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The Blog @ Homeland Security

The Blog @ Homeland Security provides an inside-out view of what we do every day at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. The Blog lets us talk about how we secure our nation, strengthen our programs, and unite the Department behind our common mission and principles. It also lets us hear from you.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

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Thursday, April 15, 2010

Combating the Cartels

According to the National Drug Threat Assessment 2009, Mexican drug trafficking organizations (DTOs) represent the greatest organized crime threat to the United States today. They threaten our economy, our communities, our children - all for obvious reasons. Simply put, combating DTOs must be a priority in the overall fight against drugs. Today, the Department of Homeland Security finalized an important step as part of that effort.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the Attorney General’s Office of the Republic of Mexico (PGR) formalized a new agreement, called the Illegal Drug Program (IDP), today in El Paso to help halt the progress of DTOs. Under the new agreement, Mexican nationals (except those with dual citizenship or permanent resident of the U.S.) who smuggle drugs through El Paso ports of U.S. entry will now be sent back to Mexico where they will face prosecution and possible imprisonment in their home country.

ICE Deputy Assistant Secretary for Operations Alonzon Peña said of the agreement, “The governments of Mexico and the U.S. both realize that it is vital to the national security of our respective nations and the health and well-being of our respective citizens, to dissuade and reduce the smuggling and trafficking of narcotics across our shared border.”

U.S. law enforcement agencies normally prosecute Mexican nationals caught trying to smuggle drugs into the U.S. Under the IDP, after the U.S. Attorney’s Office review of these cases, ICE will transfer these drug smugglers coming through El Paso back to Mexican authorities who will prosecute them.

The IDP extends the bilateral enforcement effort, which was initiated in Nogales, Ariz, in October 2009. As a result, two drug offenders were sentenced to 10-year prison terms.
The agreement is an example of the collaborative effort between the governments of Mexico and the U.S. as we work to stem the flow of drug smuggling and violence this crime brings along the southwest border.

Expanding the IDP along the El-Paso-Juarez border requires adding 23 special agents and three group supervisors to the region. These courageous men and women will be on the front lines working to bring an end to the terrible effects of the drug trade and the violence it brings.

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Friday, April 9, 2010

The Nuclear Security Summit

On Monday and Tuesday, April 12-13, the Nuclear Security Summit will be held at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in Washington, D.C. The leaders of nearly 50 nations will participate in the Summit.

Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano declared the Nuclear Security Summit a National Special Security Event (NSSE), which makes it the 37th NSSE held since the designation was established in 1998. When an event is designated as an NSSE, the United States Secret Service assumes its mandated role as the lead agency for the design and implementation of the operational security plan.

As with all NSSEs, the Secret Service relies on established relationships with public safety officials and law enforcement agencies at the local, state and federal levels. The goal of the cooperating agencies is to provide a safe and secure environment for Secret Service protectees, other dignitaries, the event participants and the general public.

Read the transportation and security plan for the Nuclear Security Summit, including street closures and parking restrictions.

In addition to the Secret Service, a number of DHS agencies are involved in the planning process, including: the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the United States Coast Guard and the Transportation Security Administration. Other local, federal and military partners include:
  • Metropolitan Police Dept
  • Federal Bureau of Investigation
  • Federal Aviation Administration
  • Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives
  • U.S. Capitol Police
  • U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia
  • U.S. Park Police
  • National Park Service
  • Nuclear Regulatory Commission
  • U.S. Health and Human Services
  • U.S. Department of State
  • Joint Force HQ- National Capital Region
  • D.C. Office of the Mayor
  • D.C. Homeland Security and Emergency Management Agency
  • D.C. Department of Transportation
  • D.C. Department of Public Works
  • D.C. Fire and EMS
  • Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority
  • Fairfax County Government
  • Washington Convention Center

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Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Open Government: The Plan

Today, in support of the President's Open Government Directive, the department is proud to unveil its Open Government Plan. We've worked over the past several months to draft a document that would not simply check a box or fulfill a requirement, but that would chart a clear course forward as we mature the department and work with our stakeholders and state, local, and tribal partners to develop the homeland security enterprise. The Open Government Initiative is critical as we work toward these goals, establishing a culture of transparency, public engagement, and active outreach on homeland security issues that directly affect the systems, infrastructure, and people we work to protect.

