WASHINGTON – Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge (search ), who sought to reassure Americans amid frightening warnings about possible terror plots, has told colleagues he probably will resign after the election because of his personal finances and stress of his job, officials told The Associated Press.
During a meeting Friday in Miami, Ridge called the news "an inside-the-Beltway game" and said he wouldn't comment about it.
"The president gave me a great job," Ridge said. "I'm doing the job, and after President Bush is re-elected, we'll have to have that conversation. But I've got a job to do, and I plan on doing it."
Several senior Homeland Security officials said Ridge has indicated in recent weeks he probably will resign after the election, even if Bush wins. They spoke on condition of anonymity, citing the delicate nature of describing private conversations with their boss.
Assistant Homeland Secretary Susan Neely said Ridge will not make a final decision until he talks with President Bush late this year. He now is focused on thwarting terror attacks that officials fear Al Qaeda will try before November.
"Secretary Ridge is focused entirely on the job the president has asked him to do," Neely said.
Ridge, 58, has explained to colleagues that he needs to earn money to comfortably put his two children, Tommy Jr. and Lesley, through college, officials said. Both are teenagers. Ridge earns $175,700 a year as a Cabinet secretary.
The former Pennsylvania governor, who agreed to serve as the department's inaugural secretary, also has expressed frustration to colleagues about the continuing problems inherent in reorganizing the 22 disparate agencies that formed the Homeland Security Department (search ), officials said.
One senior official said Ridge has cautioned that his plans, while leaning toward resignation, could be changed by coming events, such as another terror attack or a discussion with the president.
On a flight from Boston this month after viewing security preparations for the Democratic National Convention (search ), Ridge addressed his future carefully. "The job is going great — personally," he told The Associated Press. "When the president is re-elected, he'll have conversations to determine what he wants and what his Cabinet members want."
When asked if he was worn out, Ridge said: "I am not authorized to be stressed."
Congress and the independent commission that investigated the 2001 terror attacks have criticized elements of the fight against terror, from intelligence cooperation and the color-coded warning system to delays in deployment of a more advanced airline screening system for passengers.
Ridge has faced criticism personally over frequent but vague public warnings about possible terror activity, and he was widely ridiculed last year for urging homeowners to stock up on duct tape and plastic sheeting to seal their doors and windows during a chemical or biological attack.
Republicans are quick to note the United States has not suffered another terror attack on its soil in the three years since Sept. 11, 2001, as it undertook the largest reorganization of government in a half-century.
Ridge has spent decades in public service and has relatively little savings from his lengthy career in government. When Ridge left Pennsylvania as governor, where he served from 1995 to 2001, he was earning $138,316 a year.
Ridge owns an $873,000 home in Bethesda, Md., with his wife, Michele, which they bought last year with a $784,800 mortgage, according to property and banking records. Ridge's most recent financial disclosure reports, filed in early 2003, showed he owned between $122,000 and $787,000 in stocks and funds, including modest ownership in the Walt Disney Co. (DIS), General Electric (GE), Nike (NKE), Oracle Corp. (ORCL) and Microsoft Corp. (MSFT )
By contrast, government officials at Ridge's level easily can earn millions of dollars in the private sector.
The Homeland Security Department, formed in March 2003, comprises organizations from agencies that included the Immigration and Naturalization Service, Customs Service, Coast Guard, Secret Service and the Transportation Security Administration. It has a budget of $36.2 billion and more than 180,000 employees.