- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 9, 2005

A House subcommittee is investigating the possibility of merging two of the country’s front-line agencies in the war on terrorism, amid concerns that ongoing turf battles, financing problems and low morale threaten national security.

The inquiry targets U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), two agencies within the Department of Homeland Security assigned the task of preventing new terrorist attacks.

“We are engaged in a war on terror where control of our nation’s borders is critical,” Michael W. Cutler, former U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) senior agent, told the subcommittee yesterday.

“But a wall has been truly erected between the people at CBP and the people at ICE. They have separate chains of command that, at this point, you can’t have if you are trying to fight a war on terrorism and a war on drugs.”

T.J. Bonner, president of the National Border Patrol Council, which represents all 11,000 of the Border Patrol’s non-supervisory agents, said although the reason for creating the agencies was to give enforcement authority to CBP at the border and ICE in the nation’s interior, “it’s obvious to even the most casual observer that this distinction is almost artificial.”

Rep. Mike D. Rogers, Alabama Republican and chairman of the House Homeland Security subcommittee on management, integration and oversight, said the panel wants to know whether a merger would allow the agencies to better meet the threat of potential attacks and enhance immigration enforcement.

Rep. Christopher Cox, California Republican and chairman of the House Select Committee on Homeland Security, attended the hearing, saying questions remain two years after the department’s creation whether it is managing its immigration enforcement and border security resources “in the most efficient, sensible and effective manner.”

Much of the criticism over the past several months has targeted ICE, with supervisors and field agents saying the agency lacks a defined mission and has fallen victim to poor management.

“ICE’s accomplishments in two short years speak volumes about the quality of work being done here every single day,” ICE spokesman Dean Boyd said yesterday. “We are achieving record results.”

Last month, Homeland Security acting Inspector General Richard L. Skinner also said he was examining a merger of ICE and CBP at the request of Sen. Susan Collins, Maine Republican and chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.

Also testifying yesterday was David Venturella, former director of detention and removal operations at ICE, who called a merger of the two agencies “unnecessary at this time,” but warned that efforts had to be made to “redistribute programs to provide a logical alignment” of operations, assets and resources.

“The experiment of forcing square pegs into round holes and jumbling numerous programs under one roof has served only to diminish ICE’s focus on enforcement,” he said.

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