Homeland security job may require larger-than-life figure

WANTED: Drill sergeant, manager, cheerleader, politician, guerrilla fighter, tent preacher, juggler, comedian, school principal, arm-twister, and multitasker for thankless job. Expertise necessary in: national defense; management of a large government agency, state, or company; law enforcement; intelligence analysis; and domestic threat assessment. Familiarity with corporate or government mergers, large computer systems, natural disasters, immigration law, industry lobbying, environmental protection, maritime safety, drug interdiction, and animal diseases a plus. Candidates under retirement age preferred.

The universe of serious potential contenders for the yet-to-exist job of secretary of the yet-to-exist Department of Homeland Security is small. Ideally, the new secretary would be a larger-than-life figure, a friend of George W., and someone who would command instant respect and possess the managerial ability to get an organization comprised of bureaucratic orphans to all salute one new departmental flag.

"You want a combination of three or four different leaders: H.R. Haldeman, William Ruckelshaus, Donna Shalala, a little Don Rumsfeld. You want Joe Califano's independent streak. You want a little bit of John Foster Dulles-he was crazy but brilliant," offers Paul Light, vice president of governmental studies at the Brookings Institution. Still, Light warns, "it is a job made for failure."

So we are looking for a cross between President Nixon's sharp-elbowed chief of staff; the first administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency; a former tough-cookie secretary of Health and Human Services; a hawkish secretary of Defense; a former deputy secretary of Defense and secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare; and President Eisenhower's secretary of State.

The early, unofficial contenders for the dubious honor of becoming secretary of Homeland Security include Federal Emergency Management Agency Director Joe M. Allbaugh, a Bush confidante; Deputy Secretary of State Richard L. Armitage; former Lockheed Martin CEO Norman R. Augustine; former Secretary of State James A. Baker III; Sen. Bill Frist, R-Tenn., who is a surgeon; former Virginia Gov. James S. Gilmore III; former New York City Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani; Secretary of State Colin L. Powell; and, of course, Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge.

Other lesser-known, but perhaps equally qualified candidates could include New York Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly, a former commissioner of the Customs Service; former Coast Guard Commandant Adm. James M. Loy; Gen. Barry R. McCaffrey, the Clinton administration's drug czar; and John J. Hamre, president of the Center for Strategic and International Studies and former deputy secretary of Defense.

In an unscientific National Journal poll of homeland security experts, the top nominee by far was Powell. But if the president can't clone Powell and doesn't want to transfer him, the White House will have to weigh other options. Although Ridge is the leading candidate, he may not fit the bill. The new secretary "is going to have to have an iron fist and a velvet glove. He's got to reassure the public that he's making progress, but he's going to have to discipline this agency. I don't know if [Ridge has] got it," Light says. "I would go with a governor. I don't know whether Tom Ridge is the right governor." Columnist Robert Novak revved up the Washington rumor mill when he reported that some White House insiders don't want Ridge.

Having sponsored a bill to create a Homeland Security Department, Rep. Jane Harman, D-Calif., has put considerable thought into who should run it. "It should be someone with big vision and attention to the hard work of integrating very diverse cultures. I think the kind of challenge here is comparable to the challenges of a big corporate merger," she says. Plus, she adds, the secretary needs "an ability to play Washington politics" and "a thick skin."

Thick skin and sharp elbows. The first challenge a new secretary will face may be securing the new department's bureaucratic territory. This week, Attorney General John D. Ashcroft was homeland security's globetrotter-in-chief as he traveled from Moscow to Budapest to Bern, Switzerland. Would such duties fall to the Homeland Security secretary? "With this system in place, there will be a risk that there will be interagency competition," says Gilmore, who is heading an ongoing congressional commission on homeland security. "If that should emerge, this department head is no stronger than the attorney general or secretary of Defense or secretary of State. Sure, he will have to be assertive."

In Light's view, the new secretary will have to tell the president, "You need to muzzle John Ashcroft."

Unfortunately, none of the men now being mentioned for the new job seems to be the perfect candidate, so Bush needs to look for the best combination of leaders, according to homeland security expert Frank Hoffman. That strategy might put a former governor, such as Ridge or Gilmore; a known hard-hitter, such as Armitage; or a former CEO, such as Augustine, at the top of homeland security to work their political and managerial magic. And the No. 2 slot might go to someone, such as Kelly or Loy, who knows the federal bureaucracy and who would be more likely to win the trust of the department's newly assembled troops.

Regardless of who gets tapped, the new secretary's level of success might be difficult to measure for a very long time. "A year from now, we'll be saying, `What's different?' " Light predicts. But he cautions that an accurate assessment may not be possible for years.