Fast-moving events related to terrorist attacks require the government to deliver accurate information, almost daily. A public on edge needs that kind of regular assurance.
In his first news briefings last week, the newly appointed director of homeland security, Tom Ridge, has begun to show that he and other administration officials are capable of doing just that.
Along with delivering facts about potential threats such as anthrax, Mr. Ridge also is defining the role he can play in bringing together all 46 agencies dealing with domestic security. He rightly emphasizes that his job is national in scope, not just federal. He plans to coordinate state and local agencies as well.
President Bush also asked the former Pennsylvania governor to develop an overall strategy for homeland security.
His authority, though, lies simply in having the president's trust and ear, not in any legal operational way. Still, he says, "if there are additional preventive measures I think need to be taken, if I think we have overlooked something, I make the call."
Ridge's precise role will need further refinement. He and his office could run the risk of appearing too informal, relying too much on the president's authority and the urgency of the situation, rather than having direct budgetary or personnel control. He would do well to ask: What is the long-term structure of the office that will work, once the crisis dissipates and the usual political intrigues of Washington set in?
In the weeks ahead, Ridge will become well known to Americans. Behind the scenes, though, he has his work cut out for him to command thousands of government workers in countering terrorism, and to do it quickly.