Border security chief outlines first set of management changes

Homeland Security officials will name interim port directors at 350 U.S. ports of entry when border agencies shift into the new department on March 1, Border and Transportation Security chief Asa Hutchinson told Government Executive Tuesday.

Homeland Security officials will name interim port directors at 307 U.S. ports of entry when border agencies shift into the new department on March 1, Border and Transportation Security chief Asa Hutchinson said Tuesday.

Creating a single chain of command at U.S. ports is one of a few behind-the-scenes management changes that Homeland Security officials will make as the department absorbs more than 20 agencies on Saturday, Hutchinson said in an interview with Government Executive.

Most of the changes will be invisible to the public and will have little effect on how employees perform their jobs. But they mark a first step in the department's quest to reap management efficiencies at federal border agencies. That should improve border security, Hutchinson said.

"We want to communicate clearly to each worker out there that their responsibilities will continue, and the only change on March 1 is that some people will have someone different to report to," he said. "By and large they'll be doing the same work, they will hopefully have more support, but their responsibilities will virtually be the same."

Currently, the Customs Service, Immigration and Naturalization Service, and Animal Plant and Health Inspection Service (APHIS) each maintain their own management structures at ports of entry. Saturday's action will merge the chains of command at ports and put all inspectors under a single port director, who in turn will be accountable to the new Bureau of Customs and Border Protection, headed by current Customs Commissioner Robert Bonner.

"Inspectors will be responsible to one lead port director," said Hutchinson. "That is very important in terms of clarity and accountability."

Hutchinson met with port officials Tuesday to outline the changes that will take effect on Saturday.

Hutchinson will not try to combine the management structure of INS and criminal investigators at Customs on Saturday, in part because investigators are often not located together. "It's going to take a longer period of time to effectively merge them together," he said.

But Hutchinson will end the practice of having some INS criminal investigators report to agency officials with experience in immigration services or inspection. As of Saturday, INS enforcement officials will supervise all INS investigators, he said.

"It will be the first time they will have a chain of command and leadership that is devoted to the enforcement arena," he said.

The current INS will be split three ways under the homeland security legislation and a reorganization of U.S. border agencies announced by Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge on Jan. 30. INS inspectors will be in the Bureau of Customs and Border Protection, led by Customs' Bonner. Investigators will shift to the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, led by acting INS Commissioner Michael Garcia. A new Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services (BCIS) will provide INS immigration services. President Bush has nominated Eduardo Aguirre Jr., currently Chief Operating Officer of the U.S. Export Import Bank, to lead this bureau.

Both Customs and Border Protection and Immigration and Customs Enforcement will report to Hutchinson, while BCIS will report to Gordon England, Deputy Secretary of Homeland Security.

Officials have not yet decided whether border agency employees will wear a common uniform in the new department, or if they will be allowed to keep wearing their current uniforms, Hutchinson said.