Chertoff unveils DHS overhaul

Fingerprint scans for all 10 fingers for new visitors, elevation of cybersecurity into a new assistant secretary post, reorganization of information sharing, and strengthening of core management systems are among the new priorities of the Homeland Security Department announced by Secretary Michael Chertoff today.

The department's U.S. Visit program for incoming foreign visitors will begin requiring biometric scans of 10 fingerprints for all first-time visitors to the United States, rather than two fingerprints, as is the case currently, Chertoff said in announcing the results of his three-month Second Stage Review.

In subsequent visits, the same individuals will be asked for only two fingerprints to verify their identities.

"This will dramatically improve our ability to detect and thwart terrorists trying to enter the United States, with no significant increase in inconvenience," Chertoff said.

The 10-fingerprint standard?in longstanding use for criminal databases operated by the FBI--has been recommended for identity verification systems by scientists at the National Institute of Standards and Technology. However, IT systems needed for processing 10 fingerprints are larger and more costly than for two fingerprints, and use of 10 prints may be controversial because of the associations with being booked for a criminal offense.

Chertoff spoke with reporters in Washington today about a six-point agenda to guide the two-year-old department. Those priorities are boosting preparedness; creating better transportation security for people and cargo; strengthening border security and immigration reform; enhancing information sharing; and improving DHS' financial management, procurement and human resources. Two former directorates?those for Information Analysis & Infrastructure Protection as well as Emergency Preparedness & Response?each would be dissolved and their functions realigned.

Within the newly created Directorate of Preparedness, Chertoff said he will create a new position of assistant secretary for cyber security and telecommunications "to centralize the coordination of the efforts to protect technological infrastructure."

The new post will be "responsible for identifying and assessing the vulnerability of critical telecommunications infrastructure and assets; providing timely, actionable and valuable threat information; and leading the national response to cyber and telecommunications attacks," stated a DHS press release today.

The new position is being warmly welcomed by industry members, who have lobbied the department for several years to give a higher priority to cybersecurity needs.

"This is terrific news," said Harris N. Miller, president of the Information Technology Association of America. "We think the challenges of cyber security are special and different, and we are gratified that DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff shares that view."

Miller said the new position must coordinate closely with physical security components for the nation's critical infrastructures, including water, chemicals, transportation, energy, financial services, health care and others.

Chertoff said the department will put renewed emphasis on information sharing under a new chief intelligence officer, formerly the assistant secretary for information analysis.

"This office will ensure that intelligence is coordinated, fused and analyzed within the department so that we have a common operational picture," Chertoff said. "It will also provide a primary connection between DHS and others within the intelligence community?and a primary source of information for our state, local and private sector partners."

Improving DHS' management is another major focus of the review. Chertoff said areas to be improved include procurement and contracting practices, financial controls and systems, human resource policies and "core information technology systems." Also needing integration and consolidation are the department's multiple crisis management centers, he said.

The Office of Security will be moved to the Management Directorate "to return oversight of that office to the Under Secretary for Management in order to better manage information systems, contractual activities, security accreditation, training and resources," the DHS press release said.

In other details, Chertoff said he will establish a new Director of Operations Coordination who will "work with component leadership and other federal partners to translate intelligence and policy into actions?and to ensure that those actions are joint, well-coordinated and executed in a timely fashion." The operations chief will manage the Homeland Security Operations Center.

Chertoff said he would relocate the U.S. Fire Administration, and all department preparedness and infrastructure protection functions, into the new preparedness directorate. They currently reside in the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which would remain in charge of disaster recovery and response.

Chertoff said DHS will deploy new technology to protect the borders, but provided no details in his prepared remarks. The department is expected to launch the $2.5 billion America's Shield Initiative in 2006 to integrate sensors and surveillance devices at the border.

Regarding airline passenger screening, Chertoff emphasized the need to better coordinate Registered Traveler, which speeds preauthorized travelers through screening, with Secure Flight, which checks travelers against a terrorist watch list. "Equally important are improved protocols to screen inbound international airline passengers and expanded deployment of U.S. Visit for overseas visitors. All these screening programs should be integrated so that screening is consistent and interoperable," Chertoff said.

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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