Chertoff takes over at DHS

President Bush today welcomed Homeland Security Department secretary Michael Chertoff to his new responsibilities during a swearing-in ceremony at the Ronald Reagan Building in Washington.

One of his first tasks will be gaining Congress' support for the administration's planned reorganization of the department's computerized screening and tracking systems. Yesterday, Chertoff told Congress that he had launched a top-to-bottom review of the department.

Bush cited the progress DHS has made and mentioned the $14 billion of grants it has disbursed to state and local governments for security gear, including communications systems and command centers. He also noted that DHS has established secure communications to emergency operations centers and state governors, 'to ensure that they get threat information on a real-time basis.'

The House Homeland Security Committee's Subcommittee on Economic Security, Infrastructure Protection and Cybersecurity yesterday reviewed the administration's fiscal 2006 budget request, which includes a plan to consolidate several threat tracking projects in a new Screening and Coordination Office (SCO).

Rep. Christopher Cox, chairman of the full committee, said in his opening statement at the hearing that the subcommittee would scrutinize plans for the SCO.

'For example, [the Transportation Security Administration's] Secure Flight program, which once operational will be the principal mode of screening domestic air travelers against terrorist watch lists, is recommended for inclusion within the SCO,' the California Republican said.

'But [Customs and Border Protection's] Advanced Passenger Information System, which is used for the screening of international passengers flying into the United States, is not proposed for inclusion within the SCO at this time,' Cox said. 'This is an issue that needs to be explored, among many others.'

Chertoff told the committee that DHS would shun disconnected systems.

'I want to emphasize that our analysis of the threats and risks will drive the structure, operations, policies and missions of the department, and not the other way around,' the former federal judge and Justice Department official said.

'We will not look at the threats and our mission through the prisms of the department's existing structures and functions. Instead, we will analyze the threats and define our mission holistically and exhaustively, then seek to adapt the department to meet those threats and execute that mission,' Chertoff said. 'We must move away from stovepipe solutions.'

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