Homeland Security nominee pushes joint task force model

Asa Hutchinson, President Bush's nominee to oversee border and transportation security in the Homeland Security Department, is considering the Drug Enforcement Administration's Joint Interagency Task Force as a model for creating cooperation among the agencies that would be consolidated under his management.

In prepared testimony for his Wednesday confirmation hearing at the Senate Commerce Committee, Hutchinson said the joint task force is "an example of what can be accomplished at Homeland Security through that type of cooperation and integration of various agencies."

Senate Commerce Committee Chairman John McCain, R-Ariz., said in his opening statement that he is particularly interested in how Hutchinson would integrate and establish working relationships among the Coast Guard, Customs Service, Immigration and Naturalization Service, Transportation Security Administration and other agencies that would fall under Hutchinson's jurisdiction if he is confirmed for the job.

Hutchinson said as part of his job, he believes he should communicate and consult regularly with agency employees, local and state community groups, government officials, and the private sector to implement existing policies and develop new ones. To ensure that his part of the department met performance goals, he said he would take "regular temperature checks" of agencies and aim to help the department correct any deficiencies before they became too large.

Hutchinson also outlined goals for his first two years in office, including bringing the inspection functions at U.S. ports under one command, improving technology at U.S. borders to enhance the flow of commerce and detect unlawful cargo, and improving information technology and management oversight at INS.

Other goals include bringing the incorporated agencies on board at the Homeland Security Department in an "orderly and well-managed fashion," and working with the Homeland Security Intelligence Analysis and Infrastructure Protection directorate to enhance the gathering and sharing of human intelligence within his jurisdiction.

One of the biggest challenges for the agency will be staying ahead of U.S. enemies that are able to adopt new tactics to cross the nation's borders, Hutchinson said. "The top three challenges ... are integrating and streamlining [the department's] components, maintaining the quality of existing work of its components during the transition, and putting systems and procedures in place flexible enough to meet new threats," he said.

Hutchinson attributed the root of past failures in the agencies to the absence of a security-focused mission, inadequate information sharing and redundant jobs throughout the agencies.

McCain said in his opening statement that he hopes to move Hutchinson's nomination through the Senate quickly.

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