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DoD Looks Forward to Working With Homeland Security Department

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Dec. 5, 2002 – The Defense Department looks forward to helping the new Department of Homeland Security in any way it can, said Peter Verga, director of DoD's Homeland Defense Task Force.

Verga said DoD would cooperate with the new agency even as it establishes the new position of assistant secretary of defense for homeland defense. Congress authorized the new position in the 2003 National Defense Authorization Act.

He said DoD is anxious to begin working with the Department of Homeland Security. "We think the consolidation of the 22 departments and agencies will improve the effectiveness and efficiency of how we're accomplishing homeland security," he said. The new agency should make it easier for DoD to coordinate its homeland defense and civil support activities.

The new department will have about 170,000 workers, but few are scheduled to transfer from DoD, he said. The National Communications System will transfer, as will a small chemical biological defense research project.

The National Communications System is a consortium of private industry telecommunications companies that provides communications during a national emergency. DoD is the executive agent for system and about 90 people will transfer into homeland security.

The chemical-biological project is just starting. Only the portion having clear applicability to protecting the civilian population will transfer, Verga said, and at this point it is too early to say how many workers will be affected.

Verga said he is trying for a "seamless transition" between his office and the new Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Homeland Defense. The new organization will come under the defense undersecretary for policy.

He said the new assistant secretary would have a close working relationship with U.S. Northern Command, the new unified command with responsibility for defense of the homeland. The position is not, he stressed, in the chain of command. That runs from the president to the defense secretary to the commander of Northern Command. Yet, the new assistant secretary will provide policy guidance for the command through the defense secretary, he said.

The establishment of the new office will not mean a growth in the overall size of the Office of the Secretary of Defense. Some of Verga's task force members will join the new office's staff as will some employees currently working elsewhere in the policy branch. He estimates the new office may have around 40 people.

The future of the director of military support is another aspect of homeland defense that still must be worked out. The director - - currently the Army secretary -- serves as the DoD contact for support to civil authorities in emergencies. This responsibility is one that is being considered for transfer to the new assistant secretary.

Verga said one of the things he has tried to do for the past year is "to work myself out of a job." The permanent organization within DoD to handle homeland defense matters will do that.

The White House will nominate the new assistant secretary sometime after the new Congress meets in January.

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