NYT: Kerik's Task Seen As Daunting

Big Changes Seen in Choice for Homeland Security
By ERIC LICHTBLAU and RICHARD W. STEVENSON

WASHINGTON, Dec. 3 - Administration and Congressional officials said Friday that President Bush's selection of Bernard B. Kerik as the new secretary of homeland security signaled potentially sweeping changes at a sprawling department still struggling to find its place as the country's first line of defense against terrorism.

Mr. Bush, in formally announcing Mr. Kerik's selection at a White House ceremony, described him as "a dedicated, innovative reformer who insists on getting results."

A Washington outsider, Mr. Kerik brings to the job a reputation from his days as New York police commissioner as a tough-talking, sometimes brash manager unafraid to trample on convention and ruffle feathers in shaking up an organization.

As a result, his selection to replace Tom Ridge brought a mixture of enthusiasm and some trepidation from officials at the Department of Homeland Security and elsewhere in the federal government.

Few expect Mr. Kerik's arrival at homeland security to produce the kind of upheaval seen in recent weeks at the C.I.A., where Porter J. Goss's two months as director have led to internal dissension and resignations. But Mr. Kerik's selection caused no shortage of nervousness at the Department of Homeland Security, a department created last year out of 22 separate agencies in what amounted to the biggest government reorganization in a half-century.

"People here are waiting to find out who this guy is and what changes he'll bring," said a senior department official who spoke on condition of anonymity. "He's really an unknown factor here in Washington."

Another senior official said that compared with Mr. Ridge, known for a staid, deliberate demeanor, "there's obviously going to be a different management style - different backgrounds, different approaches - and the jury's out on what it will all mean."

Mr. Kerik has proved himself a Republican loyalist and he earned the secretary's job in part through the staunch support of his old boss, former Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani, now his partner in a consulting firm. The White House gave Mr. Kerik a speaking role at last summer's Republican convention, and he angered Democrats by saying in one interview before the election that he feared another terrorist attack and that "if you put Senator Kerry in the White House, I think you are going to see that happen."

In announcing the nomination, Mr. Bush presented Mr. Kerik as almost the embodiment of the country's response to the Sept. 11 attacks.

"Bernie Kerik arrived at the World Trade Center minutes after the first plane hit," Mr. Bush said. "He was there when the twin towers collapsed. He knew the faces of the rescuers who rushed toward danger. He attended the funeral of the officers who didn't come back. Bernie Kerik understands the duties that came to America on September the 11th."

Mr. Kerik, whose wife, Hala, and four children attended the ceremony, said he would "devote every power" to keeping Americans safe from attack. "On Sept. 11, 2001, I witnessed firsthand the very worst of humanity, and its very best," Mr. Kerik said. He pledged to Mr. Bush, "both the memory of those courageous souls and the horrors I saw inflicted upon our proud nation will serve as permanent reminders of the awesome responsibility you place in my charge."

Mr. Kerik is expected to win relatively easy confirmation in the Senate, where Republicans hold a majority, although he may face questions from Democrats about possible conflicts involving the Giuliani firm's security contracts, Congressional officials said.

Representative Christopher Cox, a California Republican who leads the House Homeland Security Committee and spoke with Mr. Kerik on Friday, said one of his biggest challenges will be to strengthen the department's ability to gather intelligence on terrorists and deliver quick analysis to federal and local officials.

The department was designed as "the fusion center" for intelligence operations, Mr. Cox said in an interview, but its intelligence operation has been undercut at times by tensions with other intelligence-gathering agencies.

With the expansion of intelligence operations outside the department, "the question arises of what is the real role of the Department of Homeland Security, and will the department's concerns be shortchanged?" Mr. Cox said. Unless Mr. Kerik can resolve those questions, he said, "he will be cast adrift."

Asa Hutchinson, an under secretary of homeland security who was himself a leading candidate for the job, said that he assured aides Friday that Mr. Kerik was a strong supporter of the department.

"I've seen him defend the strategies of the department, and I think that's reassuring to the people that work here," said Mr. Hutchinson. Associates of Mr. Hutchinson said they expected him to leave the agency and run for governor of Arkansas.

The departure of Mr. Hutchinson, who oversees 110,000 employees working on border and transportation security issues, would leave a large void for Mr. Kerik to fill. But Mr. Hutchinson said, "I'm not leaving any time soon and don't want to leave any gaps." Some officials questioned whether Mr. Kerik, with relatively brief stints as New York police commissioner and in leading the creation of a police force in Iraq, had the breadth of experience needed.

But his supporters say his hard-charging management style should make up for any concerns about his experience.

"He's a fighter," said Senator Charles E. Schumer, Democrat of New York, who spoke with Mr. Kerik on Thursday night.

"The last thing you need in that job is a bureaucrat," Mr. Schumer said. "You need someone who's going to go into the bureaucracy and shake it up and go to the administration and make sure homeland security gets the resources it needs. Tom Ridge is a very fine gentleman, and may have been the more obvious type of choice, but Bernie Kerik may have a better chance of succeeding at what is admittedly a very difficult job."

Other officials said they were encouraged that Mr. Bush had chosen a longtime police officer to lead a department where investigative functions have sometimes received short shrift.

"Ridge is a nice guy, but there are so many layers of management here that investigations weren't really a high priority for him," said an official at the department's Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, which investigates border crimes, international money laundering and a range of other security issues. "Kerik is a cop's cop, and we need that here."


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