DHS reshuffles the deck

Homeland Security Department Secretary Michael Chertoff announced last week the results of a comprehensive 90-day review of DHS operations. The department kept the review's contents and recommendations secret, fueling speculation about Chertoff's thoughts on improving the performance of the newest, struggling federal department.

Chertoff briefed Congress on his proposed changes, which are based on six new goals.

Goal 1:

Increase preparedness, especially for catastrophic events.

PROPOSAL: Chertoff recommends that DHS build a computer-based analytic matrix that will let department officials make decisions based on threats, vulnerabilities and consequences. Chertoff reiterated his backing for the Support Anti-terrorism by Fostering Effective Technologies (Safety) Act of 2002, which encourages companies to develop cutting-edge technologies by shielding them from prosecution if their products fail during a terrorist attack. In addition to other preparedness-related activities, Chertoff wants to create a new directorate that will consolidate preparedness-related functions.

PURPOSE: Since he became secretary in March, Chertoff has stressed that DHS must allocate its resources according to risk because the department cannot protect everything equally. DHS currently divides preparedness functions among many agencies. Only 16 companies have acquired Safety Act protections since 2002, and many do not bid on contracts because they fear liability issues. If DHS meets Goal 1, the department would consolidate preparedness functions to maximize the distribution of its resources. It would also be better prepared to tap industry's potential.

PUBLIC OPINION: The American Red Cross and other first responder agencies want to know how the preparedness directorate would operate, particularly because the Federal Emergency Management Agency would report to Chertoff, said Steve Cooper, DHS' former chief information officer and now the Red Cross' CIO. Industry officials support the Safety Act in principle but criticize the program's management. They say the application process is unfriendly and unwieldy for many companies.

Goal 2:

Strengthen border security and interior enforcement, and reform immigration processes.

PROPOSAL: DHS is crafting a new border control strategy that would add more staff and new technology and increase spending on infrastructure, Chertoff said.

The department will also add a requirement to collect 10 fingerprints from each participant in the U.S. Visitor and Immigrant Status Indicator Technology (US-VISIT) program, which screens foreign nationals entering and leaving the country to identify potential terrorists. First-time participants will have to give 10 fingerprints as a biometric identifier. On subsequent visits, they can give two fingerprints, as they do now.

PURPOSE: The changes should decrease illegal immigration and terrorist threats by making it tougher to illegally enter the country. A screening and coordination office would integrate DHS' multiple screening programs and eliminate overlapping functions. Collecting more fingerprints will make US-VISIT more accurate, experts say.

PUBLIC OPINION: House Homeland Security Committee members praised Chertoff for changing the US-VISIT fingerprint standard to match their recommendations.

Goal 3:

Harden transportation security without sacrificing mobility.

PROPOSAL: DHS will strengthen land-based transportation security by working on next-generation explosives, biological, chemical and radiological detectors, Chertoff said. The department will also improve the Secure Flight passenger screening system by collecting more specific data to automatically clear low-risk travelers, reducing mistakes and speeding travel, he said. DHS wants to create a Secure Freight initiative to gather more data about the origin, route and destination of incoming cargo to improve risk assessment.

PURPOSE: By meeting this goal, DHS could reduce the pressure on Secure Flight, which has come under fire for producing too many errors and violating passengers' privacy. Also, new initiatives would help close a vulnerability hole that is open because the United States does not screen all cargo crossing its borders.

PUBLIC OPINION: Although the proposal contains several important improvements, "it does not address the department's most serious defects," said Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), the House Homeland Security Committee's ranking member. Lawmakers also criticized Chertoff for being more than three months late in delivering a comprehensive transit protection plan. Rep. Chris Shays (R-Conn.) said it's outrageous that DHS is still not screening cargo carried on passenger planes. Chertoff did not say when lawmakers could expect those changes.

Goal 4:

Enhance information sharing, especially with federal, state, local and industry partners.

PROPOSAL: Calling data sharing a two-way street, Chertoff asked the Bush administration and federal, state and local agencies to share and consolidate more information.

PURPOSE: Inadequate information sharing among agencies partly contributed to the terrorist attacks in 2001 and hindered response efforts. National security experts say that DHS, the FBI and other federal agencies must overcome technological and cultural barriers to sharing intelligence effectively.

PUBLIC OPINION: Chertoff was right to tell Congress that DHS needs other agencies to share their information more willingly, Cooper said, noting that "Chertoff said, 'You can't hold DHS solely accountable if other people won't play.'"

Goal 5:

Improve DHS' stewardship of homeland security, particularly with stronger financial, human resources, procurement and information technology management.

PROPOSAL: DHS will focus on improving financial controls and systems, Chertoff said. He wants to expand training opportunities and improve workforce management through a new pay-for-performance system, MaxHR. DHS will also review all major procurements and evaluate their performance, he said.

PURPOSE: Massive overspending, ineffective programs and a lack of accountability have caused Congress and the public to distrust how DHS spends its money. By fulfilling this proposal, DHS would restructure its pay plan to attract top talent and ensure its employees are paid on merit.

PUBLIC OPINION: The changes in pay and human resources policy under the new MaxHR system diminish employees' rights, said Colleen Kelley, president of the National Treasury Employees Union. A federal judge has ordered DHS to postpone the MaxHR start date to Aug. 15 — a two-week delay — to ascertain whether the program violates the Homeland Security Act of 2002.

Goal 6:

Realign DHS to maximize mission performance.

PROPOSAL: Chertoff recommended the creation of several new senior staff members. DHS would create an undersecretary of policy to lead a new centralized policy directorate. The office would help create a uniform strategy for DHS operations.

In addition, the assistant secretary for information analysis would become DHS' chief intelligence officer and would be responsible for collecting, analyzing and sharing all DHS-acquired intelligence.

A new director of operations coordination would lead an operations directorate and oversee DHS' crisis management activities. The operations office would help translate policy and intelligence into appropriate and timely actions. A new assistant secretary of cyber and telecommunications security would protect the nation's technological infrastructure. The proposal does not include an enhanced budget or hiring authority for DHS' CIO and chief financial officer positions, which many industry and government officials had hoped for. At a House hearing in April, former and current high-ranking DHS employees suggested that the CIO report directly to the secretary instead of to the undersecretary of management.

PURPOSE: Under this proposal, DHS would better understand its intelligence in addition to that generated by federal, state, local and private-sector partners. The operations office would help DHS' leaders juggle the 25 agencies that report directly to them. The proposal did not, however, give the CIO more power that would enable whoever holds the position to better guide the entire department, Cooper and other experts have said.

PUBLIC OPINION: Reorganizing DHS into three main focus areas — intelligence, policy and operations — will give department officials more control of operations, said Jeff Vining, vice president for homeland security and law enforcement at Gartner Research.

Cooper said he would still like to see a stronger CIO position, but added that he accomplished a lot within the existing structure, albeit sometimes more slowly than he would have liked. Meanwhile, industry groups strongly supported the creation of a stronger cybersecurity chief. "Physical security and cybersecurity must be addressed in tandem in today's digital world," said Robert Holleyman, president and chief executive officer of the Business Software Alliance.

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