Homeland Security chair proposes performance deadlines

House Homeland Security Chairman Chris Cox, R-Calif., plans on Wednesday to unveil a proposal to measure the performance of the Homeland Security Department and establish deadlines for specific security tasks.

"It's very important for Congress to measure the department's progress," Cox said. "As we enter the department's second year, we're in a new phase. It is our first opportunity to take stock of what has been accomplished and also to prioritize the remaining tasks."

Because some projects may take many years to complete, he said it is important to set interim deadlines or "milestones."

Different deadlines would apply to every division of the department. Among projects that might see new deadlines are: setting up the Information Analysis and Infrastructure Protection division, the newest wing of the department; container security; air cargo security and the air marshals program.

Cox said his goal was to allow for midcourse corrections at the department rather than evaluating it years from now.

While he said hearings would not get under way until early next year, Cox said he wants to begin a discussion with the department and with colleagues on Capitol Hill to help decide how to prioritize the many projects at the department, how to set goals for key projects and how to measure progress toward those goals.

Cox said he has been in discussions with department officials, including Homeland Secretary Tom Ridge, for the past six months. Still, one department official said, "This announcement has taken the department by surprise."

Cox and his aides already are discussing with House leadership aides what sorts of "milestones" to establish for the department. An agency spokesman said, "We look forward to working with the committee on this as well as other important topics."

The spokesman added the department already adheres to a number of congressionally mandated deadlines for the US VISIT border security program, as well for air travel security. House Homeland Security ranking member Jim Turner, D-Texas, declined to comment until he had seen the proposal.

With his deadlines, Cox said he hopes to avoid "the slapdash urgency of the original deadlines imposed on the [Transportation Security Administration]." He emphasized his approach would be more deliberative.

"We want to make sure these are intelligent, sensible approaches," Cox said. "What we don't want to do is force arbitrary deadlines on programs that ultimately impair their effectiveness."

While these deadlines will be debated during an election year, Cox said they would probably not kick in until 2005, so they should escape being used as "election fodder."