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Bonner pitches merging agencies

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The creation of separate agencies for immigration enforcement and border security was a mistake that can be fixed by merging the two operations, says former-U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Commissioner Robert C. Bonner.

"There is a simple principle -- bureaucracy 101 -- that applies here: If you want people to work together, you don't split them into two separate agencies," said Mr. Bonner, the highest-ranking former official to publicly criticize splitting CBP and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) when creating the Department of Homeland Security.

"From my point of view, it is like trying to function with an important part of your anatomy cut off."

Mr. Bonner, a former federal judge who led the U.S. Customs Service and the Drug Enforcement Administration, was named by President Bush to head CBP at its March 2003 creation. Mr. Bonner resigned Thanksgiving Day to return to private law practice in Los Angeles.

The agency split that put immigration investigators in ICE and border agents in CBP, he told The Washington Times, made "as much sense as splitting a major police department in two -- putting all the uniformed front-line police in one department and all the detectives in another, with two separate chiefs of police, and then expecting them to work well together.

"CBP's mission is to interdict drugs and potential terrorists, but most of our interdictions are based on CBP's own targeting and not what CBP gets from ICE," Mr. Bonner said. "This breakdown in the intelligence and the feedback loop could be fixed simply by merging CBP and ICE -- to truly create one border agency, but one with the investigative and intelligence capacity to do the job."

Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff has committed to giving ICE a chance to succeed independently under a reorganization plan he proposed earlier this year.

Russ Knocke, a spokesman for the Homeland Security Department, said Congress and the Bush administration "clearly recognized the distinct and dynamic roles" played by ICE and CBP, and have been "very clear" that they do not support a merger of the two. He said the reorganization plan "eliminates layers of bureaucracy and increases accountability and visibility" for both agencies.

Mr. Knocke said that since the creation of the two agencies, the department has seen an increase in productivity in every facet of its law-enforcement activities, with "many cases breaking annual enforcement records." He also said intelligence gathering and dissemination had been streamlined and were being made available to all agencies.

Mr. Bonner's concerns are in line with a November report by the Homeland Security Department's Office of Inspector General, which said CBP and ICE, under the current structure, were inefficient.

Mr. Bonner's concerns about the creation of CBP and ICE first were outlined in a Dec. 16, 2002, letter to Mr. Chertoff's predecessor, Tom Ridge, in which he recommended against separate border-enforcement agencies, saying the split would be "exceedingly complicated and muddy."

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