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DHS Director Janet Napolitano on Border Security, National Security

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DHS Director Janet Napolitano on Border Security, National Security

Photo: Sean Gallup/Getty Images

(Also see Profile of Janet Napolitano, Homeland Security Director.)

Priorities

The action directives process will help determine many of DHS’s particular priorities as we look to move forward. But there are a few broad areas I can easily identify where DHS should focus in order to better protect Americans.

State and Local Partnerships

First among these areas is the Department’s relationship with state and local governments. State and local law enforcement agencies are the forces on the ground that represent, inhabit, and patrol America’s communities – the communities that DHS protects. We need strong relationships with our state and local partners, and I am committed to building them.

Partnerships with state, local, tribal, and territorial agencies affect DHS’s ability to identify threats and bolster preparedness before an incident; they also affect our ability to work with first responders and assist a community’s recovery after an incident.

The information we gather, the funding we grant, and the training and assistance we provide are all more valuable in securing our Nation if DHS’s relationships with the involved state and local agencies are strong.

Info Sharing with State, Local Governments

Information sharing between DHS and state and local governments is particularly critical to our security.

Over time, this topic has proven easy to talk about and difficult to act upon – but we must move forward on it if we are to strengthen our state and local partnerships. The fusion of information between the federal, state and local levels is what makes the intelligence-gathering process critically valuable to preventing threats from materializing.

Information sharing is also what makes response efforts effective. The creation of a seamless network we can use to share this information among these levels of government is a critical part of improving our partnerships.

Already in my time as Secretary, I have traveled to four different states and met with state, local and community leaders in each of them about how DHS will continue to work with them.

The range of topics we met about – disaster response, community assistance, the development of new technological capabilities for DHS, and preparedness – speaks to the extent to which DHS must partner with state and local governments to work effectively on any front.

When considering the action directives and the (House) Committee’s eight-point platform, it is also clear that many critical priorities – from transit security to border security to infrastructure protection – can only be achieved with strong state and local partnerships.

Building these partnerships will be an ongoing priority throughout my time as Secretary.

Science and Technology

Second, DHS should build on its science and technology portfolio.

Better science helps us understand emerging threats and how to identify, counter and mitigate them. Better technology can expand our capabilities and free our agents to spend their time where it is most valuable, while at the same time protecting the interests of private citizens by minimizing law enforcement’s impact on lawful activities. Technology can also aid us in consequence management, so that we are better prepared to respond to any type of disaster.

It is difficult to think of an area of DHS operation where a greater use of cutting-edge technology would not improve capabilities. Our:

  • border security efforts,
  • port screening,
  • transportation security,
  • customs processes,
  • immigration programs, and
  • preparedness and interoperability efforts
... could all benefit from a strong push to develop new technologies and implement them in the field.

A good example of better technology leading to greater capability is going live this week in San Diego.

The port of entry at San Ysidro, the largest land port in the Nation, is now equipped with radio frequency identification (RFID) infrastructure – including software, hardware, and vicinity technology – that allows Customs and Border Protection Officers to identify travelers faster than ever.

The technology expedites the travel of law-abiding border crossers and allows agents to focus on where they are most needed. The high-tech RFID system works in tandem with RFID-enabled documents such as passport cards, Customs and Border Protection’s trusted traveler programs, and enhanced driver’s licenses.

An RFID tag embedded in these documents transmits a unique number to a secure CBP database as the traveler approaches the border, allowing agents to identify the crosser quickly. The high-tech system expands law enforcement capabilities while improving the process for Americans.

Of course, amid the implementation of new technology, we will continue to be diligent in honoring the rights of Americans and addressing concerns raised about privacy.

To this end, last week I appointed an experienced new Chief Privacy Officer for the Department, who will bolster a Privacy Office already recognized as a leader in the federal government. Homeland security and privacy need not be exclusive, and the Department will look to include privacy in everything we do.

Technologies such as the RFID system at San Ysidro are examples of the potential of science and technology to make a great impact across DHS.

Especially as DHS works to stay ahead of developing threats, the forward-thinking application of new technologies will be critical to enhancing the protection of our country. That is a broad-reaching priority I plan to pursue, and I look forward to working with the Committee on this effort.

Unifying the Homeland Security Department

To achieve its mission more effectively, DHS must not just operate better as one Department – it must identify as one Department, where many different people contribute in diverse ways to one paramount goal: securing our Nation. I am committed to building a unified DHS that is better able to achieve its mission.

The unification of the Department is an issue deeply related to DHS’s operational capacity. It is important that we develop an identity for DHS that is centered on the Department’s mission and that we build a “one-DHS” culture among the different components of the Department.

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