WASHINGTON (AP) - Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge has informed the White House and department staff that he has resigned, U.S. officials said Tuesday.
In an e-mail circulated to senior 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 company better and more secure."
Government officials, speaking on grounds of anonymity because a formal announcement was pending, confirmed his resignation. A Washington news conference was scheduled for mid-afternoon.
In October 2001, Ridge became the 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 cancelled.
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.