Kevin McAleenan

Wednesday, November 14th, 2012 - 10:59
Mr. McAleenan is responsible for overseeing CBP’s antiterrorism, immigration, anti-smuggling, trade compliance, and agriculture protection operations at 20 major field offices...
Radio show date: 
Mon, 02/04/2013
Intro text: 
Mr. McAleenan is responsible for overseeing CBP’s anti-terrorism, immigration, anti-smuggling, trade compliance, and agriculture protection operations at 20 major field offices...
Complete transcript: 

Originally Broadcast on February 4, 2013

Arlington, VA

Michael Keegan: Welcome to The Business of Government Hour. I'm Michael Keegan, your host, and Managing Editor of The Business of Government magazine. Protecting the country’s borders, land, air and sea from the illegal entry of people, weapons, drugs and contraband is vital to homeland security as well as economic prosperity. One of today’s greatest challenges is protecting the country against terrorists and instruments of terror while at the same time fostering the country’s economic security through lawful trade and travel.

The U.S. Customs and Border Protection Agency, CBP, one of the Department of Homeland Security’s largest and most complex components, operates at the nexus of national security and American economic security. What are CBP’s key strategic priorities? How is CBP pursuing innovative security strategies? What is CBP doing to be more efficient and effective in meeting its mission?

We’ll explore these questions and so much more with our very special guest Kevin McAleenan, acting Assistant Commissioner, Office of Field Operations within the U.S. Customs and Border Protection. Kevin, welcome to the show. It’s great to have you.

Kevin McAleenan: Thanks, Michael, good to be here.

Michael Keegan: Also joining our conversation from IBM is Andy Maner.

Andy, welcome.

Andy Maner: Thank you.

Michael Keegan: Kevin, could you provide us with some context around the mission and history of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection. When was it started and how has its mission evolved to date?

Kevin McAleenan: U.S. Customs and Border Protection or CBP as we call it was created as a unified border security agency of the United States as part of the U.S. government overall response to 9/11. It was really born officially in the Homeland Security Act of 2002 and it became operational in March 1, 2003 with the stand-up of the Department of Homeland Security. It’s the largest of the seven main operating components of the Department of Homeland Security along with the U.S. Coast Guard, Secret Service, U.S. Customs and Immigration.

Enforcement. Excuse me. I have to go back on that one.

 U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement or Homeland Security Investigations. The central idea was that we could address our systemic weaknesses that 9/11 attacks had laid bare in a more effective manner if we integrated these components that were focused on border security in multiple departments of government into one agency under one Department of Homeland Security umbrella. That idea had actually been around for some time. It was recommended five or six times in various national studies and commissions going back to the Wilson administration, most recently in the Hart Rudman Commission Report in 2000 and it’s proven to have been an idea with significant merit.

In terms of how the Office of Field Operations is structured and its role in CBP, we’re the key component that has the responsibility of overseeing the ports of entry in the United States where legal trade and travel comes into the country. The field operations are often called a merger within a merger within a merger. CBP already represented the largest merger of people and functions in DHS and really in the government since the Department of Defense was combined.

OFO is where the three inspectional components responsible at the ports of entry of the United States came together: the U.S. customs inspectors from the former Customs Service, the U.S. immigration inspectors from the Immigration and Naturalization Service, and the border inspector from the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service. That’s where we all became one unified border force if you will.

Our mission at the ports of entry, CBP is charged with securing and facilitating the flow of travelers and goods into the United States. This is 350 million people a year, two and a quarter trillion dollars’ worth of trade. We have the unique authority and responsibility of determining whether people and goods are admissible, whether they are physically allowed in the country, whether they are safe, compliant and properly documented. That’s a tremendous and broad responsibility.

Within that responsibility, we have several core mission sets. Our priority mission as we were conceived remains of preventing terrorists and terrorist weapons from entering the country, but we also maintain significant missions in preventing contraband from entering the United States, preventing inadmissible persons, agriculture, pests and animal diseases, products that are unsafe or violate intellectual property laws or other trade laws, and not to mention our revenue collection rule. We funded the entire U.S. government as U.S. Customs Service, one of our legacy components for the first 150 years or so of the country’s existence, and we still collect almost 30 billion dollars a year in duties and revenue for the U.S. government. So it’s a pretty dynamic and broad mission set and one that is never a dull moment.

Michael Keegan: With such a critical mission, how many folks actually make it happen and what’s the size of your budget?

Kevin McAleenan: We’re the largest component within CBP. CBP is the largest component within the Department of Homeland Security. So overall, CBP is about 60,000 strong with over 40,000 uniform law enforcement personnel, not well-known but we’re actually the largest law enforcement agency in the world at CBP. And so for field operations, the component at the ports of entry that I oversee, we have over 28,000 employees, a budget of over three and a half billion and we work at 400 locations; 300 ports of entry in the United States and about 70 locations in 40 countries globally. So it’s a very broad footprint that we exercise.

Andy Maner: Your role, Kevin, running that Office of Field Operations, what you called OFO, what’s your daily tempo and how do you execute your personal missions?  

Kevin McAleenan: The acting assistant of field operations is responsible for several kinds of key roles. I have an operational oversight role that’s not like a DOD model where there’s an organized train and equip role for the service commander. It’s an actual operational line and chain of command over what goes on in the field. I also have a key programmatic role, driving and developing our national programs, our risk assessment efforts, our trusted traitor and trusted traveler programs, and our international operations. Then the third is really trying to support the commissioner and the deputy commissioner with our enterprise-wide decision making and our strategy for the overall Board of management. So those are the things I’m engaged in day-to-day.

Michael Keegan: Kevin, with such an expansive portfolio and a critical mission, I’d like to delve into some of your top management challenges. Could you give us a sense of what they are and how you’ve sought to address them?

Kevin McAleenan: Sure, I mean, I think there’s a number of key operational challenges that we’re addressing very aggressively. The changing nature of global terrorism for instance or threats from trans-national criminal organizations, but at the organizational management level, I think like many federal managers who come on this program, I think my central challenge is how we keep pace with our growing and expanding mission in an era of reduced resources.

Both our security and our facilitation responsibilities are too critical to the country for us to fail and so the types of questions that my management team and I are constantly asking ourselves is how do we innovate and transform to make sure that our business processes are as efficient and effective as possible and really create a culture where we’re improving daily and relentlessly. How do we integrate and apply technology to increase the mobility and effectiveness of our frontline workforce? How do we motivate and engage our personnel to maximize their job satisfaction and productivity and really try to make CBP field operations a law enforcement employer of choice in the federal government.

We’re seeing record levels of trade and travel in all our environments; land, air and sea. Since the bottom of the recession in 2009 for instance we’ve seen 4 percent growth year-over-year in the air environments to new records of travelers coming into the U.S. which is a tremendous benefit economically but at the same time we’ve seen a leveling off of our resource and staffing levels and our people and our equipment are becoming more expensive at the same time.

So we’re trying to tackle these challenges in a number of ways; capitalizing on technology but also looking at our business processes and looking at every aspect we could do more efficiently. If I could give an example of how we’re attacking this. The port of San Ysidro, the largest port of entry in the world where we have 35,000 vehicles, 25,000 people crossing each day is currently undergoing the largest construction project at a port of entry in history. The total project will change the way the port operates from 24 lanes to over 60. It’ll create new pedestrian facilities, new secondary facilities, but we can’t shut down and move operations while that construction is happening.

So we looked at this and realized we’re going to have a significant challenge in keeping that critical trade between San Diego and Tijuana and really going deep into the United States going during this construction. We looked at how we could move people and things efficiently during this period. We took a look at the toll both model. For those who use their easy pass in the federal national capital region here, you see there are lanes where people have their easy pass.

They started maybe one or two lanes at each toll both as people were getting used to it. You still have most customers paying cash and taking longer in those lines. Well, gradually they increased the number of easy pass lanes to really incentivize and force more of the traffic to go ahead and take the step of ordering their easy pass so they could get through the process more quickly.

Well we took a similar approach. We have a trusted traveler program that we operate on our southern land border called century. What we did is we started out with a few century lanes and we made a policy statement that we were not going to let the wait times in our century lanes go over 15 minutes and we’re going to keep opening century lanes to keep that wait time that low. Well, that drove participation from under 20 percent to over 37 percent of the traffic into the century program. That allows us to clear those cars about 2/3 faster than a general lane and really expedite that traffic.

At the same time, we had installed technology that allows us to use RFID, radio frequency identification device technology to read people’s documents as they approach our primary booth. So once they get to primary we already know who they are. We know if there is a risk and we’re able to process them much more effectively. That’s about 35 percent faster than a general lane. So we announced that we’re going to keep the ready lanes at about half the wait of the general lanes and that drove a lot more people to go get RFID enabled documents. They didn’t have to be a trusted partner. They didn’t have to have a perfect background but they could use an RFID document.

So today, we have almost 70 percent of our traffic at San Ysidro using either a trusted lane or a ready lane and that’s allowed us to continue to operate during this massive construction project, allowed us to give consistency for those frequent border crossers, and to make a real difference in how people and vehicles are moving across the border in Southern California. So that’s kind of a microcosm of how we’re trying to really use technology and look critically at our processes so we can manage this increasing mission set in a period of really austere resources.

Andy Maner: Kevin, I imagine with the broad mission that your office has that you embark on your strategic initiatives but I imagine that your daily in-box gets filled with new kind of fast moving crisis or opportunities. Give us a sense of your daily tempo and what are some of the things that hit you when you arrive at work in the morning.

Kevin McAleenan: Well as I mentioned with 350 million people and hundreds of millions of cargo shipments a year coming across the border, there’s never really a dull moment. We have a saying, our deputy commissioner uses I,t that you can’t make this stuff up. We’ll always be confronted with something that we never imagined every week really in terms of what happens operationally at the border.

Just the beginning of this week we had an individual on an international flight come in with 15 birds that were sedated in little wire mesh cages sewn into the lining of his jeans. Who would think that someone would bring in birds in that manner but we had an alert officer and a great specialist detect it and interdict those birds, which could carry bird diseases or other concerns that we want to prevent from entering the country. So we have that kind of surprise every day but I think CBP prides itself on our crisis response capabilities and our abilities to look at adapting and evolving threats and respond to them with new programmatic efforts with new technologies.

I think we also are able to use our existing framework in new ways. I think the Japan nuclear disaster a year and a half ago is a good example of that. When the Fukushima Daiichi plant melted down and had a significant radiation release, there was a lot of concern about products coming from Japan, one of our most critical trading partners and whether they would be contaminated with radiation or even just the containers themselves or the passengers even.

What we have at CBP is we had a radiation detection apparatus in place designed to protect potential radiological materials that aren’t compliant with laws or even a nuclear threat.  We were able to use that to give confidence to our federal partners, Department of Transportation, Environmental Protection Agency that we could detect very low levels of contamination and work with them to resolve any concerns to keep that critical trade flowing into the U.S. I think that’s a good example of how we can respond to an emerging issue by using the systems and approaches we have in place in unique ways.

