INS shortens chain of command at the Border Patrol

Senior managers in the Border Patrol's field offices will report directly to the head of the agency as part of a broader effort to improve accountability at the Immigration and Naturalization Service, administration officials announced Wednesday.

Effective immediately, the Border Patrol's 21 sector chiefs will no longer report to a regional director, but will answer directly to the agency's headquarters chief to create a more direct chain of command. Under the previous system, sector chiefs reported to one of three regional directors who then reported to the head of the Border Patrol, currently Gustavo De La Vina. Regional directors have both enforcement and service responsibilities.

"The new, direct chain of command for the Border Patrol will help enhance national security by enabling the chief to rapidly deploy personnel and other resources in response to crises arising anywhere in the United States," INS Commissioner James Ziglar said at a press conference Wednesday.

Attorney General John Ashcroft joined Ziglar in announcing the organizational changes, which are part of the agency's overall restructuring plan. The administration's INS reorganization plan, which Ashcroft announced in November, splits the INS into a law enforcement bureau and a service bureau. Each bureau has a clear chain of command to increase accountability and improve agency performance.

"The INS will be a stronger deterrent to our enemies and a stronger servant to our friends," Ashcroft said.

"The Border Patrol is just the beginning," Ziglar said. "Restructuring will result in better defined chains of command for all agency programs, in both service and enforcement." Prior to the change in the chain of command at the Border Patrol, the chief "in effect, had no direct authority over his own organization," Ziglar said.

Ziglar said he tried to immediately deploy 318 Border Patrol agents to airports across the country after the Sept. 11 attacks, but was stymied by red tape. It took him 36 hours to circumvent the bureaucracy, he said.

The union representing Border Patrol agents supports the new direct chain of command for sector chiefs. "At the very least, it eliminates one unnecessary rung [regional directors] in the ladder, and will make accountability much easier to attain and result in a lot less finger-pointing," said T.J. Bonner, president of the National Border Patrol Council, which is part of the American Federation of Government Employees. "I don't imagine things will turn around overnight, but this is a major step in achieving accountability within the senior management," Bonner said.

Prior to the reporting changes, the head of the Border Patrol had very little control over sector chiefs, Bonner said. "The head of the Border Patrol could make policy, but could not enforce it," he said. "He had to go to the regional directors to ask them for help to enforce it with sector chiefs."

Ashcroft and Ziglar also announced the creation of an Office of Juvenile Affairs, which will oversee the needs of unaccompanied minors in INS custody. They also announced changes to chains of command at INS detention facilities. By August, all officers in charge of the agency's detention facilities will have to report directly to headquarters on management issues, the care of detainees and detention standards. Currently, officers in the agency's eight detention facilities report to district and regional directors who then report to headquarters. The director of the Office of Juvenile Affairs will report directly to the head of the INS.

Ziglar said the administration's restructuring plan is different from past efforts to turn the dysfunctional INS around. "While there have been partial reorganizations focused on headquarters, there have been no fundamental changes in the management structure of this organization where it is needed the most-in the field," Ziglar said.

The agency is looking for a chief information officer and chief financial officer-positions that didn't exist in the old INS. "As a former businessman myself, I found it truly remarkable that the INS didn't have these positions before," Ziglar said.

Both Ashcroft and Ziglar praised Congress for its efforts to improve accountability at the INS, but stopped short of endorsing any one piece of legislation. The House Judiciary Committee last week passed a bill (H.R. 3231) that would replace the INS with two new Justice Department bureaus focused on enforcement and immigration. Under the proposal, an associate attorney general would act as a sort of czar over immigration issues.

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