A fix for enforcement problems?
Lawmakers consider another merger at DHS.
- By Dibya Sarkar
- Mar 28, 2005
Immigration and Customs Enforcement
The arrival of a new secretary at the Homeland Security Department and growing congressional concern about antiquated computer systems and poor information sharing may trigger a new round of mergers at the department.
DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff has ordered a top-to-bottom review of the organization, and he wants it completed within three months. At the same time, several lawmakers are pointing to chronic problems at Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) as a good reason to merge it with Customs and Border Protection.
Supporters of a merger say it would improve internal operations and national security, but others believe a merger might create more problems.
In a congressional hearing March 9, Rep. Christopher Cox (R-Calif.), chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, said bureaucratic walls separating customs and immigration inspectors from their investigative colleagues might be hampering cooperation and information sharing.
Testifying at the hearing, a retired ICE agent said the agency has had systemic problems, sometimes resulting in fights about acquiring better computer systems.
“We were not requesting anything more than to bring us back to a level of technology that had successfully supported our mission in the past,” said Kenneth Klug, who was formerly in charge of the agency’s New York field office.
Lawmakers say they are weighing the reorganization question. Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) has asked DHS’ inspector general to provide a report on the matter.
Meanwhile, James Carafano, a senior fellow at the Heritage Foundation who also testified at the March 9 hearing, said creating a single agency could offer advantages for integrating and consolidating information technology programs and training, and managing and retaining employees.
T. Jeff Vining, vice president of the homeland security practice at Gartner Research, said severe budget shortfalls have hampered ICE’s ability to achieve its mission.
“Because they drastically underfunded [the agency] in previous budgets, they underestimated the expense of its mission, and they’re trying to make sure that doesn’t happen again,” he said.
DHS officials have said they want to redirect about $300 million this year to keep ICE functioning.
David Venturella, former acting director of ICE’s Detention and Removal Operations Office, said lawmakers should explore ways to fix the department’s problems. But he advised against merging the two agencies now, saying that a merger “may well cause the department to move backward.”
But Venturella recommended that DHS officials conduct a thorough examination of each bureau’s components and consider redistributing programs to provide a logical alignment of operations.
Russ Knocke, an ICE spokesman, acknowledged the financial problems, but said the agency has done good work in the past two years. Deportations of illegal aliens, arrests and deportations of criminal aliens, investigations of money laundering and other criminal financial activity, and arrests of sexual predators have all increased, he said.
“Take a look at any division, any program, and you’ll see that the numbers are all up, and in some cases, we’re breaking records,” Knocke said. “Certainly, we hope some of these financial challenges we’ve been dealing with for the last couple of years are nearing the end, but we’re not there yet.”