WASHINGTON, Jan. 22 (UPI) -- The Senate Wednesday unanimously approved Tom Ridge as the first secretary of Homeland Security, giving the new agency a Cabinet-level leader.
Congress last fall approved the creation of the department in the biggest overhaul of federal Cabinet departments in 50 years.
Ridge, 57, had previously served as a congressman and governor of Pennsylvania before joining the White House as the top adviser to President Bush on domestic security and terrorism following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks that killed about 3,000 people.
The Homeland Security Department over the next few years will combine the functions of about 22 agencies and 170,000 federal workers into one department. The reorganization represents the largest federal government reshuffling since the Department of Defense was created in 1947.
Ridge headed the non-Cabinet-level White House Office of Homeland Security after the Bush administration rejected calls by some Senate Democrats to make the office a Cabinet-level agency. After Bush's reversal and the passage of the larger agency by Congress last fall, Ridge was immediately nominated for the position.
The Senate Government Affairs Committee unanimously approved Ridge, who has enjoyed good relations with the Democratic opposition, for the post Friday.
The new agency combines the Secret Service, Coast Guard, Immigration and Naturalization Service, Transportation Security Administration and other security and rescue agencies into one department. It has control of U.S. borders along some 7,000 miles of land bordering Mexico and Canada.
"Should I be confirmed as secretary of Homeland Security, I will go to work every single morning with the mission of protecting the American people from the threat of terrorist attack," Ridge told the committee last Friday.