- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 18, 2003

Border czar Asa Hutchinson yesterday said federal authorities are "focused on the mission of making America's borders safer" in the event of war with Iraq, while trying to mold a new agency to guard against terrorists, illegal immigrants, and drug and alien smugglers.
"With the freedom we enjoy in this country, we're always going to have an imperfect system in trying to shut down every threat at our borders," Mr. Hutchinson told The Washington Times. "But the system is fixable, we can meet the organizational and mission challenges laid out for us and we will make America safer."
Mr. Hutchinson, former head of the Drug Enforcement Administration and three-term Arkansas congressman, was sworn in as Department of Homeland Security undersecretary for border and transportation security in January, charged with bringing together a myriad of agencies to protect the nation's borders and transportation network.
He said the new agency, combining the inspection, immigration and enforcement functions of the Customs Service, the Immigration and Naturalization Service, the Border Patrol and others, would be ready if the nation's alert status is raised from the current elevated (or yellow) level to high (orange) or severe (red).
"If a call to war is made, our responsibility will be to evaluate existing intelligence on specific threats to the homeland and to be ready at any moment to protect America's borders," he said. "We are at the president's call."
Mr. Hutchinson said that increased technology was the key to enhanced border enforcement, and that efforts were ongoing within Homeland Security to "acquire and put into the field" the necessary equipment to safeguard America's borders.
"My primary goal is to bring this organization on board, readjusting priorities to make it more effective," he said. "We can afford to do it. We can't afford not to."
During an hourlong interview, Mr. Hutchinson also answered critics inside DEA who said he encouraged "rampant" racial discrimination at the agency, attributing the charges to "disgruntled employees."
"I had overwhelming support for every step I took at DEA, and I am pleased with the progress I made on several initiatives," he said. "But when you make tough decisions, there's always those who disagree. That's the price you pay for strong leadership."
Mr. Hutchinson's denial came in response to a resolution by the Hispanic American Police Command Officers Association, forwarded to President Bush and Attorney General John Ashcroft, accusing him of "perpetuating an atmosphere of distrust, reprisal and retaliation" against minority employees.
The 1,100-member association said Mr. Hutchinson maintained "an insidious good old boy network" at DEA, ignored the advice of minority executives, and reassigned, demoted and retaliated against senior Hispanic managers.
The resolution, a copy of which was obtained last week by The Washington Times, called for Mr. Ashcroft to appoint an oversight committee to "ensure that minority concerns at DEA are properly and expeditiously addressed and resolved."
It also asked Mr. Ashcroft to "exercise appropriate and firm oversight" to guarantee equal employment opportunities and treatment of Hispanics within DEA, although the attorney general has not responded.
More than a dozen high-ranking DEA executives and rank-and-file agents said Mr. Hutchinson's failure to address racial discrimination at the agency would hamper his efforts at Homeland Security.
They said a significant number of minority law-enforcement executives and street agents are assigned to border security, including Customs where Hispanic agents have filed a class-action lawsuit charging racial discrimination and the Border Patrol, where about 35 percent of the work force is Hispanic.
"How he deals with the minority officers under his command will be critical to the success of Homeland Security," said one veteran DEA agent, who asked not to be identified. "The racial discrimination he created and allowed at DEA will do nothing but guarantee the new department's failure, if allowed to continue."

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