DHS to business: Help us

The Homeland Security Department is eager to work with the private sector and protect its interests as well as the country's, DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff said today.

The department wants to enhance security without unduly burdening companies or limiting trade, he said to a packed audience at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in Washington, D.C.

"Our goal is to create a security environment that works with the grain of commerce and doesn't cut against it," Chertoff said.

To do that, he said, DHS is willing to seek industry's input on major projects, protect entrepreneurs, and offer expedited service to those companies willing to prescreen their people, products, and services for potential threats.

"Businesses are seeing the tangible benefits ... of taking the choice to do this kind of vetting," he said.

The programs include the Free and Secure Trade program with Mexico and the Customs-Trade Partnership Against Terrorism, which has more than 9,000 participating companies.

Cooperating with business also dovetails well with the top-to-bottom review of the department that Chertoff is currently overseeing, he said.

The private sector has plenty of experience in making decisions based on risk assessment, which he wants to do at DHS, the secretary said. He thanked the chamber for assisting with the review by encouraging feedback and suggestions from the private sector.

Balancing security risks and vulnerabilities with the need for free trade is a top priority for the department, Chertoff said.

By the end of June, Chertoff said, the department will provide President Bush, Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin, and Mexican President Vicente Fox with specific goals and procedures to expedite commerce securely across America’s borders. The three leaders met last March to discuss how to keep commerce healthy across their borders while improving security.

DHS must remove obstacles to entrepreneurs who want to create new products for homeland security, Chertoff said. For DHS to get the efficient and high-quality technology it needs, he said, entrepreneurs must not fear undue legal liability.

Chertoff said the Support Anti-terrorism by Fostering Effective Technologies Act of 2002, better known as the Safety Act, has not yet been fully exploited. The act shields companies from prosecution if their products fail during a terrorist attack, thereby encouraging entrepreneurs to develop new security-oriented technologies.

To stay competitive in the market, businesses must act to ensure their own security, Chertoff said. The department needs to provide tools for business to ensure their own security, he said. This is particularly important, he said, given that the private sector owns 85 to 90 percent of the country’s critical infrastructure.

Thomas Donohue, the chamber's president, said he approved of Chertoff’s plans. He added that DHS must also make it easier for international travelers to enter and leave the country. Current practices are discouraging some of them from bringing their money and talent to the United States, Donohue said.

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