We focused on the four core principles behind the Open Government Initiative in drafting the plan:
  • Publishing government information online
  • Improving the quality of government information
  • Creating and institutionalizing a culture of open government
  • Enabling a policy framework for open government

The plan mandates a 15 percent reduction of Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request backlogs per year at DHS - which we've already decreased by 81 percent over the past four years - to enhance transparency of departmental records and communications.

The plan recommends the expansion of "Virtual USA" - a DHS information-sharing initiative that links disparate tools and technologies to improve communication between first responders during emergencies.

The plan also highlights the Department's efforts to support fusion centers with state and local governments, critical assets in preventing crime and terrorism in communities across the country through two-way intelligence and information sharing between DHS and the rest of the federal government and our state, local, tribal, and territorial law enforcement partners.

The department also solicited and incorporated public feedback in drafting the plan. We plan to continue this method of public engagement as we develop other initiatives and tools. Look for new ways to engage with the Department in the coming months.

The full plan is available here.

"My Administration is committed to creating an unprecedented level of openness in Government. We will work together to ensure the public trust and establish a system of transparency, public participation, and collaboration. Openness will strengthen our democracy and promote efficiency and effectiveness in Government.”

- President Obama, 01/21/09

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Friday, April 2, 2010

DHS Efficiency Review Turns One: TSA Takes Travel Savings to the Next Level

As we wrap up the anniversary week of DHS’ Efficiency Review, we want to spotlight one more DHS employee whose creativity has had a huge impact on our efforts to cut costs and foster a culture of fiscal responsibility at the Department.

Antonio “Tony” Machorro, who serves as the lead for the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) in implementing the Department-wide initiative of eliminating non-mission critical travel, is always searching for ways to reduce TSA’s travel costs.

Tony’s enthusiasm for finding efficiencies has resulted in a variety of creative ways to save money, including changes in travel for employees on temporary assignments, frequent outreach to employees about how to get the most out of their travel budgets, and even a new pilot program using non-refundable airfares for government travel.

This new pilot program is based on the idea that, when it comes to routine travel, the small number of cancellation or change fees that result from using less-expensive but non-refundable airfares would end up costing the government less than always buying more expensive but fully refundable airfares. Since December 2009, approximately 10 field airports have actively participated in the pilot program, buying non-refundable airfares for approximately fifty routine trips—and achieving a cost avoidance rate of approximately 53 percent.

As a result of this program and other changes, TSA was able to reduce the average employee trip cost in the fourth quarter of fiscal year 2009 by 21% compared to the previous year. In fact, during fiscal year 2009, TSA reduced overall travel expenditures by $19 million over fiscal year 2008 expenditures.

As the second year of the Efficiency Review gets underway, Tony’s efforts will lead to even more ways to stretch TSA’s travel dollars – as will the commitment of employees across the Department to ensuring DHS is getting the most out of our resources to make DHS a leaner, smarter agency better equipped to protect the nation.

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Thursday, April 1, 2010

DHS Efficiency Review Turns One: DHS Director of Strategic Sourcing Pulls Triple Efficiency Duty

This week we’ve been talking about some of the innovative things DHS employees are doing to cut costs, save time, and change the way we do business as part of the Efficiency Review. The initiatives we’ve highlighted so far, along with every Efficiency Review initiative underway at the Department, share one trait: they have dedicated employees behind them.

