- The Washington Times - Friday, February 21, 2003

The new Department of Homeland Security's top challenge in the coming weeks will be to bring "efficiency and effectiveness" to a U.S. border security network now fragmented and spread among nearly two dozen agencies, says U.S. Customs Commissioner Robert C. Bonner.

"There's been a fragmentation of agencies with border security responsibilities for more than 30 years and we've never had the opportunity until now to do something about it," Mr. Bonner told The Washington Times during an interview at Customs' Washington headquarters.

"This is an historic opportunity for all of us, and despite tremendous resistance within government to change, we've got new priorities and new concerns," he said. "There are ways to reorganize to bring efficiency and effectiveness to our country's border security, and I'm confident we're going to do it."

In the wake of the September 11 attacks on America that killed more than 3,000 people, Mr. Bonner said, the new department has the opportunity to make sure the United States never again faces a similar terrorist strike.

"Refocusing on the terrorist threat and keeping terrorists and terrorist weapons out of the United States, that's our number-one priority, bar none," he said.

Mr. Bonner, a former federal judge, prosecutor and boss of the Drug Enforcement Administration who has headed Customs since September 2001, will have a prominent role in forming the new Directorate of Border and Transportation Security.

On March 1, Homeland Security will assume responsibility for the nation's 7,514 miles of international border and 95,000 miles of U.S. shoreline. It also will guard the nation's transportation systems, which include 350 ports of entry used each year by more than 500 million people.

To carry out its mission, Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge has merged five agencies that now protect the nation's borders into two new bureaus focusing on border inspection and enforcement. The inspection bureau, known as the Bureau of Customs and Border Protection, will be headed by Mr. Bonner and will have 35,000 employees, including 10,000 U.S. Border Patrol agents and 17,000 Customs' inspectors.

"It's a tremendous management challenge, but a phenomenal opportunity for all the agencies involved to have a mission that is both clear and important to the protection of the people of the United States," Mr. Bonner said. "To be more efficient and effective, will that mean change? You bet.

"We need to inspire people to sign on and, with the right leadership, the vast majority of these agencies will respond," he said. "Morale will go up and confidence will increase because the mission is clear."

Mr. Bonner is aware of the difficulty in molding several law enforcement agencies into a single force, but Homeland Security and Customs officials believe he will play a key role in finding and allocating the equipment and information necessary to make it work. Those efforts, they said, will include bringing the operation under one roof as he did at customs.

"At customs, he brought decision-making to headquarters, where responsibilities could better be determined and aligned, and where budgetary concerns could immediately be addressed. And it worked," a top Customs official said. "It will take that kind of unified effort to be successful against terrorism."

Mr. Bonner, a University of Maryland graduate who received his law degree at Georgetown, said a single agency for border security must know its priorities and objectives, and needs a clear delineation of responsibilities with a common chain-of-command to increase efficiency.

"It takes time to learn how to run an agency, to find out what you need to do," he said. "You not only have to understand where you're going, but you have to know how to make it happen. As the leader, you have to define the priorities and determine how they are going to be accomplished.

"If you have to ask why things are not happening, I can tell you they are not happening because you are not in control," he said. "It's very important to establish through leadership what the agency does."

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