Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge, who announced his resignation Monday, deserves compliments for his accomplishments. He presided over the largest government reorganization since the Department of Defense was created after World War II. He brought some 22 federal agencies and 180,000 employees under the new department's umbrella - in just under two years. And he had to do it while maintaining a 24/7 vigilance against terrorist threats.
Mr. Ridge struggled to become a clearinghouse for intelligence, as turf battles with the CIA and FBI dogged his attempts. But rather than usurping the role of America's two key intelligence agencies, it makes sense that his department now disseminate such data to federal, state, and local first responders - a group Ridge has been successful in coordinating.
One of Ridge's early antiterror suggestions to help survive a chemical or biological attack caused a run on duct tape and plastic sheeting at hardware and grocery stores. He's since handled his emergency-plan recommendations for the public more comprehensively, and ready.gov remains a useful website for citizens.
Ridge's successor must be a strong individual, one who can further unify the department's sprawling bureaucracy, and keep domestic security reforms going. Passenger airline cargo, ports, and chemical and nuclear plants still need more protection. And the department's color-coded alert system needs work. Those alerts have often been devoid of detail, leaving Americans confused about what to do.
Still, Ridge can rest assured he helped put some of the country's building blocks of protection in place.