DHS shake-up to boost technology programs

DHS secretary Michael Chertoff said his plans include consolidating intelligence functions and creating an assistant secretary post in charge of cybersecurity and telecommunications.

Alex Wong

Homeland Security Department secretary Michael Chertoff last week announced a departmentwide reorganization plan that will elevate responsibility for cybersecurity, preparedness and operations, and butress several technology programs. The overhaul largely was based on an analytic matrix correlating threats with preparedness and potential consequences, officials said.

'The matrix will allow us to match possible threats against possible targets and will map the current state of prevention, protection and response planning with regard to each,' Chertoff told hundreds of DHS employees in Washington. 'This matrix will be a critical tool [that will] enable us to identify and remedy current gaps in preparedness.'

Chertoff unveiled a technology decision involving the U.S. Visitor and Immigrant Status Indicator Technology program that is designed to help detect and thwart terrorists seeking visas. DHS plans to require first-time visitors to the United States to submit 10 fingerprints, rather than the two now required under the U.S. Visitor and Immigrant Status Indicator Technology program.

Some analysts have said the two-finger IDENT fingerprint match does not take full advantage of the FBI's Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System database that uses 10 fingerprints.

Chertoff repeated department signals that additional changes are in the wings for border technologies. 'We are developing a new approach to controlling the border that includes an integrated mix of additional staffing, new technology and enhanced infrastructure investment,' he said.

The reorganization will result in a cumbersome DHS organization chart that calls for 26 agencies to report directly to Chertoff through his deputy secretary, Michael P. Jackson.

Some parts of Chertoff's plan, which resulted from a months-long process known as the Second Stage Review, will require congressional approval, such as the proposal to create an undersecretary for preparedness and another undersecretary for policy.

House Homeland Security Committee chairman Christopher Cox (R-Calif.) praised Chertoff at a hearing Thursday for adopting the security panel's cybersecurity reform plan.

In with the new ...

Chertoff announced that he would centralize the department's intelligence functions under the assistant secretary for information analysis, who will become the department's chief intelligence officer. The plan also would create a new assistant secretary for cybersecurity and telecommunications.

Under the new plan, many department functions will be covered by a new operations coordination office.

The plan does create the opportunity for additional CIO slots that would report to the new undersecretaries for policy and preparedness, as well as the director for operations coordination.

Jackson told reporters during a press briefing after Chertoff's speech that if the reorganization creates the need for additional CIO positions, DHS officials will create those slots. But they will seek to use existing department resources when possible, he said, implying that the number of new CIO slots may not correspond with the number of new offices.

Chertoff repeated administration calls to merge passenger screening programs under a Screening and Coordination Office that would oversee the Transportation Security Administration's Registered Traveler and Secure Flight programs, among others. 'All these screening programs should be integrated so that screening is consistent and interoperable,' he said.

Cargo screening is set for an upgrade under a reshaped program called Secure Freight. 'I believe we can gather, fuse and assess more complete data from the global supply chain to develop a more accurate profile of the history of cargo in a given container,' Chertoff said. 'Data about what cargo is moving from the initial point of shipping to the final destination will allow us to target risk better.'

Jackson told reporters that the department plans to direct more personnel and funds to Secure Freight, which would build on existing programs such as the Container Security Initiative . 'There is a strong impulse to put more assets against this,' Jackson said.

In a reference to current headlines, Chertoff said, 'Last week's attack in London re-emphasized for me the need to act on another Second Stage Review recommendation: better integration and consolidation among the department's multiple crisis management centers. We will do that.'

Security first

Chertoff proposed a change in immigration procedures that likely will have an effect on a pending IT overhaul at Citizenship and Immigration Services. Under his proposal, immigrants whose residence and citizenship applications are pending would pass through a security review at the beginning of the process, rather than at the end.

The change would speed immigrant processing and end a situation where people who pose security threats to the country are allowed to remain here for years.

The job title undersecretary for management, which oversees the CIO Office now, will remain in place, according to an organization chart DHS officials distributed. The undersecretary for management will regain authority over the department's Security Office, which oversees security accreditation, some systems management tasks, security training and some contractual work under the new plan.

The Homeland Security Act of 2002 contains authorization for Chertoff to ask Congress for permission to carry out many of the proposed changes.

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