Each of our 20 Department-wide initiatives has a technical lead who coordinates the nuts and bolts of the initiative to make sure it gets implemented correctly and stays on track. One such technical lead, Mike Smith, Director of Strategic Sourcing within the Office of the Chief Procurement Officer, has been pulling triple duty for the Efficiency Review. Mike has served as the technical lead for three separate initiatives: maximizing the use of government office space for meetings and conferences in place of renting facilities, increasing usage of DHS-wide blanket purchase agreements for office supplies and converting printers, fax machines, copiers, and scanners into all-in-one machines as replacements are needed.

Under Mike’s leadership, these initiatives are already expected to avoid $7 million in anticipated costs. “I’ve found that when you give people freedom to make a difference along with management support, they will rise to the occasion,” said Mike. “I’ve been impressed and encouraged with the creativity and responsiveness to these initiatives across the Department..”

Through the facilities initiative, Mike has helped saved the Department money by helping DHS employees find federal facilities for meetings and events in place of commercial space. Mike has also helped the Department take advantage of lower prices for office supplies by leveraging the buying power of multiple offices. Finally, through the all-in-one machines initiative, Mike has helped DHS save on maintenance costs and energy, not to mention floor space, when machines that perform just one function wear out and need to be replaced

Smith has brought his considerable knowledge and experience to bear on these initiatives, shepherding them from initial concept to across-the-board implementation. His dedication to these common-sense changes has been critical to their success, and serves as a model for employees throughout DHS to ensure the Department makes the most out of every taxpayer dollar.


Advanced Imaging Technology - Yes, It's Worth It

Cross-posted from the TSA Blog

There's been a lot of public discussion about TSA's deployment of new screening technology known as AIT. Public discussion and debate is good, and we at TSA have worked hard to inform, educate and adjust our screening protocols in the interests of security, efficiency, safety and privacy. Our FY 2011 budget request includes $573 million to purchase 500 Advanced Imaging Technology (AIT) units and to operationally staff, operate and maintain 1,000 units, which includes the 500 units we are deploying now. This is indeed an important investment decision and not something we take lightly. We don't take the threats we're facing lightly either.

We've greatly improved TSA's IED detection capabilities in bags through better technology and more rigorous training and testing of our officers. Getting to threats hidden on a body is more difficult, because of the limitations of metal detectors, and patting down everybody that comes through a checkpoint isn't an option anyone likes.

So starting in 2007, we began testing AIT at the Transportation Security Lab and TSA's own operational testing facility to study its capability to detect non-metallic items as well as metallic ones. Based on the success in the labs, we tested the units in the airport environment, where they proved effective in threat detection and they were accepted by passengers as a screening option. The airport testing also looked at throughput, staffing needs, real estate requirements, privacy protections, and reaffirmed all safety requirements were met for the public and our officers. We left no stone unturned.

All the work we have done in the past two years gives me confidence that this technology will significantly increase TSA's detection capability at the checkpoint. Using AIT, our officers are finding things like small packages of powder-based drugs hidden on the body. When I say small, I mean that one packet was smaller than a thumb print. We have also found small weapons made of composite, non-metallic materials.

Based on the intelligence reporting we see every day, this technology is absolutely essential to address the threat we see today. It can also be upgraded over time, either as the threats change or as the industry improves the threat detection software.

With our first 1,000 units we will be able to use AIT to screen over 60% of all air passengers each day. We take our responsibility to protect each and every traveler very seriously. We have used lessons learned from the past, and we deployed this technology only after we were fully confident it would work in an operational environment and after our acquisition process had undergone extensive reviews and approvals by DHS' Acquisition Review Board.

Which brings me back to the cost. At about 1.8 million passengers going through checkpoint screening a day - 650 million passengers a year - the annualized, full cost of purchasing, installing, staffing, operating, supporting, upgrading, and maintaining the first 1,000 units of this technology is about $1 per trip through the checkpoint.

Is it worth a dollar per passenger in the short term for increased long term security? You bet it is.

