Homeland security merger raises chain-of-command issues

Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge's effort to clarify lines of authority in the department is already creating rumblings of dissent.

One of Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge's top priorities is to merge the cultures of his 22 adopted agencies into one gigantic, seamless department. But already rumblings are being heard that, in Ridge's attempt to create more direct lines of authority, some key underlings will be too far down the chain of command to be heard.

Adm. James M. Loy, head of the Transportation Security Administration, has voiced such worries to a few insiders. Until the March 1 birth of the new department, Loy had a direct line to Transportation Secretary Norman Y. Mineta. Now Loy reports to Asa Hutchinson, Homeland Security's undersecretary for border and transportation security, who in turn reports to Deputy Secretary Gordon England, who reports to Ridge.

Loy is "concerned that the breadth of things at the Department of Homeland Security might not serve him as well," one associate confirmed. "Asa Hutchinson won't have a high enough profile."

Exhibit A, according to Loy, is his agency's budget, which is slated for a $526 million cut in fiscal 2004. "Our budget got murdered," he complained recently to one insider.

Loy may have company in Eduardo Aguirre Jr., who's been nominated to be director of the Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services. Demetrios G. Papademetriou, a Labor Department official in the first Bush administration, worries that immigration policy will be lost in the security-focused shuffle, so he's counseling Aguirre on the ways of bureaucracy.

"I want him to become an effective voice within the administration, and he's not going to be able to do that within the department," Papademetriou contends. "He's going to have to look to the White House," which-unlike Ridge-has reason to care about the Hispanic vote.

If the heads of Homeland Security agencies do begin trying to bypass Ridge, the situation could get further confused because no one's really home at the White House Office of Homeland Security. Gen. John Gordon, deputy national security adviser for combating terrorism, is rumored to be in line to head the office. For now, Adm. Steve Abbot, Ridge's former deputy, is at the helm.

Brian Roehrkasse, a department spokesman, says that access worries are arising only because the department's agencies are so scattered. The problem, in his view, is "a geographic but not a communications disconnect."