Homeland Security: One Year Later
By Sgt. 1st Class Doug Sample, USA
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Feb. 24, 2004 The Department of Homeland Security will turn 1 year old March 1, but the past year has not been without challenges, one official said today.
Janet Hale, homeland security undersecretary for management, told members of the Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association that the past year has been extraordinary and that standing up the department has been one of the "largest management challenges the federal government has ever seen."
Hale was the keynote speaker for the opening day of AFCEA's 2004 Homeland Security Conference here. She said when the department was stood up in March 2003, some 180,000 employees had to be "fired, then rehired" and that 22 agencies, including the Coast Guard, had to fit under one umbrella. Hale noted that over the past year the department set out to merge and create new organizations with new capacities better integrated for the department's post- 911 mission.
"When you look back over the last year, she pointed out, "we are thrilled about what we've accomplished, but far more thrilled about where we are going."
She offered an example from customs and border protection area, where there is now one face at the airport "that will not be an INS line, not a customs line, not an agricultural line, but one face, one set of missions."
Hale also pointed to several major initiatives undertaken by the department. She said the department has taken "steps forward" to better communicate with the public through "information sharing," an effort she added would enable the public to be more prepared. She called this initiative a cornerstone of the department and one that Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge cares tremendously about.
Hale said that in the next three to four months the department plans to have in place a secure communications network that will operate between state governor offices across the country. The network will offer two-way interactive secure video conferencing.
She said the department has also moved forward with the creation of several public web domains such as Ready.gov, which also offers information in Spanish, and DisasterHelp.
Hale said the nation's preparedness against a terrorist attack is "a national problem with national partners." "From the front line of the citizens, to the corporate board rooms, to the conference rooms inside the department, to the caucus rooms on Capitol Hill," she explained, "this is a partnership that we are all engaged in strongly."