Andy Maner: Kevin give us a sense for your movement to this position. Give us a little bit about your background and how you ended up in such an important leadership position.

Kevin McAleenan: That’s a good question. I’ve had several formative experiences, I guess going back 15 years or more now, that sort of set me on this path and obviously a very unique timeframe in our nation’s history with the response to the 9/11 attacks that created a dynamic period of opportunity within the federal government.

But for me, I’d always been interested in government service and was attending law school in Chicago and took a class on rogue states and ethnic conflicts. This was back in the 90s. I had a professor who was very prescient. On a cold winter day in Chicago with about eight of us in a seminar, I wasn’t expecting anything groundbreaking to happen. He pounded on the table about five minutes into this class and just looked at us and said the United States is just waiting for a Pearl Harbor style attack from terrorists and we need to wake up.

That got my attention because I was looking for a way to apply my general interest in government and law enforcement. An emerging threat from terrorism seemed like a challenge that you could build a career around. A couple of years later, the Hart-Rudman Commission came out with a series of findings. This is also prior to 9/11. Their first finding was that American’s will die, possibly in large numbers from a terrorist attack on American soil. That was a sort of galvanizing idea as well that a group of experts at that level had looked across the global environment and seen these emerging threats and was encouraging the U.S. to better prepare to address them.

So I sort of decided this is what I want to work in. Unfortunately, I was a practicing attorney at the time trying to pay off some law school debt but the September 11th attacks changed all that for me. It made it very clear to me that I couldn’t wait for a better opportunity to contribute, that I had to try to come to D.C. and find a way to have a national role in supporting our government’s anti-terrorism efforts. I had the opportunity to join Commissioner Robert Bonner at the time at the U.S. Customs Service. He was embarked on a project of refocusing this vulnerable institution from 1789 on a new priority mission of preventing terrorists and terrorist weapons from entering the country.

As I mentioned, this was just a really dynamic period. We were kind of inventing a new discipline. What does anti-terrorism look like in a border security context? How do we use existing mechanisms for taking data on travelers and trade transactions and looking for risk in new ways? We’re not looking for a drug shipment, someone who might be inadmissible but looking for someone who might present a terrorism risk.

So there were no experts in combining the terrorism knowledge and the border knowledge. I got to work at sort of the nexus of those disciplines and building a new approach. It provided some really unique opportunities from their getting the compelling mission, getting me in the door and the unique opportunity that came about in our whole of government response to 9/11. I then had the chance to work with some really tremendous mentors and leaders.

I mentioned Commissioner Bonner, an incredible career as a prosecutor, a federal judge, head of the DEA. He really had this vision to lead CBP and the U.S. Customs Service at the time in this new era. Professionals like Jason Hurn, (ph) a 30-plus year career in law enforcement. David Aguilar, the father of the modern border patrol. Thomas Makowski is our deputy commissioner now, the most committed public servant I have ever met. So I learned important lessons from these individuals on vision, on setting strategic priorities and that perceived organizational bounders were really just self-imposed limitations that we should try to drive through and overcome.

And so getting to this point, where I have this tremendous opportunity to lead these 28,000 men and women engaged in, I think the most compelling mission in law enforcement was really a confluence of answering a call to come to Washington and participate in this effort post 9/11 and then having the mentorship and support of some tremendous leaders and trying to learn from them and apply those lessons in my management style.

Michael Keegan: So Kevin, given your experience what makes an effective leader? What are some of the characteristics of an effective leader?

Kevin McAleenan: I think I mentioned some of the leaders that have influenced me. I think former Commissioner Bonner probably captures the strategic vision and the will, the skill and force of will to implement it that I try to emulate day-to-day. When I started working with him back in October of 2001, he was looking at the threats we were facing and how do we strategically address them in a globally networked world.

He proposed an idea that became the container security initiative. This was to place customs officers in foreign sea ports to work with host nation customs authorities, risk assess cargo that was going to be destined for the United States, but try to address that risk in concert with those authorities before it was ever laid on a vessel, a very big idea. He called me into his office later in the evening as he often did to sort of talk through the concept.

I remember on first hearing I thought it was impossible. I thought that the sovereignty issues, the cost, the demands for reciprocity that we were likely to face because not all of the ports are located in places where we have good day-to-day law enforcement collaboration so it seemed like a very difficult concept to implement. I remember him sort of furrowing his brow and letting me say my piece and offer what I thought were the obstacles to this vision. He just looked at me and said we’re going to do it. Within a year we had agreements with the 20 largest sea ports in the world and we’re now in 58 sea ports in 32 countries. It’s a core element of how the U.S. government maintains supply chain security in concert with our partners.

So that ability to recognize that the perceived limits of an organization and the perceived boundaries that exist are really things that can be overcome with a strategic vision and a focus and drive to prioritize and implement it is really one of the leadership lessons I’ve tried to carry forward and try to emulate in what I do today.

Michael Keegan: What are CBP’s strategic priorities? We will ask Kevin McAleenan, acting Assistant Commissioner Office of Field Operations when our conversation continues on The Business of Government Hour.


Welcome back to The Business of Government Hour. I’m Michael Keegan your host. Our guest today is Kevin McAleenan, acting Assistant Commissioner Office of Field Operations with the U.S. Customs and Border Protection. Also joining our conversation from IBM is Andy Maner.

Kevin, you mentioned strategic vision and the need for that. I’d like to delve into the strategic vision of field operations and in particular, what are your key strategic priorities and how do you pursue them to meet your multidimensional mission?

Kevin McAleenan: Well building on the foundation offered by Tom Makowski, the vision I have is fairly significant for OFO. We want to be as part of CBP the premier law enforcement agency in the world, not just world class which I think we’ve attained already but really the premier agency.

To me that means the highest possible degree of mission effectiveness, becoming really the best at what we do, to be an innovative and dynamic organization that’s constantly transforming, adopting new technologies and processes, being relentlessly self-critical in everything that we do. It’s becoming the employer of choice in the federal law enforcing community with a recognized culture of leadership and excellence in employee engagement and also given our role in facilitating trade and travel, being transparent and collaborative, responsive to the American public and working closely with our stakeholders, and of course maintaining the highest standards of integrity.

So within this broad vision, we have several building blocks in place and then we have several things we’re working on. That’s where our strategic priorities come into play. The building blocks that are in place are the mission itself. I mean I think we do have the most compelling mission in law enforcement, preventing potentially risky people and goods from entering the country while at the same time supporting the huge volume of trade and travel that crosses our border each day.

We have the broadest authorities, another key building block of any federal law enforcement agency. We have warrant list ability to search. We can stop, detain and question individuals and we have a responsibility to exercise that appropriately. We have world class capabilities with the amount of data that we collect, our ability to analyze that data with automated systems in effective manners, our targeting capabilities, our abilities to inspect goods without slowing them down very much. These are nonintrusive inspection technologies, radiation portal monitors or gamut imaging devices. We have a lot of capabilities there.

On the partnership side, we’re well positioned both with our interagency community starting with our investigators at Homeland Security investigations. We can’t carry out our mission effectively on the interdiction side without that collaboration with the investigators to dismantle the organizations and proceed to prosecution and then the global efforts. Those are critical partnerships for us, not only with our North American partners but internationally and of course the private sectors.

In our strategic priorities, we have a good foundation so what are we doing to address the pieces we still need to work on? I think we need to constantly improve our capabilities. Again if the goal is to be the absolute best at what we do, we really need to invest in our strengths. Our unique position at the borders provides us access to so much information. We need to marshal that information effectively. We need to get the right answer to our frontline personnel about whether this person or good might present a risk to the United States across our broad mission set.

And we need to continue to transform and innovate. We have a whole series of what we call our business transformation initiatives. They’re really looking critically at all of our core processes. Time honored traditions of how we process air passengers with written customs declarations and you go to primary and then you go to secondary and each of these missions are taken in sequence. We want to look at that in entirely new ways and try to use technology to accomplish as much of these administrative portions of those missions before that person arrives at the border. So that encounter can be law enforcement focused, very facilitative and quick and an expedited process. And so these are the kinds of things we’re working on to develop our organization on the capability side.

We’ve gone through a merger in the first decade of our existence quite successfully. We still have some work to do and this is where we want to build our culture as an organization, building our esprit décor, coming up with our own unifying symbols and culture identity that we understand and commit to and that the public can understand. And developing a teamwork approach with our bargaining unit, with shared goals and expectations on how we’re going to work together to support their goals as well as the critical mission we’ve been charged with by the American people.

Then lastly, it’s the investment in our people. We are recruiting a tremendous caliber of individuals across all of our disciplines; our CBP officers, our agriculture specialists, our trade specialists, and our mission support personnel. We’ve gotten to the point where our basic training academy is absolutely world class and is really producing officers and agriculture specialists that are ready to do the job on day one. It’s a complex and broad one as we talked about.

So now we need to work on engaging them in their leadership development at multiple stages in their career, really defining career roadmaps for them so they know how to manage the various opportunities they have in their careers. So it’s those capabilities, the culture and investing in our people that I think will take us to that next level as an organization and position us for the challenges of the future.

Michael Keegan: Well, actually, I’d like to talk a little bit more about specific initiatives that you’re pursuing. And I’d like to delve into one and that is the Southwest Border Initiative, which I believe began in March of ’09. I want to get a sense of what is it and what have you been able to accomplish in this effort and more particularly, what are some of the challenges that you encounter while massing and protecting the southwest border?

Kevin McAleenan: Sure. I think the story on the southwest border is a very good one. It’s been an exciting time with some tremendous accomplishments since 2009 with the Southwest Border Initiative and even going back since the creation of U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

We’ve deployed historic levels of personnel, technology and infrastructure both at and between the ports of entry on the southwest border and I think we’re better positioned than ever to address the threats we face there. My colleagues in the border patrol for instance are better staffed than any time in their 88 year history. They’re now at a resource level that’s much more commensurate with the massive challenge of securing our border between ports of entry and the results are there.

There are apprehensions, a key indicator of illegal immigration have decreased about 50 percent in the last three years and are roughly 22 percent of what they were at their peak and they’ve been much more effective at interdicting individuals crossing the border at the same time. We see across the southwest border the violent crime in the border communities have fallen. Some of the safest communities in the country are along the southwest border and we think that’s partially due to the efforts of the Department of Homeland Security and U.S. Customs and Border Protection to secure that southwest border.

At the ports of entry, we’ve also made significant investments. We’ve implemented the western hemisphere traveler initiative, which is those technologies I was talking about relating to San Ysidro that enable us to move traffic more effectively but also much more securely. It’s a little known fact that at the time of 9/11, basically only about 5 percent of land border crossings were the people’s documents actually checked and queried through a system. We’re at over 98 percent today through the implementation of these technologies. We have license plate readers, next generation license plate readers that are capturing all the vehicles crossing and that creates an environment that’s much more secure, has led to thousands of seizures and enforcement actions and is really finding those potential bad actors at the border while still moving trade and travel effectively.

