- The Washington Times - Friday, March 28, 2003

America is better protected against terrorists and weapons of mass destruction today than it has ever been, says the head of a new federal agency assigned to guard the nation's 6,000 miles of international borders and 300 ports of entry.

"Our assignment is pretty simple: Keep terrorists and weapons of terrorism out of the United States; and while we've only begun to unify and integrate the federal agencies that will do the job, we are off to a good start," said Robert C. Bonner, commissioner of the Department of Homeland Security's new Bureau of Customs and Border Protection.

"We have a comprehensive strategy for securing our borders against the threat of terrorism, which will also allow us to be more effective in protecting against illegal aliens and drug smugglers coming into the United States through, between and under our ports of entry," he said.

Mr. Bonner directs 35,000 federal employees assigned along America's borders and at major sea and air ports of entry. The massive force includes inspectors and enforcement officers from the U.S. Customs Service, Immigration and Naturalization Service and the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service's quarantine inspection program, along with 10,000 Border Patrol agents.

The new bureau unifies for the first time in the nation's history all federal agencies responsible for border enforcement, protection and inspection under a single roof and within a new chain of command that eliminates up to six layers of bureaucracy between inspectors and agents in the field and command staff in Washington.

In meeting priority goals, Mr. Bonner said the bureau would continue to "push the border outward" to develop "smarter border initiatives that extend our zone of security abroad."

At the forefront of that effort, he said, are two major initiatives: The Customs-Trade Partnership Against Terrorism program, which encourages shippers to be pro-active in preventing vessels from being used for smuggling and other offenses, and the Container Security Initiative, which protects trade moved by sea containers from being used by terrorists.

Mr. Bonner began putting the new agency together long before its official March 1 inauguration. In February, he named 20 interim directors for immigration and inspection operations nationwide and appointed 21 Border Patrol sector chiefs across the country to better ensure the successful transition of several agencies into a single entity.

"We began life on March 1 with a clear and understandable chain of command," he said. "When the switch was flipped, we were ready to go."

Under the old system, immigration and inspection personnel reported to several different command officers, who answered to regional directors, who reported to managers in Washington, who were responsible to separate agency heads. Under the new system, immigration and inspection personnel report to one field director, who answers to Mr. Bonner.

He also revised a Border Patrol chain of command that eliminated the agency's own hierarchy from the decision-making process in favor of INS. Agents now report to one sector chief, who is responsible to the chief of the Border Patrol in Washington, who reports to Mr. Bonner.

"The Border Patrol is an important part of this new agency, the main force between the country's ports of entry," he said. "It has found a good home in the Bureau of Customs and Border Enforcement and will be supported in a way INS never did."

A key part of Mr. Bonner's border plan will the cross-training of immigration and inspection personnel within the next 90 days to ensure that each can do primary inspections of those entering the United States. He called the effort "daunting" but said, "We can do it and I believe we will do it."

"There is nothing I will do or have done that will be more important than leading the integration of a new agency that will be more effective in guarding this country against terrorists," said Mr. Bonner, a former federal judge and prosecutor, who also headed the Drug Enforcement Administration. "It's my job to keep them out."

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