Gale Rossides is the Acting Administrator of the Transportation Security Administration

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Wednesday, March 31, 2010

DHS Efficiency Review Turns One: USCIS Saves Employees’ Time and Taxpayers’ Dollars

As we mentioned earlier this week, in honor of the first anniversary of DHS’ Efficiency Review, we’re spotlighting DHS employees who have gone above and beyond to cut costs, streamline operations, and foster a culture of efficiency and fiscal responsibility at DHS.

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services’ (USCIS’) Office of Security and Integrity Chief Jan P. Lane and her team have done exactly that.

As part of the Efficiency Review, Jan and her team fundamentally changed the way they were conducting trainings and conferences for more than 10,470 USCICS employees around the country- saving time, reducing travel costs, and cutting back on training materials. By adopting new web-conferencing software, employees from across the country can participate and get the information they need to do their jobs whenever they need it- all while working from their own desks.

The USCIS Office of Security and Integrity estimates that they’ve avoided more than $600,000 as a result of deploying this new web conferencing tool. And when you consider the indirect or harder to measure savings, such as lost productivity due to travel days, coordinating travel, and conferences, the overall impact of this efficiency is even more impressive.

By using technology to streamline operations, save employees’ time and taxpayers’ money, and ensure that personnel receive the critical training information they need when they need it, Jan Lane and her team have put Efficiency Review into action.

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Tuesday, March 30, 2010

DHS Efficiency Review Turns One: More than Spare Change

As we mentioned yesterday, in honor of the first anniversary of DHS’ Efficiency Review this week, we’re going to spotlight a few of the outstanding DHS employees making a big difference in changing the way we do business here at DHS.

Sometimes, it’s the simplest changes that make a big difference.

U.S. Coast Guard Lieutenant Ryan Murphy recently came up with one such idea – an ingeniously simple energy-saving efficiency. Ryan realized that, by installing timers on vending machines to automatically turn them off at night when no one is using them, his base, Coast Guard Base Support Unit Honolulu, might lower its utility bills.

Ryan got the idea after examining sales records for each vending machine on the base and measuring their energy consumption over time. He found that several vending machines were consuming a great deal of power but had very low sales revenue. He also realized that the machines were not being used at night.

As a result, Ryan removed some machines from service, relocated others, and, using seed money from the Coast Guard’s Facility Energy Efficiency Funds, outfitted all remaining machines with inexpensive occupancy sensors that allow the machines to power down after hours. Additionally, because the machines would not be operating at night, he removed the lighting systems from the remaining machines, further reducing their daily energy consumption.

Sure enough, Murphy’s base now expects to lower its utility bills by $6,000 a year as a result of this clever innovation.

Sensible and easy-to-implement, Ryan’s efficiency is a great example of the many creative ways DHS employees are saving time and resources across the Department.

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Monday, March 29, 2010

DHS Efficiency Review Turns One: CBP Employees Work Together to Save Millions

As we celebrate the first anniversary of DHS’ Efficiency Review this week, we’re going to spotlight a few of the many DHS employees who are using their creativity and experience every day to cut costs, streamline operations and promote greater accountability, transparency and customer satisfaction across the Department.

Robert Namejko and Richard Winkler of Customs and Border Protection’s (CBP) Office of Administration and Judy Shetler and Dora Shomette of CBP’s Office of Internal Affairs are great examples of employees working together to make a difference. Together, these four employees identified millions of dollars in cost avoidances by lowering the costs of background investigations.

According to Dora, “there was a need to unify our background investigation contracts to ensure that all contractors were working from the same rules and regulations, and eliminate requirements that were no longer relevant or essential.”

By combining Dora and Judy’s security expertise with Robert and Richard’s experience with procurement issues, CBP was able to cut the costs of the contracts for background investigation services by almost $3.2 million in fiscal year 2010 while reducing the average required time to complete a case from 60 to 40 days.

As the second year of the Efficiency Review gets underway, we’re sure that CBP and DHS will identify even more efficiencies as a result of Dora, Judy, Robert and Richard’s continued efforts to seek innovative ways to make the most of taxpayer dollars.

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