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Homeland Security Report Card

By Larry Dignan Print this article Print

Are we safer than we were on Sept. 11, 2001? Maybe. The Department of Homeland Security has made strides organizing a bureaucracy of 22 agencies to protect the U.S. From terrorism, but has a lot of work left to do. A report card below.

Category Today Grade What needs to happen

According to the Government Accountability Office, the the Department of Homeland Security has improved baggage and passenger screening procedures, tightened air cargo security and fortified airport perimeters. The agency says that its screening technology needs to become more automated and integrated with devices to detect explosives, but is wrestling with Congress over funding. DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff is requesting a security fee increase to speed upgrades. B Automated screening technology enhancements, faster procedures to register passengers, and checks of cargo that travels on consumer flights. Create better systems to screen passengers. Today, screening consists of checking names against a watchlist. Chertoff wants biometric information and trusted-traveler programs to reduce screening.

Under its reorganization plan, the DHS will create a new Chief Medical Officer position that will coordinate with state and federal health departments. This move is long overdue, says Dr. Marshall Moore, a U.S. Navy physician and Bioweapon Attack First Responder specialist who served at the Naval Weapons Station in Charleston, S.C. DHS says it has also stockpiled enough smallpox vaccine for every person in the U.S., and 32 cities have biosensors. C- Better information sharing between states, hospitals, health clinics and federal officials. Moore wants an information system that states, health clinics and first responders at hospitals can use. The problem: Such a system would fall under the purview of the Centers for Disease Control, Department of Health and Human Services, and the 50 states.

Mixed bag. The DHS' United States Visitor and Immigrant Status Indicator Technology (US-VISIT) program, which uses fingerprints and photos to track visitors, has been installed at 115 airports and 14 seaports, according to the GAO. But the DHS has taken a hit for a lack of patrol officers on the Mexican border, so much so that unofficial groups in border states have started to stop illegals from crossing into the U.S. C- US-VISIT needs to be upgraded to take all 10 fingerprints from visitors who enter the U.S. for the first time, up from two today. According to research firm Input, the DHS is expected to issue a request for proposal to build a border security system in the late summer or early fall. The system would use video surveillance, data sharing software and aerial drones.

The DHS just created a position for an assistant secretary for cybersecurity and telecommunications, reporting to the Under Secretary for Emergency Preparedness and Response. The big question: What took so long? According to a July 19 GAO report, the agency has failed to develop national cyberthreat vulnerability assessments, recovery plans for cybersecurity or a plan to recover critical Internet functions. F DHS has to identify and assess the vulnerability of the telecommunications infrastructure and then work with the private sector to secure it. Ken Silva, chief technology officer of security vendor Verisign, says the department has to keep the private sector informed and update Internet protocols to enhance security.

The DHS has developed pilot processes for detecting radioactive cargo and has assessed port vulnerability. It has also installed X-ray scanners, gamma-ray detectors and radiation detectors in 15 seaports to find weapons of mass destruction. However, the agency has yet to develop a port security plan as mandated by Congress in 2002, and has missed repeated deadlines to deliver the plan. D Chertoff has to deliver a plan that balances the potential threats of incoming cargo with inspection speed. If every container were inspected, commerce would grind to a halt. Homeland Security will also need to continue enlisting help from trading partners abroad to get more cargo inspected before it leaves for the U.S.

This article was originally published on 2005-08-04
Business Editor
Larry formerly served as the East Coast news editor and Finance Editor at CNET News.com. Prior to that, he was editor of Ziff Davis Inter@ctive Investor, which was, according to Barron's, a Top-10 financial site in the late 1990s. Larry has covered the technology and financial services industry since 1995, publishing articles in WallStreetWeek.com, Inter@ctive Week, The New York Times, and Financial Planning magazine. He's a graduate of the Columbia School of Journalism.
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