I think in terms of the challenges we still continue to face, one is we really want to support the government of Mexico’s law enforcement efforts against the transnational criminal organizations, those powerful drug cartels that are operating in several areas of Mexico. We’d like to help them choke off the supply of money and guns going south bound and that’s been a commitment made by this department.

The challenge we face is in terms of our staffing resources, our infrastructure and our technology, it’s positioned to focus on the inbound traffic. So the outbound traffic, you go to San Diego as I mentioned earlier and it’s basically interstate 5 driving right into Mexico. There’s no port there. There are no booths. There’s no canopy. There’s not even anything that slows down the vehicles. That kind of situation is present at many of our major crossings and really presents a challenge as we try to check that traffic going outbound and to try to interdict some of the potential guns and money going south.

We’ve had tremendous successes. We increased our outbound currency seizures dramatically through 2011. We increased our weapons seizures but that’s going to be a continued effort. How do we balance and risk manage with the infrastructure, with the personnel our outbound mission?

Another area we’re faced with, this is kind of in the organizational management side as well as operationally is how do we integrate the components of CBP in the most effective way? We call it our mission integration agenda. I mean this is not only going to be more effective in terms of our operations but it’s a budget reality. And so we’re testing different models of insuring that we work as closely as possible with our counterparts in the border patrol, with our colleagues in air and Marine in securing that southwest border so we’re not three independent components that sort of share a parent in D.C. but that we actually day-to-day are integrated completely in our operations.

And so we’re starting to apply our joint resources in a really integrated fashion on the outbound side. Frankly, many of our outbound efforts have been enabled by the fact that we have border patrol working with us at the ports of entry going south bound. We also have been sharing our canine assets which are tremendously effective tools in identifying narcotics as well as weapons and currency. The border patrol has a significant compliment of canines and we’re now using them sometimes at ports of entry, sometimes at check points in a collaborative manner.

And we’ve also shared our lessons learned from the ports of entry with the border patrol to apply at checkpoints. How do you use nonintrusive inspection technology effectively? How do you use data on the cargo that’s crossing the border so they can find potential risk and seizures at those interior checkpoints that are a critical line of defense in protecting the southwest border?

So those are the challenges we’re moving into and of course at the same time we have trade up 6 percent last year and continuing to grow on the southwest border. This is outstanding rebounding from the recession but it also means we have many more trucks and railcars that we need to clear efficiently and so that goes back to ensuring we’re as efficient and effective as possible in all of our processes so that’s what we’ll be continuing to work on.

Andy Maner: As a follow-up to that, Kevin, most Americans read a lot about the southern border but you’ve also got a pretty expansive border on the northern border and in the coastal regions of the United States. How do you deal with that vastness and move that forward each year?

Kevin McAleenan: Well all of our border environments present different risks and challenges and absolutely we have actually the longest shared land border in the world between the United States and Canada. We see different threats. The terrorism threat is most severe in the air environment for instance, the narcotics smuggling obviously on the southwest border. And then we have some of our most important trade facilitation challenges in the sea ports and on the northern border. So we have to apply the right mix of programs, techniques and technology in each of those environments.

So I think that maybe the foundational thing that’s been very different the last several years and really put us in a very good position for the future is the tremendous growth and depth of our regional partnerships. We are working more closely with both Canada and Mexico than really ever before at the presidential level. There have been agreements signed with the prime minister of Canada, and with President Calderon in Mexico.

The first is called Beyond the Border, looking with Canada at how we manage our shared land border and shared air border in the most efficient way possible to address threats early in the process, to facilitate trade, to ensure that we’re across border law enforcement efforts are as integrated as possible. These are organizations that are not just in Canada or just in the U.S. They’re transnational.

And that we have a shared approach to investing in infrastructure across our land border. We’re looking at all sorts of potential solutions including pre-inspection, using that limited infrastructure on the land border in new and innovative ways to maybe clear cargo in advance before it actually arrives at that more restricted port of entry, developing and harmonizing our trusted traitor and trusted traveler concepts.

Both Canada and Mexico are working with us to harmonize our trade partnership approach. We have our customs trade partnership against terrorism which has over 10,500 members, companies across the global trade spectrum. Canada has a mature program that we’re harmonizing our requirements with and Mexico is now building a trade partnership program that we’re eager to support them with and enhance our harmonization there as well.

On the trusted traveler side, we have a mature and growing program with Canada where we’re able to process almost 9 percent of our air passenger traffic from Canada through an expedited trusted process. And now Mexico has established their own trusted traveler program to align with global entry. And so in all three countries we’ll have facilitation benefits going either to or from the United States so there’s a lot of progress going on with these partnerships that we want to continue to build on.

Andy Maner: Kevin you mentioned the trade community and customs has a unique relationship with them. How do you deal with the mass of information and how do you establish risk management principles when dealing with so many commercial entities that are approaching you in so many different modes? How do you work through that?  

Kevin McAleenan: Really the process is what we call risk segmentation or risk management and that has many different components to it. First we try to learn as much as possible both about the individual transaction, the individual shipment coming into the country or leaving the country, as well as the supply chain participants that is involved with that shipment. We try to marshal that information with advanced analytics and automated targeting systems to sort through that vast amount of data and come up with those limited number, the very small number of noncompliant or potentially risky shipments to focus that for officers in the field to take some inspectional action and screen that physically and more aggressively.

So the core components of that are data collection efforts. We work with the trade community to receive information on all sea, air and land cargo shipments coming into the U.S.  We try to get that information before it arrives at the border in the sea and air environment, even before it’s laden on a vessel or loaded into an aircraft destined for the U.S. So if there is a security risk, we can work with them to take action and mitigate that risk before it even departs for the United States.

The second piece of that is working through all of that data with our targeting system, with our partners in the investigative agencies to decide what we want to focus on. And then the third piece is taking effective action to inspect it thoroughly and effectively at the earliest possible point in the process.

The other half of the process is the trade partnership. I mentioned the customs trade partnership against terrorism, the 10,500 members. Those members are actually responsible for well over 50 percent of the value of trade coming into the United States. So when we have worked with them to validate their supply chains from the very start, the manufacturer in a foreign country through their trans-shipment points on the carriers headed to the U.S. and then destined to their import location in the United States, we know that they work with trusted partners. We know that they have taken security measures that we’ve recommended and we’ve validated those by actually visiting their facilities, by meeting with their management and ensuring that they have a mindset to secure the global supply chain.

The result of that is we’re able to treat those shipments as less risky. They are seven times less likely to have a secondary examination and so their trade moves much more quickly and we’re able to focus our finite resources on higher risk shipments and really have a better understanding about the traffic and the global supply chain. So it’s really a combination of data, analytics, effective inspections and partnerships that are helping us get the job done.

Michael Keegan: Kevin, you mentioned the Container Security Initiative, CSI. Would you tell us how you’re leveraging emerging technologies to make the program more efficient and cost effective?

Kevin McAleenan: Well, the key area that we’re investing on in the technology side in supporting the Container Security Initiative is those advanced analytics. It’s taking our targeting efforts to the next level, trying to capitalize on the power of machine learning, augmenting what we already do very well which is take intelligence and apply it through business rules to help sort travel transactions and trade transactions.

And then adding this new layer which is the power of a computer process to look at many more factors simultaneously instead of having an individual, for those of us who are old enough to have done Boolean queries and the early search engines where you have to combine a series of terms with if/then relationships. To go beyond that and have a machine look at 88, 150, 200 variables simultaneously in a much more comprehensive way that can bring risks and patterns to the forefront that we wouldn’t have seen as individual targeters or analysts. So I think that’s the key investment is really helping us identify potential risk more efficiently.

The other side of that is, again staying in the analytics sphere for a moment, what we call entity resolution or entity disambiguation. We have a lot of information where we have known risks. We have either individuals or companies that are watch listed because they might present a concern. They’ve been involved in illegal activity, or potential terrorist activity. Unfortunately, lots of people and entities have similar names.

So how do we make sure we’re not impacting, we’re only finding the known threats and the right threats? That process of having our algorithms be continuously refined so that we don’t miss anybody but we don’t have a lot of false positives that we have to sort through is a critical investment for us on the technology side.

But CSI, I mentioned Commissioner Bonner’s vision in 2002. That will continue to be a core of our goal of supply chain security efforts. We’ve built partnerships with customs administrations and law enforcement partners in 32 countries. We’re addressing potential security risks on 50,000 containers a year before they’re ever laden and sent to the United States and inspecting them thoroughly, saving time and money upon arrival, and ensuring there was no threat in the process. We’ve been able to expand and work with our partners on other mission sets, narcotics for instance. Trade violations. That will continue to be sort of a cornerstone program for our supply chain security efforts even as we look at ways of leveraging these partnerships so there’s less of a need to have large physical presence in foreign countries.

Michael Keegan: So how does the Secure Freight Initiative factor into your efforts and more particularly, what’s the direction of scanning cargo both here in the states? What’s the future direction?

Kevin McAleenan: The Secure Freight Initiative, we have one operational location remaining and we think it’s an effective strategy for very high risk supply chains where we have a partner that’s willing to put 100 percent of cargo through and they have the volume that can be sustained without slowing down international trade. It can be useful in those specific contexts. But our overall efforts have been driven toward the risk management approach, the CT Pat Partners, the Container Security Initiative, the targeting systems, and addressing those risks as early as possible in the process, those 50,000 exams that occur abroad. So we’re constantly looking at new technologies, new ways to inspect things more efficiently, and new ways to secure supply chains and containers as they move through supply chains. But in terms of the 100 percent approach, we have limited locations where that’s currently applicable.

Michael Keegan: How is CBP pursuing innovative security strategies? We will ask Kevin McAleenan, acting Assistant Commissioner Office of Field Operations with the U.S. Customs and Border Protection when our conversation continues on The Business of Government Hour.


Welcome back to The Business of Government Hour. I’m Michael Keegan your host and our guest today is Kevin McAleenan, acting Assistant Commissioner Office of Field Operations with the U.S. Customs and Border Protection. Also joining our conversation from IBM is Andy Maner.

Kevin, your office has many tools and technologies at its disposal to ensure safe and secure flow of trade and travel. To that end, would you tell us more about the role of the National Targeting Center and the automated targeting system and how they play in your strategy?

Kevin McAleenan: Absolutely. The National Targeting Center and the automated targeting system that really enables it is the foundation of that concept of risk segmentation or risk management that’s absolutely critical to our effective operations given the volume of trade and travel we interact with. So we need to have those accurate targeting approaches to focus finite resources on potentially higher risk passengers and cargo.

We have a couple of different aspects of how we approach risk assessment from the National Targeting Center. I think the expectation of the American people and certainly our expectation is that we must accurately and effectively identify and interdict all potentially known watch listed threats. So people that are our intelligence community, our Department of Defense, our investigative partners have determined might present a risk, we want to make sure we identify their travel and that we take steps to mitigate any potential risk that it poses.

