- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 21, 2005

The arrival of Secretary Michael Chertoff and the departure of Tom Ridge and other senior staff at the Department of Homeland Security generated some negative speculation concerning Bush administration efforts to get the new department off the ground.

When Mr. Chertoff testified before Congress on April 13, he was reminded his newly inherited department had failed to meet more than 100 deadlines set by Congress. Now the department appears to be in hot water with both its House and Senate Appropriations Committees due to its inability to satisfy their information requirements. And TSA is set to get its fourth leader in three years. Seems like it is time for all parties to take a deep breath and remind themselves of the complexity of the transformation under way.

Having started with DHS from the beginning, I can say the negative buzz about lack of progress in DHS stand-up and reorganization is due to a lack of results. Much of DHS’ progress simply was not communicated to the public by the Ridge team. It wasn’t so much a problem of poor organization as simply poor public relations.

As Mr. Chertoff conducts his “second-stage review” of DHS operations and structure and makes his reorganization plans known, I urge him to also recognize the progress thus far for this huge department. As he moves on with his plans, he should continue an open dialogue with the public and the media to make DHS’ hard work known, as well as its shortcomings.

The first step to getting a federal agency off the ground is finding the right people to make it work — not an easy task. When I joined the management office on April 6, 2003, DHS was beginning its fifth week. Nine federal agencies had donated the now famous 22 components that made up the department’s operations and delivery elements.

The White House staff that served on the Homeland Security Transition Team provided the nucleus of the DHS Headquarters organizations of which there now are 33 new offices. This was a very small force compared to the staffing necessary for the second-largest federal department. When we moved out of the Executive Office of the President’s space in summer 2003 to the Nebraska Avenue complex and other space borrowed from the General Services Administration, it didn’t take many buses to move the staff.

To say the DHS stand-up and reorganization was the quintessential business process re-engineering is probably an understatement. However, ignoring or criticizing the reorganization as a failure would rob many hard-working and dedicated support and management staff of credit due them for their resourcefulness in advancing this unprecedented job.

Companies involved in outsourcing will be the first to explain that transitioning from one service provider to another, such as taking over a call center, is the easy part. Businesses outsource support services to save money and stay competitive. To do so they transform the service base by eliminating redundancies and using industry’s best practices and appropriate technology.

Sound similar to what DHS has on its plate? Industry knows the tough part is the transformation. Industry also knows that, in our capitalist system, companies that do not undergo the pain of transformation are on their way out of business.

To recap some of DHS’ recent success: In 2004, the department stood up a Homeland Security Information Network that connected computer counterterrorism networks in all 50 states and in 20 of the most populated urban centers.

The Homeland Security Operations Center was also established, providing for a warning system 24 hour per day seven days a week that brings 35 federal and local intelligence and law enforcement operations into a single network system.

DHS launched the US-VISIT program, which identified 904 people against criminal databases and managed to prevent 296 known or suspected criminals from crossing our borders. The department also undertook the largest port security operations since World War II with the Coast Guard conducting more than 38,000 security patrols by air, land and sea and boarded more than 2,500 “high interest” vessels.

Airport screening was also improved significantly over the last year: TSA beefed up the screeners with new training, testing and recertification. TSA also deployed simulated weapon and modular bomb set kits to every airport and conducted covert testing to expose screeners to new threats. TSA screeners intercepted more than 6.7 million prohibited items including knives, box cutters and more than 650 firearms.

Nearly 100 percent of all checked baggage at U.S. airports was screened and hardened cockpit doors were installed on all 6,000 large passenger aircraft.

I am confident the Chertoff team will reinforce the progress to date for the department’s support infrastructure. And this time, it is to be hoped, they will work closely with the public and the media to make their many successes known and tell the story better than we did.


Former chief of staff,

Office of the Undersecretary for Management

Department of Homeland Security.

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