New homeland security strategy underscores resilience

The White House released an updated National Strategy for Homeland Security this week that while striking familiar themes, such as deterring terrorism through more effective information sharing, also emphasized newer concepts like developing resilient infrastructure.

The 62-page document was prepared by the Homeland Security Council advisory group to the president. Its stated purpose is to update an earlier White House strategy released in July 2002 to reflect, in part, the lessons learned from Hurricane Katrina.

The strategy outlines continued preparedness and prevention efforts, including border security, surveillance, biometrics and information-sharing. It also covers identification cards, cargo identification and tracking, passenger screening and cybersecurity threat detection and neutralization.

Federal contractors have been active in these areas since the Homeland Security Department opened in 2003. The report suggests opportunities will continue to grow and develop in those areas.

For example, the strategy asserts a need for enhanced screening programs involving various identity documents. It lists the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative and Real ID Act as examples of "efforts to improve the integrity of documents used for entry into the United States." Both of those programs involve millions of new identity documents to be issued to U.S. residents.

In addition, the strategy invokes biometrics as an effective tool against establishing identity to help protect against terrorism. For example, the federal government should undertake to "leverage science and technology to enable more advanced multi-modal biometric recognition capabilities in the future that use fingerprint, face or iris data."

Also, the United States should continue to encourage countries that are not participating in the Visa Waiver program to develop and deploy biometric passports, the strategy said.

Furthermore, the report said, the U.S. Visitor and Immigrant Status Indicator Technology program should make continued efforts to expand its biometrics to 10 fingerprints, from two, when visitors enter the country. However, no mention is made in that section of the report of Congress' requirement to implement the U.S. Visit program to track visitor exits.

In the section on infrastructure protection, the report calls for greater attention to resilience, protection and physical survivability of national assets rather than on redundancy. "We must now focus on the resilience of the system as a whole," the report states. Developing resilience in information technology infrastructures and the Internet has been an important theme for the IT Sector Coordinating Committee working with DHS on protecting the IT sector.

Democratic leader Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), who chairs the House Homeland Security Committee, reacted with skepticism to the report, saying it did not appear to have much new information or ideas.

"The real question is, nearly five years after the Department of Homeland Security was created, what's new in this national strategy and how will it better the national effort to secure the homeland?" Thompson asked in a news release.

"The reality is that this strategy provides little guidance for the deficiencies already taxing our homeland security capacity, while at the same time, it attempts to define successes in border security, information sharing, and biopreparedness, which have not yet been realized," Thompson wrote.

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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