WASHINGTON - Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge, whose name became synonymous with color-coded terror alerts and tutorials to the public about how to prepare for possible attack, is resigning, U.S. officials said Tuesday.
Ridge submitted his resignation in writing to President Bush on Tuesday morning, said officials who confirmed the departure only on grounds of anonymity.
In an e-mail circulated to Homeland Security officials, Ridge praised the department as "an extraordinary organization that each day contributes to keeping America safe and free." He also said he was privileged to work with the department's 180,000 employees "who go to work every day dedicated to making our country better and more secure."
A Washington news conference was scheduled for mid-afternoon.
A Homeland Security Department official said Ridge is expected to stay on his job for a few months, until a successor is found. Some officials expect the U.S. may face increased terror risks around the holidays and the Jan. 20 inauguration.
Among those mentioned as possible candidates for Ridge's replacement are Bernard Kerik, interim Minister of the Interior for Iraq and former New York City police commissioner, former Federal Emergency Management Agency Director Joe Allbaugh and Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Mike Leavitt and White House homeland security adviser Fran Townsend. Others are also believed to be interested in the job, including Asa Hutchinson, undersecretary for border and transportation security in the Homeland Security Department.
Six other Bush Cabinet figures are leaving, including Attorney General John Ashcroft, Commerce Secretary Donald Evans, Education Secretary Rod Paige, Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman; Secretary of State Colin Powell and Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham. Bush has chosen national security adviser Condoleezza Rice for the State Department, White House counsel Alberto Gonzales for the Justice Department and Carlos Gutierrez for Commerce.
In October 2001, Ridge became the nation's first White House homeland security adviser, leading a massive undertaking to rethink all aspects of security within the U.S. borders in the wake of the terror attacks of September 2001.
Congress subsequently passed legislation establishing the Homeland Security Department, merging 180,000 employees from 22 government agencies. Ridge became the department's first secretary in January 2003.
He has presided over six national "orange alerts" when the government boosted security out of concern that an attack may be coming. An attack in the United States never happened on his watch.
Ridge has said, however, that he believes an assault by the al-Qaida terrorist network was averted last summer during the Fourth of July holiday period, when intelligence reports indicated terrorists might be targeting international flights to attack the United States. Passenger manifests were scrutinized and flights were canceled.
Yet Ridge, a politician by nature, fought criticism leading up to the election from those who said he was using terror warnings to boost support for Bush. Ridge repeatedly said: "We don't do politics in the Department of Homeland Security."
Ridge, 59, has privately expressed his interest in moving out of the time-consuming, stressful post. However, those who know him said his loyalty to Bush was always a factor to consider.
Ridge, who has spent most of his adult life in public service, came home from Vietnam, earned a law degree and went into private practice in Pennsylvania. He later served as an assistant district attorney and ran for Congress in 1982.
Ridge was re-elected five times. He became the Pennsylvania governor in 1995, leaving the state capital in October 2001 after the White House called.