The second side is a little bit harder. It’s working to find the needles in the haystack that aren’t known as threats, to scrutinize risk factors associated with shipments and with travel that might show that they have a greater risk to the United States and we might need to either inspect them upon arrival, inspect them before they even leave the foreign port of origin, or prevent them from entering the U.S. at all.

So in the last three years, we’ve taken an already critical tool for us to the next level and really pushed everything we’re doing earlier in the process to increase our zone of security. Many of your listeners will remember Christmas Day 2009 when we had the attempted attack from Farouk Abdulmutallab on a flight into Detroit. He was an individual who we were set up to put in secondary and interview and potentially deny entry to the United States upon arrival. We knew he was coming. We were concerned about his potential admissibility.

What we learned from that event is we needed to use that capability as early as possible in the process and to take those targeting efforts into the pre-departure environment. We’ve done so in coordination with our interagency partners, with our investigative partners at FBI, at ICE, with the Department of State in a way that’s really changed the potential for inadmissible persons who may present a threat to the U.S. or to the aircraft that they’re coming on to the U.S. before they even board those planes.

So in 2009 working with the carriers and our international footprint of what we call our immigration advisory program officers, we prevented boarding for about 450 people that were destined to the U.S. This fiscal year to date, we’ve already done it for over 4,000 potential travelers, so these are folks that were going to be deemed inadmissible upon arrival, many of whom may have presented some type of security threats, some of which are watch listed but others who had other concerns that we were going to address in the old days upon arrival, and preventing them from even boarding the aircraft. So that has tremendous security benefits.

It also has tremendous efficiency benefits. Instead of having two officers escorting that individual, interviewing them, detaining them, bringing them back to an aircraft to go outbound, we save all of that time to focus on potentially other risks that we can identify pre-departure but that may come up on a primary interview or by observing someone’s behavior as they go through our process. So that’s been a tremendous change for us in moving this effort prior to departure and it’s been a very effective program.

We’ve done the same thing with cargo. So another example was the Al-Qaeda and the Iran peninsula attempted attack with two printer cartridge shipments originating from Yemen in 2010. Those cargo shipments in the air environment prior to that event they wouldn’t send information about what’s on that plane until about four hours prior to arrival. Given the attempted attack, we noted that plane might not have made it so inspecting those shipments upon arrival was not going to help address that threat.

So we sat down with the private sector in a process that our deputy commissioner has named co-creation and really looked at what could we do together? What point in their supply chain did they have information about that shipment that we could use with our targeting systems to identify risk and maybe take action before it was ever laden on an aircraft.

In a very rapid process for government and trade to work together, within six weeks we were starting to receive data from the four major express consignment carriers; Federal Express, UPS, DHL and TNT. We were able to target those shipments for risk and then give that feedback to the carrier so they could inspect them and mitigate any risk prior to putting them on the aircraft. That’s a pilot program that we now have 22 members participating.

Those members account for over 85 percent of all the air cargo entering the U.S. and it’s been done in a collaborative way without a forcing mechanism of a statute of regulation but a joint recognition of a threat and an innovative collaborative process to address it. That’s called the Air Cargo Advanced Screening Program. We’re looking forward to continuing to develop that until we can cover the whole air cargo supply chain.

Andy Maner: Kevin you’ve mentioned a lot about trusted traveler programs during our show today. Can you talk a little bit more about how you utilize those programs and how you use technology or your vision for using technology to make them more effective as we go forward? Obviously you’ve mentioned passenger counts are up. The land border counts are up. Bigger planes are now flying into our airports. How do you combine the membership in those with technology?

Kevin McAleenan: It’s a great question and the trusted traveler efforts are really a key component of our overall approach. We have three major trusted traveler programs; global entry in the air environment, century which is the southwest land border program, and nexus which is the program with Canada that applies for both land border traffic and in the pre-clearance air environment.

Just think of a passenger traveling. They’re coming off a 14 hour flight, landing at maybe one of the peak periods at the busy terminals at JFK and instead of waiting for an hour or more they can go through processing in just a few minutes because we’ve taken these steps to work with them upfront, and do a background check, conduct an interview and basically do an advanced admissibility determination.

You think about the land border environment that you mentioned, Andy, a daily commuter at San Ysidro, 15 minutes maximum wait time instead of 90 minutes or more. So it has tremendous benefits first to that individual, expediting our trusted and most frequent travelers with 70 percent faster processing times in the air environment, sometimes even more in the land border environment.

Secondly, enhancing security by allowing us to focus on potentially higher risk passengers, get as many folks into the trusted lanes and we’re able to focus our resources effectively on those travelers we know less about. It also saves significant resources. The equivalent processing savings of dozens of officers annually in each of the environments we’re operating in, and lowers costs in other ways too.

The global entry members for instance use an automated kiosk to enter their customs declaration. We don’t have to collect that paper form and scan it and store it and maintain it anymore. We can become paperless as we increase our trusted traveler participation. And so we are applying this technology and the technology we have today is outstanding and we’re going to continue to improve it.

But we’re using touchscreen kiosks with passport readers, with biometric confirmation capability, and we’re continuing to explore improving those user interfaces using maybe other biometric options such as iris which are even faster and require less instruction about how to place a fingerprint.

So it’s a process. It’s working really well for us. It’s a process that I think the traveling public intuitively understands how to interface with and feels comfortable with. It’s a self-directed expedited approach.

So our next step is to try to continue to drive up the number of uses in every environment. We want as many people as possible in these trusted programs. One key effort for us has been our partnership with TSA. They’ve established a program called TSA pre-check which is going to provide facilitation benefits in the domestic travel side. So we’re linked entirely with them. One way into pre-check is to become a global entry member. Then you’ll have international and domestic benefits.

We’ve seen many industry participants, major carriers, American Express and others offer to pay global entry fees to align their brands with ours because they think they’re such a high value to their customers in using the program. We do think it’s a great value. If you use it once a year, it costs less for you than a checked bag and can save significant time on that travel.

So global entry and nexus and century are going to continue to be central aspects of our strategy and we’ll continue to try to get the word out and increase that enrollment. We’re up to about 60,000 applications a month which is tremendous. We want to continue to grow that exponentially.

Michael Keegan: Kevin, I’d like to switch gears a bit and talk about infrastructure and in particular the existing border crossing infrastructure was built decades ago. I’d like to understand a little bit more about what your agency is doing to expand and modernize these border crossings.

Kevin McAleenan: That is a challenge for us nationally I think in a significant way and an important question and really part of what’s driving those partnerships that I talked about beyond the border and the 21st century border.

I think the first thing we’re doing going back to our overall strategic priorities is looking at that transformation piece. How do we use that time and space prior to the individual, the vehicles, and the cargo shipments arrival at that constricted port of entry, that point where there is an infrastructure limitation as effectively as possible? That’s advanced data. That’s securing the supply chain as it approaches the border. That’s those concepts we were talking about like pre-inspection, pilot for clearing a certain commodity or certain type of traffic before it even arrives at the border so that when it comes through the port of entry it can speed through really without stopping.

The second is really continuing to invest in our technology so that we can move people as quickly as possible. I think a good example of that is what we’re calling our pedestrian re-engineering efforts. This is now in place in Otay Mesa in the San Diego area and at Paso Del Norte in El Paso. That’s just like the ready lane for vehicles. So people with radio frequency identification documents can approach a reader, have their document read very quickly before they get to the primary booth, and so our officer before they even step forward knows who they are, knows if there is any risk or concerns of that individual and can quickly move to questioning and facilitating that person’s arrival. So the technology application is going to be critical.

On the strategic side, I think we do have to continue to tell the importance of this story of these facilities and the role they play in our national economy. This is not a border community issue. There are 26 states in the United States that do a billion dollars or more of business with Mexico. That’s an even higher number that do international trade with Canada at that level.

And so given the limitations and the federal buildings fund budget, which is the fund where our major infrastructure projects come from and it’s been zeroed out the last several years in light of the budget realities we’re all facing. I think we need to be innovative and look at the prospects for public private partnerships where there is a business case that a group of private sector entities, other investors, state and locals can come together with the federal government to jointly invest in new infrastructure or improving existing infrastructure, staffing it effectively and having the right technology.

I think those kind of innovative ideas are things we’re going to have to talk about because we do have an infrastructure gap already and given the growth in international trade and travel, we know it’s going to increase. So the part that I can control being as efficient and as effective as possible with our processes, we’re really focused on that and driving forward. We’re going to need to really participate in this broader conversation about these strategic assets for the United States and how do we resource them properly.

Andy Maner: Kevin you talked with a great sense of pride in the beginning about your work force.  With such a growing workforce with a diversity of missions and includes agriculture, immigration, etc., how do you think about training them? How do you create a culture of leadership and a mentoring culture that takes the agency forward?

Kevin McAleenan: That as I mentioned is one of our highest priorities. We have a set of initiatives we’re calling our Leadership Engagement Initiatives to try to really galvanize that workforce. In all candor, the Department of Homeland Security and CBP have struggled in some of the workforce surveys. I think that’s been part of the challenge of merging different cultures together. I think coming up on our ten year anniversary, we’re really positioned to change that dynamic and to create a culture of leadership and a culture of pride in what we’re doing given our mission, given our critical role for the American security and economy moving forward.

So we’re taking that on in several ways. First, we’re looking at how we train leaders. We’re really happy with our basic academy and the skill sets it’s producing, the esprit de corps and the commitment to mission that our folks are coming out with. We embarked on a multi-year effort to revolutionize that curriculum and learn lessons from the Border Patrol Academy from some of the military academies and apply those at the CBP Officer Basic Academy. We’re really pleased with the results.

Now we need to take the next step and really make sure we’re interacting with those officers not only day-to-day through our management team but every few years in a more structured training environment that provides them leadership instruction. That’s not something we’ve traditionally had either in the legacy components that became CBP or in the first decade of CBP.

I think that’s where we need to go and we’re not parochial. We’re not shy about borrowing ideas from organizations that have had successful leadership development approaches including the military in the past. We’ve actually brought in a tremendous leader from the U.S. Coast Guard to lead our officer training and development for CBP-wide.  I think partnering with him is going to be a big opportunity for us on that front.

We’re also trying to take structural steps to ensure that our managers have that engagement with our front line as part of their core responsibilities and that they identify with that role. It’s not just managing people, getting them in booths, putting them in secondary environments, and trying to find bad people and dangerous goods.  It’s about who those people are.

What are their skill sets? What are their career aspirations? How do we reach out to them and make them feel good about the organization they’re part of? How do we educate them about the tremendous opportunities in a career in CBP? You can work in 70 different countries. You can work on national programs. You can be in technology at the very cutting edge.

I have officers that can keep pace with a nuclear physicist on the properties of radiological materials. We have officers that could win oral arguments in an immigration legal dispute. We have people that have such tremendous expertise. And to kind of open our new incoming officers minds to the types of careers they can pursue and these opportunities. We’re trying to kind of pair up mentors and also create a structure where we have supervisors that are responsible for a certain group of incoming officers in a much more direct way. They need to touch base with them every pay period. How are they doing mission wise? How are they doing training wise? How are they doing personally? And try to really develop that sort of culture.

