Challenges for 'Secretary' Chertoff; DHS Must Confront Terrorism and Complacency

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Byline: Mike Walker, SPECIAL TO THE WASHINGTON TIMES

When Judge Michael Chertoff is sworn in as secretary of Homeland Security (DHS), he will face some terrific opportunities to help win the war against terrorism.

DHS is still a work in progress. Merging 22 agencies and 180,000 people into one entity will take many more years to complete. Some former independent agencies, now part of DHS, still long for their independence. In many of those agencies, scores of senior executives are looking to retire instead of spending more years leading what is an increasingly demoralized staff.

Mr. Chertoff can meet those challenges by building a common culture - a culture focused on preventing terrorist attacks. Many inside DHS have other priorities, including preparations for response and recovery from natural hazards. DHS must continue to be a good steward of all its responsibilities. However, the department exists today because radical Islamic terrorists declared war on the United States. Preventing them from attacking anew must be the department's most urgent concern.

Commentators have argued that the department's emphasis on terrorism is stifling the responsibilities of the Federal Emergency Management Agency. That is baloney. FEMA has always been an all-hazard agency, nimble enough to transition from responding to hurricanes one day to fighting the ravages of terrorism the next. I have great confidence in the dedication and professionalism of the employees of my former agency as they confront the complex hazards of the 21st century.

The next secretary's other significant challenge is confronting the complacency that has settled in throughout the country since September 11. It is my experience that the farther you get from New York and Washington, our citizens and their local leaders increasingly believe terrorists will not strike where they live.

Mr. Chertoff's communication skills will be tested as he tries to lead the country to understanding the real nature of the insidious war that has been declared against us. After 40 months with no more terrorist attacks and wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, it is hard for Americans to comprehend the patience and adaptability of the radical Islamists. …