Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff will announce a major restructuring of his 180,000-employee department today, changing how the two-year-old agency handles intelligence, sets policy and manages key law enforcement operations in response to criticism that domestic security remains unfocused and poorly coordinated.
Chertoff will realign agencies that secure the nation's skies and police its borders, replace or reassign the duties of three of five undersecretaries, and emphasize missions such as increasing national preparedness and screening people and cargo before they enter the nation, congressional and department officials said.
Many Americans will notice no immediate impact from the changes. But analysts said the restructuring could help the department better accomplish fundamental tasks such as protecting computer and financial networks, guiding local preparedness efforts, processing threat information, and identifying key private-sector vulnerabilities.
Chertoff's plan marks a milestone in the difficult evolution of the largest civilian Cabinet department, launched in March 2003 by the Bush administration under pressure from Congress. The government undertook the largest federal reorganization since 1947 to give one department the task of defending the homeland from attack, but critics say the agency has failed to set priorities and is mired in turf disputes.
"This is the last, best chance to get it right," said James Jay Carafano, senior research fellow for defense and homeland security at the Heritage Foundation, who, like others, has faulted the administration's initial effort for failing to give the secretary clear control of 22 component agencies or create a strong planning component. "If the Department of Homeland Security is something the government is really going to do 24-7, 365 days a year, for years, doesn't it make sense to get it done right, now?"
Chertoff, a former federal appellate judge, assistant attorney general and U.S. attorney, announced "a comprehensive review of our entire organization" March 16, 13 days after taking office. He said his goal was to identify priorities based on three factors: specific threats posed by terrorists, U.S. vulnerabilities and attacks that would be most damaging.
While some observers expected elimination of the much-derided color-coded threat advisory system, Chertoff has said he is "fine-tuning it," with changes to be discussed with state and local agencies.
Details of Chertoff's "Second Stage Review," initiated in March when he succeeded the department's first secretary, Tom Ridge, were provided to key congressional committees in advance of Chertoff's announcement today. Department officials said Chertoff can order 80 percent of the changes, but new undersecretary positions would require congressional approval.
Two senior department officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity because Chertoff has not yet made his announcement, said he would lay out a road map and short-term markers. His areas of focus include preparing for the most devastating kinds of terrorist attacks, securing transportation modes other than aviation, improving screening technology, and rolling out a "new game plan" for border protection and immigration later this year.
"We are not trying to rearrange the deck chairs," one official said. "We are trying to look at what the mission is and understand very specifically how we need to be structured to accomplish that mission."
Congressional and department officials said Chertoff will align components into three "buckets" -- intelligence, operations and policy. A new undersecretary for policy will broaden the department's vision of its responsibilities, including planning, international affairs and private-sector offices.
Chertoff will eliminate undersecretaries for border and transportation security and for information analysis and infrastructure protection -- posts he has left unfilled for months -- redirecting components elsewhere, including to a strengthened directorate for preparedness.
That directorate will include grant programs for state and local governments, a new chief medical officer to coordinate with other agencies on bioterrorism issues, and a new assistant secretary for cybersecurity and telecommunications. A new chief intelligence officer will take up information analysis functions now that government-wide responsibilities have been given to a national intelligence director.
Operational agencies such as Transportation Security Administration, Customs and Border Protection, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency will report directly to Deputy Secretary Michael P. Jackson and Chertoff. With more than 30,000 border, customs and Secret Service agents and air marshals, the Homeland Security Department has three times as many officers as the FBI.
Several officials said the Federal Air Marshal Service will move a fourth time since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, returning to the TSA from ICE. The marshals still rely on the TSA for intelligence and planning, officials said.
Congressional reaction yesterday was muted at Chertoff's request. But analysts said he has raised expectations in Congress for major reforms with a rigorous review that has remained secret for weeks. Last week's London bombings have refocused attention on terrorism threats and are likely to bring increased scrutiny in the coming days.
Coming in Chertoff's fifth month in office, the review has cost time, money and energy, noted Richard A. Falkenrath, former Bush homeland security adviser and a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. But he added: "We hold the secretary responsible for the performance and the results of his agency, and he should have the latitude to organize it how he sees fit."
Staff writer Mary Beth Sheridan contributed to this report.