And then it’s the communication challenge. As we’ve grown and as many locations as we operate in have grown, how do we communicate what we’re doing and why as an agency? How do we use the technology available to us whether its webinars or exploring social networking tools to really reach out to them and make them feel part of a national culture?

And lastly just continuing to convey the importance of everything they do every day and asking the American people to understand it. We’re not there to hassle the American people at the border. We’re there to protect them. The questioning and scrutiny they get is for the greater security of the country and our economy. And so I want those officers and agriculture specialists and trade specialists to understand that every single interaction with a person or good entering the country could be a critical one.

We saw that with the Times Square bomber. CBP was instrumental in identifying and then of course was the agency that interdicted him upon his attempt to flee the country to Pakistan after the failed attack in Times Square. It was that good inspection on his inbound flight when he came back from his training in Pakistan that enabled us to create an intelligence report and provide the information to the FBI that allowed them to identify him. It’s conveying that to our officers that your diligence in this innocuous seeming encounter is what could potentially be a major national security success or failure and if you’re not able to sustain that approach, then we can have problems.

And so how do we galvanize them and get them thinking about that every day and knowing that they have thousands of people and shipments to deal with? And so that’s a real focus of ours. It is engaging a culture of leadership, reaching out to our frontline personnel, ensuring that we understand how important they are and supporting them in what they do every day.

Michael Keegan: I assume with any law enforcement agency, integrity is at its soul. To what end, what are you doing to sustain or implement a culture of integrity?

Kevin McAleenan: That’s a critical challenge as well. The pressures are significant obviously in a border environment. It’s an environment where transnational criminal organizations want to move contraband and want to move people. As we get better and better with our targeting inspection capabilities, one way that they will try to do that is to try to corrupt our personnel. So we need to do several things to continue to combat our integrity threats.

First, we need to ensure that the people we bring in on the very front end, the people that we hire are of the highest character and moral fiber. They are fit for the public trust that we’re placing in them. Secondly, we need to engage in prevention efforts by continuing to drive a culture of integrity. Third, we need to be able to detect and then swiftly address corruption in our ranks in conjunction with our investigative partners, our Office of Internal Affairs, Office of Inspector General, the ICE Office of Professional Responsibility, and of course the Federal Bureau of Investigation and their Border Corruption Taskforce which has a critical role.

So on that first point, we’ve made a lot of progress as an organization at CBP. The Office of Internal Affairs has really worked aggressively to improve the background process and now three months ahead of the schedule set forth in the Anti-corruption Act, we are administering polygraph examinations to over 100 percent of all CBP law enforcement applications. That’s a very new area for us and we think is really going to help us on the front end in protecting the integrity of the folks that are joining us in the first place.

On the prevention side for field operations part, we’ve established integrity officers in each field office that go out to the frontline and engage in training, engage in outreach with our managers and our first line personnel. Basically talking about how integrity threats arise, how to protect themselves in situations off-duty, what to look for in terms of behavior of colleagues on duty, new cars, unexplained absences, unexplained financial situation changes, and really protecting not only the mission that we have but protecting the integrity of their workforce and their reputations.

And so we’ve really invested as well in the detection side using our skills at identifying anomalies and risks in trade and travel in general, and looking at our own systems and seeing if there are anomalies in how our personnel are using those systems. Is that a training issue or is that something that might indicate a corruption challenge?

I’m gratified that the last two significant arrests of frontline CBP officers were actually detected by the Office of Field Operations, by our folks looking at our systems and trying to make sure that we had the most integrity as possible. And so we worked with our Internal Affairs Office and the FBI supporting that investigation, were able to get those individuals arrested, removed from the frontlines so they don’t pose a threat to our mission or to our workforce.

Michael Keegan: What does the future hold for the U.S. Customs and Border Protection? We will ask Kevin McAleenan, acting Assistant Commissioner of Field Operations for CBP when our conversation continues on The Business of Government Hour.


Welcome back to The Business of Government Hour. I’m Michael Keegan your host and our guest today is Kevin McAleenan, acting Assistant Commissioner, Office of Field Operations with the U.S. Customs and Border Protection. Also joining our conversation from IBM is Andy Maner.

Andy Maner: Kevin, clearly we’re in a new era for CBP, a new mission era, a new budget era. How do you take the agency forward and balance all of this?

Kevin McAleenan: This is an area where we’re really focusing right now and how do we transition from a period of very significant resource support to an era where resource is much more constrained? On the positive side in terms of supporting our frontline personnel, we were able to successfully make the case and got a lot of support from the administration, from the Hill, to upgrade our frontline officers, to journeyman 12 level, to provide them enhanced law enforcement retirement, to upgrade our agricultural specialists really recognizing the complexity and importance of what they do.

That’s been an important improvement that’s helped with our retention, with our recruiting and is really a critical part of our organization. That said we have a situation now as we were discussing where the traffic continues to increase. The mission demands continue to increase. We need to target not only for arrival but pre-departure. We need to look not only at things coming inbound but at outbound. So how do we adapt to address these challenges knowing that we can’t just create a new initiative and look for funding from Congress?

So I think our focus is going to be on adapting those new technologies, transforming our business processes, ensuring that our frontline personnel don’t look at the increasing travel and increasing strains being placed upon them and lose their motivation or focus. We have to continue to engage them and support them.

And then organizationally really broadening the effort so that we don’t just look at things as a government only solution and build programs in a historical way but take advantage of efforts like the Air Cargo Advanced Screening Program to develop things in coordination with our private sector stakeholders, to leverage existing systems and data that very cost effectively but they can really enhance our mission as well.

And then finally, looking at brand new innovative ways to public private partnerships, looking at the benefits to the economy and our security that what we do at ports of entry provide and working with private sector partners, with state and local governments, with transportation authorities. How do we work together as a team to continue this critical flow of international trade without impacting our security in any way?

Michael Keegan: Well Kevin as we close today’s conversation, I want to get your advice. What advice would you give someone who is thinking about a career in public service?

Kevin McAleenan: I’d tell them to go after it. I think a career in public service is tremendously rewarding and that there are enumerable different types of opportunities and career paths that they can pursue. If they’re starting out, maybe still in school or early in their career, I’d advise them to get involved early, to look for internship opportunities, to learn about what interests them and to not just focus on one or two agencies that they’ve heard about but to really look into the federal government.

I think the Department of Homeland Security and CBP have a tremendous set of opportunities. You could be scientists. You could be a border patrol agent. You could be a pilot. You could be an attorney. We have so many different career paths that I think are very interesting where you can feel like you’re contributing to a mission that’s bigger than yourself, that supports our nation, but still do something that’s really interesting to you in terms of your day-to-day work.

So I think they should keep an open mind on the types of opportunities that may arise. Spend some time on U.S.A. jobs and look at what’s out there and then don’t get discouraged if the initial efforts are unsuccessful.

Michael Keegan: Well I want to thank you for your time today. It’s been a very insightful and robust conversation but more importantly Andy and I would like to thank you for your dedicated service to the country.

Kevin McAleenan: That’s very kind Michael. It’s my honor to be here and to talk about the great work our men and women on the frontline are doing every day and some of the ways we’re trying to get better at it and some of the help we need from your listeners and the private sector to do it better. So thanks very much.

Michael Keegan: This has been The Business of Government Hour featuring a conversation with Kevin McAleenan, acting Assistant Commissioner, Office of Field Operations with the U.S. Customs and Border Protection. My co-host from IBM has been Andy Maner. Be sure to join us next week for another informative, insightful and in-depth conversation on improving government effectiveness. For The Business of Government Hour, I’m Michael Keegan and thanks for joining us.

Announcer: This has been The Business of Government Hour. Be sure to join us every Saturday at 9:00 a.m., and visit us on the Web at

There, you can learn more about our programs, and get a transcript of today's conversation.

Until next week, it's


Kevin McAleenan

Wednesday, November 14th, 2012 - 10:51
Kevin K. McAleenan assumed the position of Acting Assistant Commissioner, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Office of Field Operations (OFO) on December 31, 2011. Mr. McAleenan previously served as Deputy Assistant Commissioner, U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s Office of Field Operations (OFO) since July 2010. OFO is the largest component in CBP and is responsible for securing the U.S. border at ports of entry while expediting lawful trade and travel. In this capacity, Mr.

Alejandro Mayorkas

Wednesday, May 4th, 2011 - 8:40
How is USCIS enhancing its outreach and becoming more customer-centric?
Radio show date: 
Sat, 05/21/2011
Intro text: 
A well-managed, modern immigration system is fundamental to maintaining U.S. national security.

Alonzo R. Peña

Tuesday, May 11th, 2010 - 19:11
Alonzo R. Peña is the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Operations for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).
Radio show date: 
Sat, 05/15/2010
Intro text: 
Alonzo R. Peña is the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Operations for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).
Audio segments: 

Alonzo R. Peña

Tuesday, May 11th, 2010 - 18:11
Alonzo R. Peña is the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Operations for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

John T. Morton interview

Friday, August 21st, 2009 - 20:00
John T. Morton
Radio show date: 
Sat, 08/22/2009
Intro text: 
John T. Morton
Magazine profile: 
Complete transcript: 

Originally Broadcast August 22, 2008

Washington, DC

Mr. Morales: Welcome to another edition of The Business of Government Hour. I'm your host, Albert Morales.

Making our nation more secure by vigorously and fairly enforcing immigration and customs laws is what defines the efforts of the U.S. Immigration and Custom Enforcement for ICE. ICE performs this mission by focusing on the dismantling of criminal organizations that threaten national security, protecting borders, and investigating groups who exploit weaknesses in legitimate trade, travel, and financial systems.

With us today to discuss the organization which he leads is our very special guest, John Morton, Assistant Secretary for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

John, welcome to the show. It's a pleasure having you.

Mr. Morton: Thank you very much. It's a pleasure being here.

Mr. Morales: Also joining our conversation is Dave Abel, IBM's Homeland Security Practice Leader. Dave, welcome back, it's good to have you, as always.

Mr. Abel: Thank you. Al.

Mr. Morales: John, let's start by providing our listeners with some context about your organization. Tell me a bit about the mission and history of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement?

Mr. Morton: We're a relatively new Agency within the Federal Government, and we were created in the wake of the attacks of September 11th. We got our start in 2003, and we are a combination of parts of the former Customs Service and the Immigration and Naturalization Service.

And, in particular, we are a combination of the investigative authorities of those two predecessor Agencies, and the internal immigration enforcement authorities of the Immigration and Naturalization Service.

Mr. Morales: So with the combination of these two organizations, tell me a little bit about the scale of the operations now within ICE, and perhaps tell me a little bit about how you're organized, the size of the budget to the extent that you can describe that, things like number of fulltime employees, and your reach across the geography or the globe?

