Homeland Security Dept. to undergo reorganization

Chertoff's plan redesigns its top leadership rung, revamps intelligence wing

July 13, 2005|By Siobhan Gorman | Siobhan Gorman,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON - Barely two years after its creation, the Department of Homeland Security is about to undergo an extensive reorganization that will affect everything from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to the government's much-mocked, color-coded terrorism alert system.

The shake-up is expected to be announced in a speech today by Secretary Michael Chertoff, who ordered a management review shortly after taking over the 183,000-employee department in February. The reorganization calls for a redesign of the top rung of the department's leadership and will make significant changes affecting the department's intelligence wing, border security division and FEMA, according to current and former department officials.

Chertoff has decided to preserve the color-coded Homeland Security Advisory System, while giving it a minor makeover, said a former administration official who requested anonymity to avoid upstaging the formal announcement. The changes will provide more specific advice to members of the public and the government, offering information on steps that should be taken at each alert level.

"This is the perfect time to do it," Adm. James M. Loy, former deputy secretary of homeland security, said of the shake-up.

"This is a huge thing for our nation and this department," added Loy, who served as acting secretary until Chertoff took over. "It's big-time important."

Last week's bombings in London have refocused the American public on the terrorist threat and might have given Chertoff more leverage in overcoming internal resistance to some reforms.

When Chertoff announced the comprehensive review last winter, he said it was vital for the department to "examine what we need to do [and] what we are doing" without regard to "old categories, old jurisdictions and old turf."

An initial study was completed May 30, but final details of the reorganization plan were delayed by resistance from FEMA, the government's disaster-relief agency, said a department official who declined to be named in advance of the formal announcement.

The sweeping reorganization still leaves a series of urgent policy issues for the department, according to present and past officials. Among them: better protection of potential terrorist targets such as tunnels and electrical grids; development of more effective devices for detecting bombs and weapons of mass destruction; more comprehensive plans for securing the nation's borders; and tracking cargo destined for this country.

"If there was one disappointment I had as I walked out the door, it was that we weren't as far as we could have or should have been in protecting the core infrastructure of the nation," Loy said.

The shake-up draws on the Defense Department's organizational model. Chertoff is attempting to create joint leadership at the top of the department whose goal would be to better synchronize security efforts.

In the new structure, the border division, which includes the Transportation Security Administration and the old immigration and customs agencies, will disappear, said one former senior department official who spoke on condition of anonymity. The TSA and the other border agencies will probably be left as free-standing, but slimmed-down, units.

A new intelligence office will be created to connect information the department receives from state and local officials with what it learns from U.S. intelligence agencies.

"Intelligence is the lifeblood of the war on terror," said Frank Cilluffo, a former top White House homeland security aide. "To elevate that element in the department is critical."

Emergency preparedness also has been a contentious topic throughout the review process, according to both current and former administration officials, with FEMA officials reluctant to fully merge into the department.

Under Chertoff's redesign, part of FEMA is likely to become part of a new division that will focus on preparedness but will also be responsible for handing out state and local grants and evaluating the targets in this country that might be vulnerable to terrorist attack.

The Senate is debating the department's 2006 budget, and it does not incorporate Chertoff's agenda.

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