Ridge unveils Homeland Security consolidation, reorg efforts

Secretary of Homeland Security Tom Ridge announced today plans to reorganize staff and consolidate resources of the Homeland Security Department to boost security in four areas.

The Homeland Security Department will immediately begin initiatives to enhance commercial aviation and border security, improve the homeland security grant process and improve secure communications with state government, Ridge said in a speech given at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington.

Specifically, the department will make available 5,000 additional federal air marshals, combine three different border inspection functions, consolidate terrorism grant and training programs within one office and provide secure video and telephone communications to all states, territories and the District of Columbia, Ridge said.

To increase coordination and information sharing between federal air marshals and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers, Ridge said the Federal Air Marshall Services and Explosives Unit from the Transportation Security Administration will transfer to the Immigration and Customs Enforcement unit.

The move will enhance security by creating a "surge capacity" to deal with specific threats; allow for real-time sharing of sensitive law information among air marshals; and help federal, state and local law enforcement respond quickly to incidents at the nation's airports.

Ridge also said the U.S. Customs and Border Protection unit will cross-train inspectors to handle previously separate inspections related to immigration status, customs inspection and agriculture inspection. By using one employee to perform all three primary inspection functions, the department will be able to deploy additional employees the role of trained counterterrorism response inspectors that interview passengers with possible terrorist ties.

As part of a new secure communications initiative, the Homeland Security department will provide secure videoconferencing among the operations centers of all 50 states, two territories and the District of Columbia; provide governors with secure phones and the capability to receive secure communications; and coordinate security clearances for five additional state-designated officials in each of the states and territories.

Finally, the department plans to launch a new Web portal soon that will use new technologies to make terrorism and emergency preparedness grants more accessible by listing all available department funding resources for state and local applications in one place and streamlining the application process, Ridge said.

About the Author

William Welsh is a freelance writer covering IT and defense technology.

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