Approval from the full Senate followed four hours of hearings before the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee last Friday, which also threw its unanimous support to Ridge.
Speaking before the committee, Ridge said the country was “undoubtedly safer” than it was on September 11, 2001, but noted there was much to be done.
“We will not have truly succeeded until the day when terrorists know the futility of attacking America, and Americans know we have the ability to protect them,” Ridge said.
“Almost every independent assessment I have come across says that in almost every way, America is as vulnerable today as we were on Sept. 11,” said Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.), who plans to make the issue part of his campaign for president in 2004.
While discussing goals for the new department, both Democratic and Republican lawmakers emphasized the importance of sharing intelligence between federal, state and local agencies.
Congress created the department in November, sparking the largest government reorganization since the Department of Defense was created in 1947. The new department is charged with defending against terrorist attacks within the U.S., reducing the country’s vulnerability to terrorism, and helping the country recover should an attack occur.
The department consolidates 22 federal agencies including the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Customs Service and the Secret Service. It does not include the FBI or CIA.
Ridge said his first task was to organize the department’s 170,000 employees and improve communication among its agencies.
“I will insist on measurable progress from all the agencies and bureaus in the new department. America must and will know what improvements have been made, what additional capacities have been built,” Ridge told the committee. “We also need to know how effective we become.”
Ridge, 57, is the former governor of Pennsylvania and a former six-term member of the U.S. House of Representatives. A decorated Vietnam veteran, Ridge has served as President Bush’s homeland security adviser since October 2001.