NATION Homeland Security unveils new overhaul of defense measures
Secretary Michael Chertoff plans to make improvements in neglected areas.
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Proclaiming the Homeland Security Department "open to change," Secretary Michael Chertoff announced plans Wednesday to centralize his agency's terror analysis, put a higher priority on bioterrorism and step up detection systems in mass transit.
In welcome news to Washington-area passengers, the department also will lift a rule that forbade passengers from leaving their seats for 30 minutes before flying into or out of Reagan National Airport, Chertoff said in revealing the details of a sweeping overhaul of the 2-year-old agency founded in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks.
Chertoff ordered the review in March shortly after he took office. The overhaul aims to spur the sluggish bureaucracy beset by turf wars and growing pains, and to ensure that department resources are directed to the nation's most vulnerable areas.
"Over time, as intelligence warrants and progress allows, DHS will be open to change. We will be straightforward. If something goes wrong, we will not only acknowledge it, we will be the first to fix the error," Chertoff told a packed ballroom of lawmakers, department employees and other officials.
Chertoff opened his speech by offering condolences to the British people after the London bombings. He gave no specifics about his plan to put explosives, bioterror, chemical or radioactive material detection systems in the nation's rail, subway and bus systems.
He also renewed his pitch to retool terror-watch lists used to screen passengers on airline flights to eliminate what he called "an unacceptably high number of false positives."
Chertoff said the United States must improve its immigration system as part of bolstering border security. Though the department will deploy more personnel and technology at borders to deter illegal immigrants from entering the country, Chertoff said President Bush's proposed temporary worker program should help migrants seeking jobs in the United States gain legal admission.
He said he and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will soon announce plans to ease visa hassles for foreigners entering the country to visit, work and study.
Chertoff also pledged better oversight of his department's private contracting practices. However, most of his recommendations Wednesday focused on shaking up Homeland Security's chain of command.
Change of hierarchy
Chief among them was creation of an intelligence director to centralize the analysis of information gathered by 11 Homeland Security bureaus. The director, who has not yet been appointed, will be asked to improve the department's standing within the intelligence community, where it is perceived as a junior partner and often left out of the loop.
Homeland Security was initially designed to be the government's chief center for analyzing terrorist threats, but an interagency office led by a CIA officer has assumed that role. Homeland Security merged 22 agencies when it opened its doors in March 2003 -- the largest U.S. government reorganization in 50 years.
A chief medical officer also will be named to oversee bioterror policy and coordinate responses to biological attacks by the Centers for Disease Control, which stockpiles vaccines and antidotes, for state and local officials. Poor information flow between federal agencies during the Washington area's false anthrax scare this year contributed to the decision to create this post, officials said.
A new policy undersecretary will oversee international affairs, strategic plans and work with the private sector.