Mr. Morton: We're a very large organization. We have 20,000 employees, a budget of roughly $5.7 billion. Many people don't realize this but ICE is the second largest criminal investigative agency in the United States, the largest being the FBI.

We are divided by operational function. We have five main operational components -- the Federal Protective Service, Investigations, the Office of International Affairs, the Office of Intelligence, and then the Office of Detention and Removal Operations. And then we have a large number of support functions surrounding those. But we've grown considerably in the years since 2003, and we're now at 20,000 strong.

Mr. Morales: And field offices across the other world?

Mr. Morton: We have field offices throughout the United States, and we have offices in over 50 countries overseas. We have a very large international presence, one of the largest in the Government.

Mr. Abel: So let's go from the broader perspective of the worldwide coverage of ICE, and talk a little bit about your responsibilities. Can you tell us a little bit about your official responsibilities in the organization?

Mr. Morton: My principal responsibility is to set the overall focus and policy of the Agency, to see to it that we carry out the policy directions of the President and the Secretary, and to see to it that we faithfully and efficiently enforce the laws and responsibilities that are assigned to us by Congress.

When you're the leader of a relatively new organization you also have very significant responsibilities to further the seasoning process and to be a champion for the employees that are in the field trying to do good work every day, and I take that role very seriously.

Mr. Abel: Can you elaborate a little bit on how ICE supports the overall mission of the Department of Homeland Security and how those pieces fit together?

Mr. Morton: We are the principal investigative arm of the Department, and in sort of layman's terms, we're the detectives of the operation. And so we carry out a great deal of criminal investigation across a wide scope of responsibilities.

We enforce all of the criminal immigration laws, all of the customs laws, many laws relating to border security, child pornography, sex tourism, sex trafficking. We do a lot of work in international money laundering and, as many of you listeners may be aware, we also conduct a great deal of any narcotics work. We're very involved in efforts to support the new President in Mexico, Mr. Calderon, in his efforts to bring a more stable society in Mexico and to take the Cartels on.

The other big part of our work within the Department of Homeland Security is providing for serious immigration enforcement, that we share that responsibility with Customs and Border Protection. They are the inspectors and the principal line of defense at the borders and in our airports, and we are the formal removal authorities, and we identify and remove criminal aliens from the United States, people who have come here without papers or in violation of their visa. We run the nation's immigration detention system. We generally are charged with maintaining the integrity of the overall immigration of border controls.

Mr. Abel: So what I think is apparent in that is the long list of things that ICE has responsibility for doing, a long list of enforcement activities. And from the question that Al asked a little while ago, the geographic dispersion of where you have to do those things.

So one of the things that is obviously important as you have entered into this new role is to be able to quickly identify top priorities in the organization. Do you have some ideas about the top three priorities, the top three issues that you're facing right now?

Mr. Morton: From the very inception of the organization and, indeed, the Department in which we fit, a top priority has been the prevention of another terrorist attack on the United States. From our immediate perspective at ICE, that generally means the prevention of the entry of terrorists and others who would do us harm to the United States.

Second, we're about securing the borders. That means we're about investigating the smuggling of people, narcotics, guns, money, making sure that free and legitimate travel and trade happens in an expedited manner, but at the same time that sort of organized crime is kept out.

Finally, we have a strong focus on making sure that we have tough but fair immigration enforcement. That's an area of great debate in our country, and it's an area where the president wants to see substantial reform, and it's an area where we play a very critical role and we take it very seriously.

We have an immediate focus on criminal aliens. In a world of limited resources we focus first and foremost on those people who are creating active harm in the community, and that means identifying and removing people who've committed crimes and shouldn't be here and are in OUR state, and Federal, and local jails.

Mr. Abel: So although you're relatively new in your current role, you're certainly not a stranger to Federal law enforcement. Can you tell me a little bit about your career path and how you got started?

Mr. Morton: Well, I started out actually as a Peace Corp volunteer, got a taste for Government service at that point. And I guess at the end of the day I was rule oriented by nature, so I went off to law school and I became a prosecutor.

I started out, first, with the now defunct Immigration and Naturalization Service, and I held a variety of jobs in the field and then in headquarters. And then I went to work for the then Deputy Attorney General of the United States, Eric Holder, who as fate would have it would turn around and ultimately become the Attorney General now.

And I spent several years in main justice, and then I became a prosecutor in little old Alexandria, Virginia, right across the river from here, and spent many years as a Federal prosecutor, and enjoyed every minute of it, and then went back to main justice where I became a Manager in the Criminal Division, ultimately ending up as Acting Deputy Assistant Attorney General of the Criminal Division before the President nominated me for this job.

Mr. Morales: So as you reflect back on your experiences, both say at the Peace Corp and with the Department of Justice, how have these experiences prepared you for your current leadership role and perhaps shaped your leadership style and your management approach?

Mr. Morton: Those experiences have shaped I think me professionally in very dramatic but good terms. I am all about trying to get it right. I've been a career Government employee my entire professional career. As a prosecutor you feel a great weight and responsibility. You feel a great obligation to pursue things on the merits and in light of the law, and I don't intend to pursue my duties any differently as Assistant Secretary.

In terms of leadership, I'm not a yeller and a screamer. I try to lead by example. I want to motivate the people that work for me. I want them to feel proud of the work that they do, to recognize that Government service is a great honor and a privilege, particularly law enforcement.

And I try to lead very much in that spirit, motivate the people around me to recognize the great responsibility that they've been entrusted, and to get the most out of those people through energy and innovation, and not through fear and hammering people over the head.

Mr. Morales: What about ICE's border enforcement efforts? We will ask John Morton, Assistant Secretary for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, to share with us when the conversation about Management continues on The Business of Government Hour.


Mr. Morales: Welcome back to The Business of Government Hour. I'm your host, Albert Morales. And with us today in this segment discussing critical border enforcement efforts, is John Morton, Assistant Secretary for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Also joining us from IBM is Dave Abel.

John, before we tackle specific initiatives, perhaps you can give us a sense of the enforcement approach or the underlying principles that inform your approach to Federal law enforcement as you begin to transition an Agency under your new leadership? What's your strategic vision for ICE as it continues to evolve?

Mr. Morton: Well, we need to establish clear enforcement priorities. As we discussed in the first segment, ICE has tremendously broad authorities and responsibilities. And it's very important that we focus our resources on the immediate task at hand.

Securing the border is critically important. Going after serious organized crime is critically important. We live in an environment in which it's not so much mom-and-pops crime at the border, unfortunately, it's serious organized criminal syndicates operating outside of the United States in many instances, seeking to violate our laws on a daily basis, and they're making a lot of money in it, they're serious about it, and they're causing us a great deal of sustained harm as a country and we've got to get serious about trying to stop that.

And there are many ways to do that, but one of them is to investigate them, prosecute them, and put them in jail, and that's one of our main responsibilities.

We also have to restore basic integrity to our immigration, customs, and border controls. We just can't have a serious system if it is marked by lawlessness or gross inefficiency.

And so that's a major focus for me, a major philosophy, and for our organization we basically want to be a first rate criminal investigative agency and a first rate immigration enforcement agency.

Mr. Morales: Now, you've been clear with border enforcement as being one of the key components of your mission. Could you tell us a bit more about ICE's Border Enforcement Security Task Force, I believe it's referred to as BEST? To what extent does this Task Force represent an innovative model for collaborative law enforcement?

Mr. Morton: I tell you, it's one of the, been one of the more exciting parts of this job, is to come to something from the outside and see a good idea in practice, growing and working well. That is our BEST Task Forces.

What is innovative about them is that they are truly interagency collaborations, not only interagency, international. We have partners from all across Federal, state, local, travel law enforcement, coming together with us in our BEST Task Forces to focus on serious organized crime along the border.

And we all come together, we bring all of our various authorities together, which are considerable, we combine them, we involve officials from other countries, for example, Mexico. We have a number of Mexican officers in our BEST.

And we all try to set our respective badges aside, come together, and really tackle the serious crime that's occurring along the border, the concept has worked extremely well. We've expanded it to the northern border. We've expanded it to ports.

We have a number of port BESTs focused on maritime security. As you know there are a number of very large ports in the United States in which an enormous amount of commerce, goods, and trade occurs through, and we've expanded there.

It really is exciting to see this level of collaboration work, and work well. We're having our second annual BEST Conference, very excited about that.

Mr. Abel: Governor Napolitano and then Secretary Napolitano highlighted and noted that violence along the southern border with Mexico is a bi-national threat, and you've highlighted the work that you have with law enforcement organizations in Mexico to address that threat. Can you elaborate a little bit on efforts to combat southwest border violence and, in particular, its relationship with the secure border initiative?

Mr. Morton: I'd be happy to. Well, you have got it right, the Secretary is very focused on securing the border and the troubles along the southwest border. Obviously, as a border Governor she brings a tremendous amount of experience and knowhow to the problem. She gets it, she's a strong supporter of law enforcement. She understands the challenges along the border, she understands how law enforcement can be a very positive solution to some of the challenges. And she understands that working with Mexico is critical.

In light of that, ICE, under my leadership, has really strengthened its relationship with Mexican law enforcement authorities. The first foreign trip I took as Assistant Secretary was to Mexico, and the second one I took was back to Mexico.

We have a number of very substantial bilateral enforcement initiatives underway in Mexico. They are facing a number of very, very serious internal challenges from organized crime, not the least of which centers around the trafficking of narcotics to the United States, but also people smuggling, sex trafficking, money laundering.

And many of the problems that they face are exacerbated by the flow of illicit contraband and money, not from Mexico to the United States, but from the United States to Mexico.

We need to recognize that this is really a shared problem and one that we have to tackle as partners, and that's very much the approach I have taken with Mexico. There has been a C change in attitude among Mexican law enforcement with regard to cooperation with the United States, the present Administration in Mexico, the Calderon Administration, is really serious about this.

We are engaged in real law enforcement cooperation in a way that I have never seen before in my nearly over now 15 years in Federal law enforcement. It's a very exciting time. It's a challenging time but it's an exciting time.

Mr. Abel: So you mentioned the danger, not only of things that move north across the border from Mexico to the United States, but south across the border from the United States to Mexico.

I'm interested in particular on the threat of the movement of weapons that come from the United States into Mexico and, in particular, an initiative within ICE called Operation Armas Cruzadas. Can you tell us a little bit about what that is and how it addresses the flow of weapons southbound?

Mr. Morton: It is an initiative in which we teamed up with our partners in Mexico and our partners at Customs and Border Protection to investigate the flow of illicit weapons from the United States to Mexico.

Mexico has very different laws when it comes to firearms, the possession and use of firearms, than we do here in the United States and their importation is closely controlled and regulated.

And what Armas Cruzadas does is it leverages the resources of our BEST Task Forces, our ICE Offices in Mexico, and the resources of Customs and Border Protection along the border at ports of entry doing southbound inspections, and the resources of our partners in Mexico to intercept, identify, trace, and investigate firearms that are seized in Mexico and that were upon further investigation determined to have been smuggled across the border from the United States into Mexico.

