Last week I traveled to Mexico, with brief stops in California and Texas. The purpose of my visit was to meet with my foreign counterparts, assess the situation on the Southwest Border with respect to drug cartel violence, hear directly from federal, state, tribal, and local officials, and announce some additional resources we are deploying to the border to help Mexico in its fight against these dangerous cartels.
In California, I met with state and local leaders in San Diego, toured the border and visited the Otay Mesa port of entry – one of the busiest commercial ports on the Southwest border.
More than $400 million in Recovery Act funds is being directed to the Southwest border. This money will be used to upgrade infrastructure at the ports of entry, add technology and inspection equipment, and strengthen our surveillance and communications capabilities.
In Mexico, I visited with my foreign counterparts, and along with Attorney General Holder, attended an important conference on arms trafficking. The smuggling of guns is a serious problem and contributes to a lot of the violence we’re seeing in Mexico among the drug cartels and organized criminal networks.
To combat the problem, we are moving substantial resources to border, including more than 360 additional DHS officers and agents, license plate readers that will allow us to scan for suspect vehicles, southbound rail screening, and additional grant funding for state and local law enforcement. These measures will help us counter the flow of guns and cash into Mexico while protecting cities and communities along the border.
Finally, on my return, I stopped in Laredo, Texas to meet with community leaders, speak with members of the Laredo Border Enforcement Security Task Force (BEST), which is a multi-agency law enforcement team that fights criminal organizations and smugglers, and visit the Laredo port of entry. In recent weeks, we’ve made several significant seizures of cash and guns in Laredo, including more than $3 million discovered in a hidden compartment in the floor of a bus bound for Mexico.
Examples like this impede the ability of criminal organizations to fund their activities. Since the start of this fiscal year, CBP and ICE together have seized more than $55 million in cash, over 630 weapons, and nearly 125,000 rounds of ammunition.
We’re going to continue to keep the pressure on. I consider this a historic opportunity to help Mexico confront a serious threat that impacts the safety and security of both of our countries. We all have a stake in this fight, and here at the Department we’re going to continue to do our part to make sure we succeed.
Today the Department took a major step forward to advance one of President Obama's most important goals – improving efficiency and transparency across the Federal government.
Efficiency is essential to effective governance. It helps reduce costs and ensure taxpayer money isn’t wasted. It improves performance and customer satisfaction. And it strengthens employee morale.
Over the next 120 days, we will begin implementing nearly two dozen initiatives to trim costs, streamline operations, eliminate duplication, and better manage resources across the Department.
This effort is the result of a comprehensive assessment by our Efficiency Review team, which worked with DHS components, offices, and employees to identify more than 700 initiatives – some immediate, some long-term – to improve efficiency and transparency.
Among the immediate changes we will make over the next 30 days:
- Eliminating all non-mission critical travel for employees and maximizing our use of conference calls and web-based training and meetings;
- Reducing subscriptions to professional publications and newspapers to lower costs and avoid duplication;
- Eliminating printing and distribution of all reports and documents that can be sent electronically or posted on-line.
We're also going to take action to improve how we track and monitor fuel usage for our vehicles. Over the next 60 days, we will begin implementing a new electronic tracking system that will help increase alternative fuel usage; guard against waste, fraud, and abuse; and optimize how we manage our fleet.
In addition, we will begin acquiring hybrid and alternative fuel vehicles over the next 120 days. We expect a 30 percent increase in fuel efficiency in large vehicles, and even greater efficiency in smaller vehicles as a result of this change.
To become more energy efficient, we will also begin implementing energy efficiencies at DHS offices across the country. Over the next 120 days, we will initiate a process to identify and move toward renewable energy technology and greater energy conservation, with a goal of saving $3 million per year.
Over the next 60 days, we will also implement a process to purchase computer software licenses as a single Department – as opposed to individual agencies. As a result, we expect to save over $47 million per year and $283 million over the next six years.
Finally, we’re going to take steps to streamline employee training and orientations, and reduce costs and backlogs associated with background checks for new employees.
This is just the beginning. In the coming months, we’ll announce even more initiatives to improve efficiency. I look forward to keeping you updated as we make these changes, which will result in a stronger, more effective DHS.
March 23, 2009 - The Coast Guard Service Secretary Transfer of Authority officially recognized the transfer of authority as service secretary of the Coast Guard from former Secretary Michael Chertoff to Secretary Janet Napolitano. Commandant of the Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen spoke at the ceremony in Washington, D.C.
As of mid-February, USCIS and the FBI had completed all name checks that were pending for more than six months. In doing so, we beat our publicly stated goal by almost two full weeks. With the milestone’s completion, the FBI and USCIS have met or exceeded the first six milestones outlined last summer.
And that might not be the most exciting news. We’re on track to meet our May 31 milestone of completing name check requests pending longer than 90 days. By the end of June, the FBI will complete 98-percent of USCIS name check requests within 30 days and process the remaining two percent within 90 days.
