Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said yesterday that he has launched a top-to-bottom review of the 180,000-employee department and will consider revamping entire agencies and programs that are part of it.
"Old categories, old jurisdictions and old turf will not define our objectives," Chertoff said in a speech at George Washington University, 13 days after he took over the department. "Bureaucratic structures and categories exist to serve our mission, and not to drive it."
Chertoff described his 60- to 90-day examination as "a comprehensive review of our entire organization, the way it's structured . . . and its policies."
In an interview with reporters, Chertoff declined to elaborate on possible changes, but officials said one option is merging two of its agencies. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), which investigates crimes, and Customs and Border Protection (CBP), which monitors foreigners arriving at U.S. airports, are separate parts of the former U.S. Customs Service and the old Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS). Proponents say the reunited agency would function more effectively.
In his speech, Chertoff said his study to identify the department's top priorities will focus on three factors: the specific kinds of threats terrorists pose, American society's vulnerabilities to attack and which kinds of attacks would be most devastating.
In his address, Chertoff for the first time laid out his vision for protecting the nation, and there were no obvious differences with the priorities of his predecessor, Tom Ridge. But Chertoff hinted at subtle changes in emphasis.
Chertoff, who headed the Justice Department's criminal division under former attorney general John D. Ashcroft, said he expects smoother coordination between federal agencies, particularly his department and Justice. Aides have pointed out that Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales has a much more circumspect style than Ashcroft, his predecessor.
"We have a new group of players, people who are in government," Chertoff said. "I don't think there's anybody here who's looking to jostle for position in front of the camera. I think what we're looking to do is project a disciplined and steady flow of information to the public, which keeps people informed."
On a few occasions in the past couple of years, Ridge was frustrated when Ashcroft announced alarming terrorist threat information -- a duty that, under presidential directive, falls to the homeland security secretary. At times, the DHS disagreed with the tone of Ashcroft's announcements.
Chertoff said his inclination is to avoid commenting publicly about fast-moving threat-related events, especially in the realm of scientific investigations, unless he is certain of the facts -- even if the media are clamoring for information. "I may say we don't know very much at all," he said. "I'm not going to guess."
Aides said those remarks were prompted in part by events on Tuesday when, they said, two cable television networks incorrectly reported that government laboratories had confirmed finding anthrax bacteria at a Defense Department mail facility in Virginia. By Tuesday evening, officials said tests all but ruled out the presence of anthrax bacteria.
Chertoff declined to discuss details about 12 possible scenarios for terrorist attacks identified by the White House's Homeland Security Council last year. The council's report, distributed to state homeland security offices, was designed to sharpen preparedness planning at all levels of government. It was revealed by the New York Times in yesterday's editions.
A 10-kiloton nuclear bomb, for example, would destroy everything within a half mile, would cost hundreds of billions of dollars and would contaminate 3,000 square miles of land, according to the report. An attack on a petroleum refinery could kill 350 people and hospitalize 1,000, it said.
Attacking a chlorine tank at an industrial plant could cause 17,500 deaths, and likely would prompt large groups of people to flee in panic, which would cause more fatalities in traffic accidents and other mishaps. The rule of thumb, the report said, is one fatality for every 10,000 people who evacuate.