Chertoff calls for a sense of urgency

Homeland Security chief details revamp, priorities

July 14, 2005|By Deborah Barfield Berry | Deborah Barfield Berry,NEWSDAY

WASHINGTON - Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff outlined plans yesterday to revamp his unwieldy department, including support for a push to change its funding formula so states more vulnerable to terrorist attacks would get a bigger share of the pie.

"Federal money should be distributed using the risk-based approach that we will apply to all preparedness activities," Chertoff told an audience in Washington. "And DHS needs the discretion to award infrastructure protection grants in a more flexible manner."

In his long-awaited review, Chertoff also called for the creation of a chief medical officer to coordinate responses to biological terrorist threats and a chief intelligence officer to analyze and monitor information in the two-year-old agency.

Chertoff also plans to set up a central policy office and a domestic nuclear detection office.

Chertoff said he hopes to improve security at the nation's borders, ports and airports. He wants to speed up new technologies to detect bombs and better coordinate information-sharing with local officials.

"Our department must drive improvement with a sense of urgency," Chertoff said.

New York lawmakers have lobbied Chertoff to change the funding formula from one that allocated money according to a state's population. Lawmakers will soon negotiate major differences in House and Senate measures to change the formula.

Despite support for the new funding formula, Chertoff didn't commit to the call from some New York lawmakers to drastically increase funding for rail and transit security in the wake of the London bombings.

In fact, Chertoff cautioned about limited resources and has said money for specific vulnerabilities shouldn't be increased based on a single incident.

"DHS must base its work on priorities driven by risk," he said. "Our goal is to maximize our security, but not security at any price."

Chertoff inherited an agency beset by problems including turf wars, poor management and low morale. After the Sept. 11 attacks, Congress created the department by merging 22 agencies. Soon after taking over early this year, Chertoff ordered a review of the agency's organization and policies.

Lawmakers and security experts have criticized the agency, with some calling for major overhauls.

Lawmakers and experts praised Chertoff's priorities, particularly the creation of a chief intelligence officer.

Sen. Charles E. Schumer, a New York Democrat, pointed out Chertoff's focus on the overlooked issue of cybersecurity and said he hoped Chertoff "is able to get the administration to do more to plug the gaping loopholes in our homeland security."

Newsday is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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