Let me put that into perspective. At the beginning of November 2007, there were nearly 350,000 pending name check requests. Of that total, more than 54,000 had been pending for more than two years. Another 55,000 had been pending for at least a year. Today, there’s a grand total of 6,756 pending name check requests. And of that number, not one has been pending for more than six months. In fact as of that February 17 snapshot, the FBI was completing 99.2 percent of all requests in less than 30 days.
The results speak for themselves. The effective elimination of the name check backlog means that USCIS can make more timely decisions about immigration applications and petitions. That includes cases with derogatory information and those that are otherwise approvable. In both the present and the future, USCIS and the FBI will continue to focus on sustaining the rigorous and efficient screening of each name check request. Our joint attention to eliminating the name check backlog will ensure we reward deserving, eligible applicants with benefits like U.S. citizenship and permanent residency in a more timely manner.
Mike Aytes Acting Deputy Director
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services
On Monday, I returned from a trip to Germany in which I met with my homeland security counterparts from six European Union countries. This regular meeting – called the “G6 plus 1” (I’m the “plus 1”) – is an important part of our security cooperation. Threats like terrorism, the spread of infectious diseases, and natural disasters know no borders, which makes global partnership an integral part of American security.
We focused on many different elements of this partnership – including information-sharing about terror suspects, bolstering the security of international cyber networks and combating the smuggling of drugs, money, and people.
One outcome from the trip is a new science and technology agreement with the government of Germany. The photo here shows me at the signing ceremony with the German Minister of Science and Education, Annette Schavan.
This partnership will identify science and technology projects where the U.S. and Germany can collaborate on innovations that improve our security. One effort will kick off in just a few months: developing “visual analytics” technologies that can organize and cluster millions of pieces of intelligence data and arrange them visually, allowing intelligence analysts to understand more quickly the patterns contained in enormous amounts of diffuse information.
I’m excited about the doors this will open to scientific understandings not only of threats, but also solutions. Wherever we can partner with our allies to make both our nations safer, we should – and this will be an important priority moving forward, starting with my visits to Mexico and Canada over the next few weeks.
March 14, 2009 - For her first trip abroad, Secretary Janet Napolitano traveled to Germany to participate in the G6 Summit. She met with German Interior Minister Wolfgang Schäuble. (Photo /© Federal Ministry of the Interior/Hans-Joachim M. Rickel)
Recovery.gov reflects the President’s commitment to bring a new level of transparency and openness to government as we work to strengthen our economy. That is a commitment I share for our Department – and the reason we’ve created www.dhs.gov/recovery.
The stimulus provides more than $3 billion in new homeland security funding. This funding will be used to improve security at our borders, rebuild our Coast Guard fleet, expand technology, strengthen rail and transit security, and enhance emergency preparedness and response. It will also create thousands of new jobs.
Let me give you a concrete example:
On Thursday, the Transportation Security Administration announced that it will be using $1 billion in stimulus funds to deploy checked baggage and checkpoint explosive detection systems at airports across the country.
This technology will enhance our ability to screen passengers and their bags for bombs and IEDs – including liquid explosives – while improving security and convenience. At the same time, it will create more than 3,000 new jobs associated with the construction and deployment of these systems.
This is precisely the purpose of the stimulus – to protect the country, stimulate the economy, and keep people working.
More projects are in the pipeline and will be coming soon. I invite you to keep track of our progress at www.dhs.gov/recovery.
What we saw on our trip were very clear signs of progress and a clear determination by the people of the Gulf Coast to rebuild and recover from these terrible storms. But we also saw too many communities still in disrepair, too many construction projects either incomplete or not yet started, and too many people still struggling to reclaim their lives.
We spoke with community leaders, first responders, school teachers, and ordinary citizens to get their perspective. We also took a bus and helicopter tour of New Orleans and a helicopter tour of the Mississippi coast to get a better sense of the remaining challenges.
While in New Orleans, I made several announcements that are designed to cut through some of the red tape that for too long has stalled the completion of a number of important projects, including the reconstruction of two police stations and a fire station.
FEMA will provide replacement funding to rebuild these facilities, as well as an additional $12 million to repair a water treatment plant in St. Bernard parish. It will also provide significant funding to Benjamin Franklin High School, one of our nation’s best high schools that suffered significant damage from Katrina.
To ensure that future public assistance requests aren’t bogged down in endless disputes and paperwork, I also announced the creation of two new teams consisting of FEMA and state representatives that will work together to expedite these requests and make decisions.
Finally, FEMA will be extending relocation assistance for people displaced by Katrina and Rita to help them find permanent housing solutions. And it has extended the deadline for hazard mitigation funding for Mississippi, which will give people more time to file their applications and ultimately build more resilient homes and communities.
All of these actions will help the people of the Gulf Coast continue their recovery. We stand with them, and we will continue to support them.