New secretary plots realignment at DHS

'I don't want to focus on where we have the money now,' all funding should align with how DHS responds to specific threats.

' Secretary Michael Chertoff

Jonathan Ernest

Chertoff's broad review will include look at IT programs; he promises intergration of systems

The change in leadership at the Homeland Security Department, coupled with pressure for reorganization from Congress, has pushed decisions on IT projects to the back burner'at least temporarily.

New secretary Michael Chertoff has begun a departmentwide review that's slated to continue for at least another two months, and it has not yet reached IT operations, a department CIO said.

'We're still briefing him' on the department's systems programs, the department CIO said. The CIO predicted that 'it will be some time' before Chertoff focuses closely on the details of Homeland Security's IT operations.

Chertoff has said he plans to realign DHS programs against a breakout of the terror risks facing the country. 'I don't want to focus on where we have the money now or where we have the jurisdictional lines now,' Chertoff said this month at a hearing of the House Homeland Security Committee Subcommittee on Economic Security, Infrastructure Protection and Cybersecurity.

The department should be organized and its funding allotted based on threats and vulnerabilities, he said. Referring to his review, the secretary added, 'Our analysis of the threats and risks will drive the structure, operations, policies and missions of the department, and not the other way around.'

Chertoff also promised that he would work to combine DHS' disconnected systems. 'We must move away from stovepipe solutions,' he said, echoing some of Tom Ridge's earliest comments when he was DHS secretary.

Much hangs on the new secretary's policy review, said Jim Lewis, director of the technology and public policy program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.

'The theory is that we won't see major policy changes until the review is over,' he said. That includes a possible elevation of the currently vacant cybersecurity director post to the assistant secretary level.

On hold

'The White House is looking to consolidate and improve the department's operations, and apparently one of the reasons we haven't seen a lot of lower-level nominations is that people are thinking about how to reorganize the place,' Lewis said.

While the Bush administration sorts out its policy options, Congress also is pressing for changes. Four items on the Capitol Hill agenda would impact IT efforts within DHS:
  • Lawmakers want to ensure that the administration's plan for reducing and reallocating state and local grants does not reduce funding for first-responder technology.

  • Congress is proposing that DHS merge its Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Customs and Border Protection agencies.

  • Lawmakers want DHS to give the cybersecurity director broader authority.

  • Members have suggested changes in the administration's plan to create a Screening and Coordination Office to ensure it consolidates all of DHS' threat-tracking systems under one umbrella organization.

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