WASHINGTON -- The outgoing U.S. homeland security secretary advised his successor Wednesday not to reorganize the young department or try to please everyone.
Michael Chertoff pointed to the recent terror attacks in Mumbai, India, as a reason not to make drastic changes to the department, which was formed by combining multiple agencies in 2003 in response to the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks.
During a speech at Johns Hopkins University Wednesday evening, Chertoff cited reports that firefighters, law enforcement, military officials and emergency managers in Mumbai were not coordinated when they responded to last week's attack.
"Emergencies don't come neatly packaged in stovepipes," he said, addressing the argument by some groups that the Federal Emergency Management Agency should be removed from the department because FEMA's mission is to respond to natural disasters and the department's main mission is to prevent terrorist attacks. Chertoff argued that when different agencies plan and train together they are better suited to respond to disasters of all varieties.
President-elect Barack Obama has said in the past he favors removing FEMA from the department, but he has not raised the issue lately. And his pick to head homeland security, Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano, did not suggest removing FEMA when she discussed her future department earlier this week. She said response to hazards - from hurricanes to terrorist attacks - should be "fast, sound, levelheaded and effective. Americans deserve no less."
A wide range of special interest groups regularly criticize the giant department, which is assigned to protect the country's borders, develop radiation detection equipment, test for and study infectious diseases, enforce immigration and maritime laws, protect the president and other officials, respond to disasters, keep terrorists off airplanes and other transportation, and detect and prevent cyber attacks.
"Every time you put a measure in place, you're goring somebody's ox," Chertoff told newspaper reporters at breakfast Wednesday.
He described the greatest challenge for his successor as the need to have "the willingness to take on very deeply embedded special interests that tend to have very specific views on a particular issue."