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Chertoff Outlines Changes at Homeland Security

The Department of Homeland Security, created as a result of the Sept. 11 attacks, merged 22 agencies in 2003 -- the largest reorganization in the federal government's modern history. On Wednesday, Secretary Michael Chertoff announced the results of his review of how DHS operates, saying the department is being transformed into a coherent organization that serves one purpose.

Among the changes, DHS plans to eliminate a handful of senior managers and replace them with one undersecretary for policy who will report directly to Chertoff.

Chertoff said he plans to centralize his agency's terror analysis, put a higher priority on bioterrorism and step up detection systems in mass transit.

In welcome news to Washington-area commuters, the department also will lift a rule that forbade passengers from leaving their seats for 30 minutes before flying into or out of Reagan National Airport.

Chertoff also renewed his pitch to retool terror-watch lists used to screen passengers on airline flights to eliminate what he called "an unacceptably high number of false positives."

He said the United States needs to improve its immigration system as part of bolstering border security. Though the department will deploy more personnel and technology at borders to deter illegal immigrants from entering the country, Chertoff said a newly approved temporary worker program should help migrants seeking jobs in the United States "into regulated legal channels."

He said he and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will soon announce plans to ease visa hassles for foreigners entering the country to visit, work and study.

Chertoff also pledged better oversight of private contracting practices in the department. But most of his recommendations Wednesday focused on a shaking up of Homeland Security's chain of command.

Chief among them was creation of an intelligence director to centralize the analysis of information gathered by 11 Homeland Security bureaus. The director, who has not yet been appointed, will be asked to improve Homeland Security's standing within the intelligence community, where it is perceived as a junior partner and often left out of the loop.

A chief medical officer also will be named to oversee bioterror policy and coordinate responses to biological attacks by the Centers for Disease Control, which stockpiles vaccines and antidotes, and state and local officials. Poor information flow between federal agencies during the Washington-area's false anthrax scare this year contributed to the decision to create this post, officials said.

A new policy undersecretary will oversee international affairs, strategic plans and work with the private sector. And Chertoff will elevate cybersecurity by assigning it to an assistant secretary, who also focuses on telecommunications.

Information from the Associated Press was included in this report.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Ari Shapiro has been one of the hosts of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine, since 2015. During his first two years on the program, listenership to All Things Considered grew at an unprecedented rate, with more people tuning in during a typical quarter-hour than any other program on the radio.