The Shift in U.S. Leadership

By Janice Kephart on March 26, 2009

Secure Document World Conference Keynote Presentation Highlights

There is no doubt that there has been a sea change in priorities in the US in the past year due to a severe down turn in the world economy and a new President that disagrees with much of the past administration’s programs and policies. While there remains a ‘no comment’ on much of the Bush administration work on secure documents and IDs, one thing is clear: we cannot understand where the US needs to be in the area of secure documents without looking at where we have been. In order to gain a better perspective on where we should go, I recently interviewed Former DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff, Former DHS Assistant Secretary for Policy Stewart Baker, and DHS Deputy Assistant Secretary for Policy Kathy Kraninger.

Former DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff

Secretary Chertoff believes secure documents and identity, working in tandem, are the cornerstone of a more secure nation. He sees a widening expanse of applications for secure documents and IDs that will work in the future in conjunction with our blackberries and other PDAs that will facilitate for us real time, all the time, access to secure sites – providing what we described on the 9/11 Commission as security with facilitation.

Former DHS Assistant Secretary for Policy Stewart Baker

Chertoff, as you may recall, felt the need to coordinate the department’s document and ID programs under one roof. Baker did this from a policy perspective, making these policies come to life was the next step. Indeed, what Chertoff and Baker did was take the overarching elements of the 9/11 Commission recommendations about terrorist travel and worked to assure those recommendations were fulfilled in spirit as much as by law.

DHS Deputy Assistant Secretary for Policy Kathy Kraninger

Kathy Kraninger heads the Screening Coordination Office. They bring together the various identification options to create a "person-centric perspective" on security. Through this process, her office supports those making operational decisions regarding benefits, such as immigration or domestic travel.

Future for Secure IDs

Despite significant progress in the past few years in ID programs at DHS, without strong leadership and a recognition that identity plays in curtailing the activities of dangerous people, these programs will take a variety of turns: meander forward slowly, remain status quo, or be rolled back. So far, Secretary Janet Napolitano has not stated any commitment to the main function of the Department—to prevent terrorist acts. Instead, we are hearing about preparing for ‘man-caused disasters’ and there has been no mention or acknowledgement of the 9/11 Commission recommendations on identity that forged some of the important laws and policies that DHS prioritized.

As Arizona Governor, Secretary Napolitano had led the section of the lobby group that seeks repeal of the REAL ID driver license law, and says she will look to that special interest group for recommendations on how to proceed with the law. The Secretary does say that the voluntary Enhanced Driver License might be the viable alternative to REAL ID, even though it would only available to US citizens. In regard to the highly successful worker authorization program E-Verify, a directive has been issued seeking more study before further implementation, despite a 99.5 percent accuracy rate and rate of voluntary use by employers increasing 442 percent over the past two years. She has put a hold on a rule that was to go into effect in January to mandate that federal contractors—who are paid with taxpayer monies—use E-Verify for their federal contract hires.

Better news is in store for the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative, and she has committed—I am told—to full implementation of the passport (or biometric equivalent) requirement at US land and sea borders as for June 2009. In addition, in Germany last week Napalitano stated her support for the E-Travel Authorization program, which requires all visitors to the US by air to complete a digital I-94 entry form prior to boarding a plane.

No comment remains on important programs such as US Visit, US Exit and the Transportation Workers ID Credential (TWIC).

The relationship of secure documents and IDs to minimizing terrorist and other forms of illegal travel and access to secure areas may seem obvious. I think that I began to take that rubric for granted under the Bush administration.

However, looking closely at the new administration to date, I’m afraid it is not at all clear that this new administration will link countering terrorism and protecting the homeland with policies and programs that promote more secure documents and IDs. In fact, I think if you rated the Bush administration ‘hot’ on secure documents and IDs, the best – right now – we can give the Obama administration is ‘tepid’, if not ‘cool’.

Why? The fact is, a lot of these programs turn on legal immigration status, and this new administration gained many votes from those who support mass, illegal and unchecked immigration into the US. These special interest groups don’t want the government to know who is in the country, or who is illegally seeking to stay and work or do bad things in our country. Secure documents and identity verification get in the way of that goal. That may put some of these programs in a precarious position in the coming months, depending on whether Secretary Napolitano is going to support the rule of law like she says she wants to do, or continue to duck and weave from the counterterrorism mission of her department as created by law.