Potential U.S. Visit move troubles Thompson

A top Democratic lawmaker on Monday criticized the Homeland Security Department's plan to shift oversight of the U.S. Visitor and Immigrant Status Indicator Technology program to a new directorate.

Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., who chairs the House Homeland Security Committee, addressed a pending DHS reshuffling expected as part of the congressionally mandated reforms to the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Details have not been announced officially, but congressional sources say DHS intends to move U.S. Visit into a newly formed directorate to be led by DHS Preparedness Undersecretary George Foresman. Currently, U.S. Visit is a stand-alone program.

'I plan to look at the decision to move the U.S. Visit program as part of the reorganization,' Thompson said in a statement. 'I am troubled by assertions that it has been moved merely to put the program under a particular individual. Programs should be built around strong policies ' not people. That is a lesson that Katrina and Michael Brown proved way too well.'

Foresman was not immediately available for comment.

Thompson, who laid out his committee's agenda during a speech at the George Washington University Homeland Security Policy Institute in Washington, said this examination is part of a broad plan to make sure 'the nation has planned, is prepared and can protect' the country's interests during an emergency.

Thompson said he intends to pursue several major legislative initiatives, including enhancing mass transit, rail and bus security; doubling the number of border patrol agents; improving intelligence and information-sharing; and boosting support for the National Guard.

He said the committee will be closely examining the department's organizational and management structures and monitoring ongoing projects.

'We will be examining DHS' contracting practices and procedures and the role they play in planning, preparing and protecting our nation. For example, we will take a close look at the Secure Border Initiative and U.S. Visit programs, two programs that are designed to secure our borders,' Thompson said.

To improve science and technology, Thompson said he plans to develop centers of excellence at a variety of institutions, including historically black colleges and Hispanic-serving universities.

He also offered ideas to strengthen technology within the department.

'We need a Science and Technology Directorate that has strong but smart leadership, a clearly defined vision and prudent accounting. These elements will help improve morale, minimize turnover, secure institutional memory and bolster a culture of responsibility within the directorate and its many laboratories,' Thompson said in the statement.

As for the technology issues beyond SBI-Net and U.S. Visit, Thompson said information sharing and interoperable communications are two areas that need increased oversight.

'We shouldn't'five years after [Sept. 11]'be so far behind on interoperability,' he said. 'I plan to look at the decision to move the U.S. Visit program as part of the [DHS] reorganization. I'm troubled by assertions that it has been moved merely to put the program under a particular individual.'

Thompson said he plans to work on legislation to improve intelligence and information among federal, state, local and tribal law enforcement officials.

'We simply cannot have a secure homeland if the officers who patrol our streets are not in the know on what to look for and who the terrorists are,' he said. 'We have to make sure, however, that we share information in a way that protects our privacy and civil liberties.'

Finally, Thompson said the committee will look at the nation's cybersecurity and how DHS is helping to protect critical infrastructure, financial institutions and personal communications.

He also named the new chairmen of the subcomittees:

  • Border, Maritime and Global Counterterrorism: Loretta Sanchez (Calif.)

  • Intelligence, Information Sharing and Terrorism Risk Assessment: Jane Harman (Calif.)

  • Transportation Security and Infrastructure Protection: Sheila Jackson-Lee (Texas)

  • Emerging Threats, Cybersecurity and Science and Technology: Jim Langevin (R.I.)

  • Emergency Communications, Preparedness and Response: Henry Cuellar (Texas)

  • Management, Investigation and Oversight: Chris Carney (Pa.).




Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer for Government Computer News' affiliate publication, Washington Technology.
Jason Miller, GCN's assistant managing editor for news, contributed to this story.

About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

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