And we try to match every seizure, whether it be at our border as we catch things coming across or in Mexico with an investigation to try to determine how do these guns make their way from the United States into Mexico.

Mr. Morales: So we talked a little bit in the first segment about the support of ICE from the Department of Homeland Security. In something like this operation or when we're focused on the illegal flow of money, can you tell us a little bit about the relationship between ICE, a little bit more about the relationship between ICE and CBP, Customs and Border Protection, and how relative roles and responsibilities are balanced between those organizations?

Mr. Morton: Yes, in very broad terms, Customs and Border Protection is responsible for the inspection process along the border and primarily responsible for interdiction of contraband and illegal entrants.

The Border Control classic example, along the line, they are primarily responsible for first line immigration enforcement along the border. The same is true of the inspectors, the CBP inspectors at the airport, who inspect you when you come in and if you don't have your documents in order they will detain you. That's not a ICE function, that is a CBP function.

Where we come in is we have the criminal investigative authority. So they inspect, they interdict, we investigate the wrongdoing that is uncovered. And we also have a very important and complementary authority to run the basic formal removal process, the detention facilities, the -- we have all of the immigration prosecutors, the hearings, that's us.

Where we come in is we have the criminal investigative authority. So they inspect, they interdict, we investigate the wrongdoing that is uncovered. And we also have a very important and complementary authority to run the basic formal removal process, the detention facilities, the -- we have all of the immigration prosecutors, the hearings, that's us.

Mr. Abel: So going back to your description of the best task forces, tell me a little bit about some of the efforts around partnering with state and local enforcement agencies, around locating and removing criminal aliens. And more specifically how does the 287(g) Program enable these partnerships and to what extent does it provide a force multiplier? And are there plans to expand this program?

Mr. Morton: The 287(g) Program is very poorly understood, so let me give you a two-second version on what it is. 287(g) is named after a provision in the law that allows the Department of Homeland Security, through me, to delegate certain immigration enforcement powers to the state and local law enforcement.

The Program has been in existence for several years. It's entirely voluntary. The state and local law enforcement have to apply to ICE for authority to carry out immigration enforcement and ICE has to agree.

In the past there's been criticism, particularly from the general accounting office, that ICE did not exercise sufficient oversight over the Program or give state and local law enforcement clear enough priorities in the administration of the Program.

The Secretary and I have just issued new guidelines for the Program and, in particular, we have created a standard 287(g) template that will govern all future activities under the Program, both in response to our own sort of management concerns and some of the issues that are raised in the GAO report, we've decided to focus the program first and foremost on the identification and removal of criminal aliens. In a world of limited resources we need to focus on the worst of the worst first.

So the 287(g) agreements and Programs going forward are going to be very focused on the identification and removal of people who pose a threat to public safety. That's the way the Program has traditionally operated and practiced, anyway. Most of the state and local law enforcement agencies that come to us want immigration powers in the context, for example, of their local jails. They, sheriffs, city police chiefs, run the vast majority of the nation's jails.

And they arrest a large number of people who are here unlawfully or otherwise deportable for committing crimes and they want authority to deal with those people, and it makes perfect sense for us to collaborate with them, to join together and to use our collective resources to try to identify and remove as many of those people as possible.

The same is true with trying to work together to identify immigrant gang members on the street, MS13, for example, a clear danger to the community. These people are often here unlawfully, they're committing crimes.

And I'm more than willing to extend delegation to the state and local law enforcement interested in tackling those kind of problems and working closely with us to do it in a way that's professional and has transparency for the general public.

Mr. Morales: So, again, it's about collaboration with the other organizations and agencies?

Mr. Morton: Absolutely, it's all about how can we leverage additional resources in state and local communities to attack problems of mutual concerns, namely, people who are here unlawfully and are committing crimes.

Mr. Morales: How is ICE combating such problems as human trafficking? We will ask John Morton, Assistant Secretary for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, to share with us when the conversation about Management continues on The Business of Government Hour.


Mr. Morales: Welcome back to The Business of Government Hour. I'm your host, Albert Morales. And with us today and in this segment, discussing critical border enforcement issues, is John Morton, Assistant Secretary for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Also joining us from IBM is Dave Abel.

John, according to the U.S. Department of State an estimated 800,000 men, women, and children are smuggled across international borders every year. Many of these victims are subsequently trafficked into prostitution or other forced labor situations.

What are ICE's efforts to fight human trafficking and smuggling, and to what extent has ICE made significant progress in fighting these forms of modern day slavery?

Mr. Morton: I think that human trafficking and the related problem of abusive and indifferent alien smuggling is one of the great challenges of our time. It's a very serious problem. It occurs on a grand scale. It occurs outside of the reach of Federal law enforcement in many, many instances. We have a problem here in the United States, and there's an even bigger problem elsewhere.

The good news is that ICE has very robust investigative capabilities here and very important authorities. It's one of our central criminal responsibilities on the immigration side. We work very closely with the Department of Justice to investigate and prosecute these cases. We also work well with the FBI, with the other principal investigator in this area. We do a lot of work in the related areas of child exploitation and child sex tourism. These things all tend to come together

And because we are the nation's principal investigators, indeed, almost exclusive investigator of international alien smuggling, we come across these problems regularly, and we have the skills and expertise to tackle them.

What are we doing? Well, we have the Human Smuggling and Trafficking Center. ICE is the Chair of that Center, that's devoted to trying to identify the groups and routes that are used to traffic people to the United States.

We're working very closely with the Civil Rights Division in the United States. We're working increasingly with our international partners. We just conducted training for foreign law enforcement and foreign non-Governmental organizations interested in this issue. We're going to do some more.

The new Ambassador for Trafficking, Lou DeBaca, also a Prosecutor, and now he's been appointed and confirmed to the position of Ambassador at the State Department, and I think we're going to have a much closer relationship with the State Department as a result.

And I'm hoping that we're going to really be able to bring the combined resources of the Federal Government together in a way that builds on, frankly, the good work that was done in the previous Administration on this score, and just to go after this pernicious illegal activity.

Mr. Morales: So I was reading an article the other day around a massive black market that has emerged around fraudulent identification and travel documents. And I would imagine that this is a relatively big issue in your mission. To what extent does the Document and Benefit Fraud Task Force play into your Agency's overall response to this issue and this phenomena?

Mr. Morton: Well, first of all, you're right, it's a big problem. Fraudulent documents are all too common. They're of great concern as we try to secure the borders and prevent criminals and terrorists and others from entering the country.

If we are going to have good border security, if we're going to have serious worksite enforcement, if we're going to have good immigration and customs controls we need our identity documents to be secure. We need secure passports, we need secure licenses, birth certificates, all of the things that are used to engage in interactions with the State.

The problem is significant enough that we long ago recognized that ICE trying to do this alone was not going to get the job done, and so that's where we came up with the concept for the Document and Benefit Fraud Task Force.

As it turns out, the very first one was in the Eastern District of Virginia, where I happened to be a prosecutor, and I was the prosecutor assigned to that Task Force.

And we did a number of very, very large cases in Virginia. It worked well. We brought together Federal law enforcement agencies, the FBI, ICE, with a number of state law enforcement agencies, local police departments. Fairfax County, for example, was a critical member of our team, did much of the work.

And we married that with the considerable power of the United States Attorney's Office. We did a number of very sophisticated investigations involving undercover operations, and we brought a lot of people to justice, and that model worked well.

And so as an agency, ICE, long before I ever got there, began to replicate the task force concept elsewhere, and it's been successful. I intend to continue to support it, you know, particularly where you have large organized assaults on the integrity of the system.

For example, major visa frauds or major passport frauds, we absolutely have to have a firm response. The integrity of the system falls apart, if you don't.

Mr. Abel: The opportunity to work, it's a powerful magnet that draws many people to our country illegally. DHS recently released workforce enforcement guidance to your agents in the field. Can you outline this new strategy for us and its goal, and just tell us a little bit about what it emphasizes?

Mr. Morton: Sure, my view is that if we are going to make any sustained headway when it comes to restoring our borders and dealing with illegal immigration we are going to have to have a serious worksite enforcement.

And so our aim, my aim, the Secretary's aim, is to develop a truly national program to deter the unlawful employment of individuals. How are we going to do that?

Well, we're going to do that by marshaling all of the statutory authorities that are assigned to the Department of Homeland Security, mainly through ICE. To, on the one hand, investigate and deter those who are knowingly violating the law, and on the other to work with and encourage the many, many employers who want to do it right, and want to comply voluntarily with the requirements imposed by law.

That's changing, and we are going to be in a situation where we're back to exercising our civil enforcement powers and levying significant fines against those employers who don't comply, we're going to conduct I-9 audits.

As you may know, we just launched around over 650 I-9 audits, more in one single operation than was done all of last year. We're doing that to signal in open, transparent terms that we're serious about this, that there is a requirement for employers to verify that their employees have work authorization, and that extends to everyone, citizen, lawful permanent resident, or immigrant on other status, and that we expect people to play by the rules and fill out the I-9s, and we're going to come and we're going to check.

At the very same time, there is no one in the country who will be a greater supporter of voluntary compliance by employers. I want employers who are trying to comply with the law to look upon me as a partner, and E-Verify is an important part of that. That's the Electronic Verification Program that allows employers to verify whether someone whom they are hiring or employing has work authorization.

I want to reach out to those employers who want to go above and beyond E-Verify, to work with us to make sure that their employees are here lawfully and have work authorization.

The country is better served the more voluntary compliance we have. It makes much more sense for the taxpayer, it makes much more sense for ICE for compliance to come voluntarily rather than as a result of special agents going out and visiting people, executing search warrants or bringing charges against them.

The reality of the situation is there's a sustained group of people who want to violate the law, and we're going to continue and investigate them, and we're going to continue to seek to prosecute them if they do so, particularly if they do so on a large scale or they engage in abusive employment practices.

I'm not -- I don't mean to suggest in any na�ve way that there's not going to be a need for ICE to engage in aggressive investigation. I think there always will be, but the point is that we want to be good partners to the overwhelming majority of employers who want to play by the rules.

Mr. Morales: It's interesting that we've talked significantly about physical things. We've talked about people and money, we've talked about weapons, but one of the areas that we haven't touched on yet is the internet, and the internet provides a tool for interconnectivity across borders. It also provides a tool for exploitation for cyber crime and for other types of crime. Can you tell us a little bit about what ICE is doing through the Cyber Crime Center, or C3, to combat cyber crime?

Mr. Morton: Yes, obviously, the internet is one of the great innovations of our time, and I say that in a very positive way. It's transformed all of our lives and generally for the good.

But there is a darker side to it, and it has facilitated a whole host of crimes, and many things that have occurred in the mail now occur on the internet. Child pornography is a classic example. Thirty or forty years ago it would have been magazines with pictures transmitted through the mail between people. Now, it's all done over the internet by e-mail exchange, et cetera.

