- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 16, 2002

The embattled head of the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service yesterday announced personnel changes aimed at fixing problems at the agency that resulted this week in the sending of letters certifying the student visas for two of the September 11 hijackers.

The proposed overhaul came as Attorney General John Ashcroft asked Congress for additional authority to discipline or terminate Justice Department employees including those at INS for negligence, mismanagement or failing to follow department policies.

Mr. Ashcroft said this week that individuals at INS would be held responsible for any professional incompetence in the visa debacle and, in a letter yesterday to Rep. Frank R. Wolf, Virginia Republican and chairman of the House Appropriations subcommittee on commerce, justice and state, asked for broadened authority to do so.

"During this crucial period, it is essential I have the authority to quickly discipline or terminate individuals for acts of negligence, mismanagement or disregard for Department of Justice policies," Mr. Ashcroft wrote. "The department is working relentlessly to develop policies and regulations to safeguard our nation from those who seek entry into the United States to do us harm.

"The authority to ensure that employees follow these policies and procedures is vital," he said.

Four top officials at INS were removed from key positions and replaced by INS Commissioner James Ziglar, currently under fire from Congress and elsewhere, in what he called an effort to bring accountability to the agency.

"The breakdown in communication, highlighted by this week's events, at INS is unacceptable and will not be allowed," said Mr. Ziglar. "These changes begin the process of accountability as we move forward with restructuring the INS by separating its service and enforcement functions. Our pledge is to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the nation's immigration system."

The INS was harshly criticized by both Democrats and Republicans after disclosures that the agency sent notices to a flight school that terrorists Mohamed Atta and Marwan Al-Shehhi had been granted student visas. The two men have been identified as the pilots aboard jetliners that crashed into the World Trade Center.

Mr. Ziglar announced the following changes:

•Renee Harris, acting deputy chief for the U.S. Border Patrol, has been named acting director for international affairs.

•Johnny Williams, director of the INS western region, has been named executive associate commissioner for field operations.

•Janis Sposato, special counsel to the commissioner, has been named the assistant deputy executive associate commissioner for immigration services.

•Michael Cronin, acting executive associate commissioner, has been named the assistant commissioner for inspections.

Justice Department officials said the changes did not involve the firings of any INS officials, adding that the career employees now in those posts would be moved to other jobs within the department.

The moves were an accelerated part of an INS reorganization initiative ordered in November by Mr. Ashcroft, who wanted the agency separated into service and law-enforcement functions clear and separate chains of command to eliminate what the attorney general called "layers of management" between field offices and headquarters.

Mr. Ashcroft, who was said to be "furious" about the visa notifications, wanted the plan in operation within two years, but Justice Department officials were pushing for its implementation at an earlier date.

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