If you follow aspects of homeland security that involve the screening of individuals for potential risk, you better be familiar with the Screening Coordination Office (SCO) at DHS. Under its recently-departed director, Deputy Assistant Secretary Kathleen Kraninger, the SCO has been a shining example of the promise that DHS was meant to deliver. The whole concept behind the SCO was to look across all aspects of DHS and into other departments to make sure all programs screening individuals were aligned and coordinated. Without the SCO, the government was adding program after program aimed at particular agency mandates with little interest in the cost to the private sector or the missed opportunities to find synergies in their effectiveness.
Kraninger arrived back at DHS for a second stint in 2006 and developed a top-notch team of experts drawn from CBP, US-VISIT, ICE, TSA and other parts of the government. The Chertoff leadership gave the SCO the lead role on many programs that were stuck in the ditch during the Ridge-to-Chertoff transition. The SCO delivered:
• Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative – Launched in phases in 2006, 2008 and 2009 with few of the negative impacts originally feared due to the creation of the Passport card and state-issued Enhanced Driver’s Licenses;
• Secure Flight – Recalibrated and launched in 2008 as a simpler, traveler-friendly mechanism to resolve watchlist false positives;
• Electronic System for Travel Authorization – Implemented on-time in 2009 as a security enhancement for the Visa Waiver Program;
• Global Entry – International Trusted Traveler program launched as a pilot and made permanent in 2009 as a smart use of CBP resources and risk-management; and
• Driver’s Licenses – Not a final success because of political pushback at the state level, but the SCO and the DHS Policy office solved most of the substantive concerns with REAL ID.
This isn’t to say the SCO has been perfect. The failure to convince TSA to use risk management in checkpoint screening and the continued morass around the biometric exit component of US-VISIT are items left to be tackled.
Luckily, Kraninger leaves behind a quality organization now headed by Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary Patricia Cogswell. Cogswell has spent her whole career as a non-political expert on screening issues, including leadership roles at INS, USCIS and US-VISIT. She has been at the forefront of the successful introduction of biometrics as a routine part of individual screening and hopefully will use that expertise as DHS works with Congress on immigration reform. In a policy arena that features sharp ideological divides about privacy and “Big Brother” aspects of the government, as well as difficult negotiations with foreign governments and the business community, Cogswell has managed to succeed without creating enemies.
The SCO’s handiwork will be on display tomorrow when Cogswell’s boss, Assistant Secretary for Policy David Heyman, and other DHS and DOJ witnesses testify before the Senate Homeland Security on combating terrorist travel. Thanks to Kraninger, Cogswell and their colleagues, the witnesses will have a good story to tell.