- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 18, 2005

The long-debated merger of two Department of Homeland Security agencies with overlapping jurisdiction for border security and immigration enforcement is recommended in an unreleased report by the Inspector General’s Office at the Department of Homeland Security, law-enforcement authorities said.

The report was requested by Sen. Susan Collins, Maine Republican and chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, amid concerns that turf battles, budget problems and low morale within U.S. Customs and Immigration Enforcement (ICE) threatened national security.

A House subcommittee also is investigating the merger of the two agencies, saying it wants to know whether combining ICE and U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) could better meet the threat of potential terrorist attacks and enhance immigration enforcement.

Rep. Mike D. Rogers, Alabama Republican and chairman of the House Homeland Security subcommittee on management, integration and oversight, said questions remain two years after Homeland Security’s creation whether it is effectively managing its immigration-enforcement and border-security resources.

The inspector general’s report, according to Homeland Security officials who have reviewed it, contradicts a realignment plan offered in July by Secretary Michael Chertoff, who called for ICE and CBP to remain separate.

Mr. Chertoff — in naming Julie L. Myers, his former Justice Department chief of staff to head ICE — committed to giving the agency a chance to succeed instead of succumbing to calls from both inside and outside ICE that it be merged with CBP. Under the realignment plan, ICE and CBP remain as stand-alone agencies, reporting directly to Mr. Chertoff.

But several ICE supervisors and field agents complained that the agency has struggled in its attempt to establish a specific mission strategy and have criticized poor administrative systems, budgetary concerns, a hiring freeze, morale problems and a lack of cohesion and identity despite the expenditure of billions of taxpayer dollars.

Some on Capitol Hill also have expressed skepticism about Mr. Chertoff’s restructuring program and his decision not to merge ICE and CBP.

Noting that her committee had heard testimony from the Rand Corp. and others recommending a merger of CBP and ICE, Miss Collins said: “If anything, you’re further separating the entities. We know that a lot of law-enforcement officials believe it would be better instead to bring them together.”

ICE executives have argued that merging the agency with CBP would impose substantial costs, that problems inside the agency can be solved with a less-drastic approach and that a merger to correct management problems was less desirable than just fixing the existing problems.

Marcy Forman, ICE director of investigations, said in a recent interview the agency had made significant progress since its March 2003 creation and a “very talented work force” was continuing to get the job done.

“I think there is an appreciation and recognition of the authority we have, and the agents and analysts here believe they really can get things done,” she said. “We all recognize that these are challenging times, but we need to move on.”

One senior ICE official who reviewed a copy of the inspector general’s report said it was “100 percent in favor” of an ICE-CBP merger.

“It’s very damning of the current structure and even more so of Chertoff’s plan,” the official said. “The examples of total breakdown are unbelievable.”

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