DHS makes headway on IT despite vacancies at the top

The Homeland Security Department chalked up a systems victory as it entered the new year, but faces new challenges as a growing number of senior positions go vacant.

House OKs homeland security panel

The House Rules Committee last week gave the new Homeland Security Committee oversight of most DHS systems.

A new rule assigned the committee authority over DHS issues generally, with the exceptions of immigration policy, non-border enforcement and customs revenue, which were assigned to the Judiciary Committee. It left authority over customs revenue in the Ways and Means Committee.
The changes strip the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee of its authority over the Transportation Security Administration.

The House Rules Committee decisions dovetail with similar changes in the Senate.

U.S. Visit runs at the borders

Meanwhile, DHS rolled out its virtual border system at the 50 busiest land crossings last month, meeting its year-end deadline.

The U.S. Visitor and Immigrant Status Indicator Technology system went live at all the crossings on Dec. 29, after a phased rollout period. U.S. Visit personnel started the deployment with three pilots in mid-November and implemented additional sites last month.

'We will roll out U.S. Visit to the remaining 115 land ports of entry' this year, spokeswoman Kimberly Weissman said.

Speaking at a press briefing, Kim Nivera, U.S. Visit's chief of business management, described a system enhancement known as U.S. Arrival. It eliminates the need for foreign travelers to manually fill out I-94 forms containing biographical information.

Department must fill jobs at the top

Who will lead DHS' top programs remains a big question. Secretary Tom Ridge, who announced his resignation in November, will stay on until his successor is confirmed or until Feb. 1, and deputy secretary Adm. James Loy has announced a March 1 date for his retirement.

The administration also must find a new undersecretary for information assurance and infrastructure protection. Retired Gen. Frank Libutti announced his resignation from the post last month.

The administration also is seeking a high-level liaison with state and local government. Suzanne Mencer, executive director of state and local coordination and preparedness, is set to step down Jan. 31.

DHS also needs a cybersecurity program director. Since Amit Yoran resigned in September, Andy Purdy has been acting cybersecurity chief.

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