Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff yesterday announced an ambitious overhaul of the fledgling agency to refocus security efforts on likely targets of terrorist attacks that could cause widespread damage.
The agenda will “put more muscle on the bones of” border and transportation security by reshuffling several subagencies and creating directorates, including a chief of intelligence.
“Our goal is to maximize our security, but not security at any price,” Mr. Chertoff said. “Our department must drive improvement with a sense of urgency. Our enemy constantly changes and adapts, so we as a department must be nimble and decisive.”
Turf wars, a lack of direction and early missteps have plagued the department, which President Bush created as a response to the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
Mr. Chertoff initiated a departmental review in March during which 250 staffers evaluated operational and policy issues. He announced the findings to Homeland Security Department employees and lawmakers at the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center.
He will present his plan today to both the House and Senate homeland security committees.
Citing the terrorist bombings last week in London, Mr. Chertoff said his department has approved a network of biosensors and is accelerating the development of technology to detect biological, radiological and chemical attacks.
The most significant change for airline travelers is the elimination of the rule requiring passengers to be seated during the first and final 30 minutes of flights out of and into Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport.
The secretary will ask Congress to approve a “modest increase in user fees” to pay for airport screeners and other transportation security.
“I believe travelers are willing to pay a few dollars more per trip to improve aviation security and enhance efficiency,” he said.
Although Mr. Chertoff mentioned a broad set of goals, he provided little explanation as to how some of them would be accomplished.
Borders will be secured by increasing personnel, adding technology and decreasing “the demand for illegal border migration by channeling migrants seeking work into regulated legal channels.” Border security could be improved “significantly” through the president’s temporary worker program, he said, adding that the department wants to expedite temporary visa applications.
Rep. Edward J. Markey, Massachusetts Democrat and a member of the House Homeland Security Committee, called the plan “risk-based bureaucratic shuffling.”
“In the aftermath of the horrific attack on the London transit system, the Bush administration missed an important opportunity to announce new transit security policies that address glaring weaknesses in our subway, bus and rail systems here at home,” Mr. Markey said.
“Instead, the Department of Homeland Security announced bureaucratic plans, which will have no impact on the security of our public transit systems, chemical facilities, shipments of extremely hazardous materials or air cargo. The Bush administration should put forward real policy proposals to plug our homeland-security vulnerabilities, instead of just moving peopl’s offices around and changing the department’s stationery.”
Clark Ervin, former Homeland Security Department inspector general and a critic of the department’s function and structure, praised Mr. Chertoff’s plan for “moving in the right direction.”
“It’s certainly important what he’s doing. I don’t think he’s just shuffling the deck chairs,” Mr. Ervin said.