Ridge announces reorganization of border agencies

Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge Thursday announced a major restructuring of the agencies that protect the nation’s borders.

Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge Thursday announced a major restructuring of the agencies that protect the nation's borders.

The restructuring marks the Bush administration's first use of authority, provided in the Homeland Security Act, to reorganize agencies that are part of the massive department.

"One of our first goals for the department this year is to integrate old functions in a new way, to make us stronger and safer," Ridge said in a speech to hundreds of Homeland Security workers in Miami. "As a first step to accomplish this, we will restructure our border agencies," he said.

Ridge also announced that President Bush would seek $41.3 billion for homeland defense in his fiscal 2004 budget, up from $37.7 billion in 2003.

The plan will merge five existing Homeland Security agencies into two new bureaus focusing on border inspection and enforcement. The inspection bureau, known as the Bureau of Customs and Border Protection, will include 30,000 employees, including 17,000 inspectors from the Customs Service and employees of the Border Patrol, the Immigration and Naturalization Service, and the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service. Customs Commissioner Robert Bonner will head this bureau.

Enforcement and investigative officers at Customs, INS and the Federal Protective Service will make up the new Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The organization will have about 14,000 employees and will be led by Michael Garcia, currently acting commissioner of the INS.

Both bureaus will be part of the department's Border and Transportation Security Directorate, headed by Undersecretary Asa Hutchinson. Neither the Coast Guard nor the Transportation Security Administration will join the new bureaus.

Reorganizing the border security agencies along functional lines will improve coordination and give employees in these areas a clear mission, Bush administration officials said in a fact sheet on the proposal. "It will join the investigators with the investigators and the inspectors with the inspectors to capitalize on expertise and resources," the department said.

The idea of merging border agencies has been kicked around since the 1970s. The Clinton administration's National Performance Review supported the idea, but it was nixed when the Treasury and Justice departments opposed it.

The proposal takes effect March 1, when the new agencies move into the Homeland Security Department. Merging the agencies will be a "collaborative effort" among employees, management, and homeland security stakeholders, the department said.