Ridge pledges data merger

Homeland Security secretary-designate Tom Ridge is pledging to blend the government's immigration and law enforcement databases.

GCN file photo

In his nomination hearing today before the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee, Homeland Security secretary-designate Tom Ridge pledged to blend the government's immigration and law enforcement databases.

In response to a question from Sen. Thomas Carper (D-Del.), Ridge said Congress had given his department the task of merging information gathered by the Immigration and Naturalization Service with that of the FBI and CIA.

"We recognize that we have plenty of information, but we have been unable'not necessarily unwilling'to connect that information,' he said. 'One of our highest priorities will be to connect those databases."

Ridge said Homeland Security officials have identified "a way ahead" in the data fusion task using commercial applications. He expressed satisfaction with the new department's IT budget, and said, "There are existing funds in the appropriations to wire us together." In the new department, Ridge said, he will work to break down stovepipes so "we can get the right information to the right people at the right time," he pledged.

In response to a question from Sen. John Sununu (R-N.H.), Ridge said he expects biometric authentication to be a significant part of the department's workload. "Ultimately there needs to be an international standard' for biometrics, he said. "I can envision a day in the not too distant future that we'll require biometric identification of people crossing the border, and our friends and allies will require that, too."

In a brief press session after the hearing, Ridge said Defense Department secretary Donald Rumsfeld has commissioned a team of specialists to work on homeland systems interoperability, as have FBI director Robert S. Mueller III and CIA director George Tenet. "That collaboration is with an eye to creating an architecture to make information available across agency lines,' he said. 'We are not trying to design a brand-new system."

Committee members praised Ridge's qualifications to head HSD.

Later in the day, the committee voted unanimously to report Ridge's nomination to the full Senate with a favorable recommendation, according to committee staff.

The full Senate will take up Ridge's nomination next week, a committee aide said.

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