Ridge will provide the answers to media's questions

WASHINGTON: The Bush administration, responding to criticism that

it lacked a central voice speaking on matters of national security,

dramatically increased media appearances last week by Tom Ridge, head of

homeland security and now unofficial point man on domestic

terrorism.



The criticism focused on conflicting messages coming from sources as

varied as attorney general John Ashcroft, postmaster general John E.

Potter, and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) regarding the threat

posed by anthrax-tainted mail.



Hence the White House announced on Monday that Ridge would begin holding

at least three press conferences a week - on Mondays, Wednesdays, and

Fridays - to address matters of domestic safety and readiness. He gave

four such press conferences last week, and granted on-air interviews to

nearly every network.



"We want to brand Tom Ridge," a White House official told The Washington

Post. "When people see him, we want them to think, 'My babies are

safe.'"



What remains to be seen, however, is whether Ridge has the authority to

coordinate information from the 35 federal agencies he was appointed to

oversee. Capitol Hill critics claim that without the power to control

budgeting for those agencies, they will not be compelled to answer to

him, a situation that would seem to jeopardize his ability to serve as

the single voice the White House intends him to be.



Until recently the governor of Pennsylvania, Ridge was appointed head of

the newly created Office of Homeland Security last month.



See Analysis, p. 11.



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