So it's the same kinds of crimes, just done in a different forum and a very powerful forum, and a forum that exists simultaneously at once all around the world.

And which poses unique challenges for us at law enforcement. We're very fortunate as a law enforcement agency to have the Cyber Crime Center, it's a specialized Center that focuses on computer forensics, internet analysis, and it enables us to follow much of our traditional crime from the street and now into the internet and to investigated just the way we might otherwise have in the past.

It's particularly helpful to us in the areas of child pornography and exploitation, but it's equally useful in other areas. For example, we were just talking about document and benefit fraud. That occurs with regularity on the corner of Fourth and Main, but it also occurs with regularity in cyber space. People are openly selling stolen and counterfeit documents on the internet, and we need a sophisticated means like we have at C3 to sort of investigate those crimes and try to bring the perpetrators to justice.

Mr. Morales: John, we've talked about your roles in investigation, capture and prosecution of violations of immigration customs laws, but I also understand that ICE is responsible for one of the largest, most transient, and diverse detainee populations in U.S. custody. What are your plans to reform the immigration detention system to make the system and removal process more efficient, effective, and humane?

Mr. Morton: I have fairly strong thoughts on that matter. I have fairly aggressive plans. You're right, we run a very large detention system. On any given day we have about 32,000 people in custody. On average it works out to about 400,000 people a year.

We detain those people in over 350 facilities throughout the United States. Most of those facilities are actually city and county jails or private contract facilities that we use by contract.

Immigration detention is a civil function, it is not a penal function. Over the years, however, the system has largely become dependent on excess jail space, and so you have not had a detention system that was designed to meet the immediate statutory responsibility and powers of the Agency, and this is a problem that has not been in the making for the last two years, it's been a problem that's been in the making for decades.

And I want to use my time as Assistant Secretary to deal with that problem in a very open and forthright way. Given the amount of money that the Agency spends on detention, in my view we ought to have detention facilities that are designed for the particular populations that we detain, which are sometimes the same population as the penal system, but often not.

We detain everybody, you know, people all the way from someone just coming at the airport with bad documents whose a serious risk of flight, to hardened criminals who are coming out of jail and need to go home.

And we need our facilities to recognize that variety, recognize that people don't always need to be detained in the same setting, and to have facilities that provide for good medical care and custodial care for a population that is generally held for much shorter periods than people who are incarcerated, who are held for long periods of time.

So I'm going to spend a lot of time working on that. Just to be clear, this isn't about not detaining people. ICE is going to continue to detain people on a large scale. It's a very important power of immigration enforcement, it's a necessary power. Many, many of the people that we encounter as part of our duties are either a serious risk of flight or a real danger to the community.

We're increasingly detaining very serious criminal offenders who are coming out of state, local, and city jails, and those people who need to be detained.

So this is about designing a more efficient and well designed civil immigration detention system than it is about not detaining people.

We're going to continue to detain people, we're going to continue to detain them on the same levels that we have before, we're just going to do it differently in better designed facilities, and we're going to try to have more efficiency and thought for the taxpayer and those people involved.

Mr. Morales: So it's really about better matching the system to the mission that you have at hand?

Mr. Morton: Absolutely, and doing it in an efficient way. And right now, as I said before, we've got over 350 different facilities that we use. It's not clear to me that we need to have quite that many.

Mr. Morales: What does the future hold for the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement? We will ask John Morton, Assistant Secretary for ICE, to share with us when the conversation about Management continues on The Business of Government Hour.


Mr. Morales: Welcome back to The Business of Government Hour. I'm your host, Albert Morales. And with us today and in our final segment, discussing the future of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement is John Morton, Assistant Secretary for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Also joining us from IBM is Dave Abel.

John, would you elaborate on the collaborative efforts your organization has with other DHS components, as well as other Federal agencies or bureaus around the areas of sharing information, intelligence, and border security efforts?

Mr. Morton: Yes, we have very close working relationships with many of the components within DHS and many of our sister law enforcement agencies outside of DHS.

And this is, I think, been one of the silver linings to 9-11 is that there have been, there's much greater collaboration between Federal law enforcement agencies than I have seen in the past. And, as I said earlier, I've been in this business quite a long time, and there's been a noticeable improvement.

I'm personally committed to that, having been a prosecutor I just take a dim view of turf wars, and I continue to have that dim view even though I'm now the Assistant Secretary of ICE.

And so I took immediate steps to resolve some of our outstanding differences with our sister law enforcement agencies, and in particular the Drug Enforcement Administration and the ATF.

We signed first an MOU with the DEA to resolve some differences we had over the enforcement of the narcotics laws. And we came to a much better understanding about when I should investigate what is known, or what are known as Title 21 offenses, Title 21 is part of the United States Code and deals with serious narcotics offenses, and we agreed that there's, mutually agreed that there's an important role for ICE at the border and at ports of entry.

And you're going to see ICE and DEA work much, much more closely when it comes to combating international narcotics smuggling.

The same is true with ATF, we signed a similar agreement, recognizing their authorities, recognizing our authorities, and committing the two Agencies to join effort to combat the international trafficking and firearms. Very important in Mexico. ATF is going to be our partner every step of the way in Mexico.

The new Acting Director of ATF, Ken Nelson, is again a longtime professional colleague of mine. In fact, was in ASUA in Eastern District of Virginia. This part of the world seems to have produced a lot of Government leaders out of one little office across the river in Alexandria. But Ken is a first-rate professional, so.

Mr. Morales: John, earlier in the show you used the word integrity, and I would argue that integrity is the soul of any law enforcement agency. Could you elaborate on this strategy and the importance of individual integrity in order to have success in an organization, such as ICE?

Mr. Morton: I think in law enforcement the integrity you have as a person is your calling card. I think that's generally true in Government, and it's particularly true in law enforcement.

You exercise tremendous power, you have enormous responsibility on behalf of the sovereign, in our case the United States, and your job is to protect the community at large but to do it in a way that protects our civil liberties and recognizes that Government has to be carried out in a very transparent and honest way.

So law enforcement is not a good place for hard partisans. It's about trying to get things right on the merits, balancing things, being fair, recognizing that you have to be firm but fair, that compromise is part of the process.

And so I've just tried to do that throughout my career. I see that throughout law enforcement, and I just think it's critical, and if we didn't have that kind of approach we would not have the very strong law enforcement system that we do.

I've traveled the world many times over, in my days on this earth, and I will tell you one of the things I do take great pride in as an American is that our system of justice is I think really one of the very, very best that you can find anywhere. It really does try to get it right.

Mr. Abel: So we've talked a lot about what the organization is, where the organization as been. I'd like to just spend a second on the future. What trends are coming, what kind of impact are they going to have on the trajectory that you'll take the organization over the course of the next couple of years?

Mr. Morton: Well, the big challenge out there right now is obviously comprehensive immigration reform. And the President is committed to it, the Secretary is committed to it. I'm committed to it.

We'll see how that plays out. There are many different actors. There are difficult issues. And there are a lot of competing interests that need to be considered. But that is going to be an important barometer for the future.

I think in more narrow terms for ICE the future is bright, and you have a young agency that went through a difficult transition, where the parts of two different agencies were merged into one.

We have really turned the corner, the glass is half full. We have exciting responsibilities. Our mission is a good mission. I have traveled a lot in my time as Assistant Secretary, and I can't tell you how pleased I am every time I go somewhere. We just have good people working for our Agency, and as a career employee I really like to see that.

So I'm excited. The challenge for us is we've got a lot of good work out there, we need to make sure that we're focusing first and foremost on the priority areas that need to be addressed, and we need to do it professionally, we need to do it in a way that is transparent.

We need to help educate the public that, you know, about what ICE really is and does. There is a tendency to view ICE in terms of the articles, you know, on the front page of the New York Times or the Washington Post, and those tend to focus on the more difficult parts of immigration enforcement, and that tends to dominate the public focus and the media focus.

When ICE, as we said before, it's the second largest criminal investigative agency in the country. It's investigating money laundering, narcotics investigations, going after the Cartels, gun trafficking, sex trafficking, child exploitation, alien smugglers, and on a huge scale of 6,500 special agents out there, trying to protect the American public every day. You don't see as much of that in the paper as you should.

That's part of my job is to let people know what a good organization they have in ICE, that their tax dollars are being well spent, and spent on things that are important to this country and need to be done and done well.

Mr. Morales: John, we're nearing the end of our time. You clearly have demonstrated a clear passion for your work and for our country, so I'm curious what advice might you give a person who is out there, who may be considering a career in public service?

Mr. Morton: If you want to get rich look somewhere else, but if you want a lifelong reward I would think about public service. I have found it so personally satisfying to work on behalf of the United States. It's just a lot easier to get up every day and to know that you're trying to advance the common cause. I think that's particularly true in law enforcement, where your job is public safety.

And I'm extremely excited to be the Assistant Secretary. That's what our job is. When I was a Federal prosecutor there was no greater honor than getting up in court and announcing that I represented the United States. And the truth of the matter is you do represent the United States, you really do represent the United States.

And you're putting people in jail, and that's good work but it's also awesome work. I mean your actions lead to somebody going to jail.

So I think, you know, the way to look at Government service is as a great honor and privilege. I feel so fortunate to have the -- had the opportunities to do what I've done, to have the job that I've done, and there's no other place you can get that but in the Federal Government.

And it, also, and I think one of the beauties of it is that you don't have to represent a particular interest to an extreme. You get to do, to try to do what's right.

As a Government employee, balanced perspective is critical, trying to reach the common good is critical. You're not an extreme advocate. Your job is to try to get it right, and that's a very rewarding and satisfying position to be in.

Mr. Morales: John, it's a very powerful perspective. Thank you. We have reached the end of our time. I want to thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule to join us here but, more importantly, Dave and I would like to thank you for your dedicated service to our country across your time at the Department of Justice and now at Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Mr. Morton: Well, thank you very much for having me. Thanks for having this kind of show. I think that your taking the time to interview me instead of Justin Timberlake or somebody else like that is good. I think Justin gets far more requests for interviews than I do.

What I would just say to your listeners is if you want to learn more about us go to the website, or to DHS' website named DHS.

But I think at the end of the day if most people were able to look inside of ICE and DHS they would be pleasantly surprised to see that there are a lot of very, very good people, just trying to do good work and to get to a good result. So thank you.

Mr. Morales: Great, thank you.

This has been The Business of Government Hour, featuring a conversation with John Morton, Assistant Secretary for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

My Co-Host has been Dave Abel, IBM's Homeland Security Practice leader.

As you enjoy the rest of your day, please take time to remember the men and women of our armed and civil services abroad who may not be able to hear this morning's show on how we're improving their government, but who deserve our unconditional respect and support.

For The Business of Government Hour, I'm Albert Morales. Thank you for listening.

Announcer: This has been The Business of Government Hour. Be sure to join us every Saturday at 9:00 a.m. And visit us on the web at There you can learn more about our programs, and get a transcript of today's conversation. Until next week, it's

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