The DHS S&T Stakeholders conference taking place this week is a sprawling array of panels, booths, displays, and coffee breaks. Nearly one hundred speakers by my estimate, and perhaps one thousand attendees. The event is sometimes organized along the paradigm of bugs, bombs, borders, bodies (people), business, and buildings.
Today’s panel discussion under the Bodies channel was chaired by Sharla Rausch, head of the Department of Homeland Security’s Human Factors Division. Her panelists represented TSA and the Screening Coordination Office. I interviewed the Associate Director of the SCO, Patricia Cogswell, after the panel adjourned and asked about what’s on the horizon for the SCO because it’s a unique kind of office with a strategic, cross-DHS mission.
First, a bit about the SCO. It was born in the FY06 President’s Budget Request as part of a program consolidation effort, and was followed up in FY07 as part of a program coordination effort. Note the difference. Rather than have the SCO absorb programs, it now coordinates them. Today, the SCO is part of the DHS Policy Directorate.
Its director, Kathy Kraninger, is technically an Assistant Secretary of Policy. Of the SCO’s two Associate Directors, Patty Cogswell mainly handles the SCO’s Credentialing Framework, Immigration Reform/USCIS Transformation, FBI Name Checks/IAFIS, the Information Sharing Council, and matters dealing with biometrics and DHS’s IDENT program. I understand the lead-up to yesterday’s announcement of the Pre-Travel Authorization Program for Visa Waiver travelers has kept the SCO rather busy.
Screening is actually a rather specific term for DHS with a discrete definition. A DHS briefing obtained by HLSWatch defines screening as “the process of identifying, enrolling, and checking applicants to determine their eligibility for entry into the US, or access to privileged travel and transportation programs.” Given the added scope of such things as USCIS benefits, the “access” scope might be broadened to include immigration benefits.
To give you an idea of the SCO’s purview, consider these numbers:
DHS component agencies:
Process over 1.2 million travelers at the border, including over 630,000 aliens,
Screen over 1.8 million domestic air travelers,
Process 30,000 applicants for immigration benefits, and
Conduct 135,000 national security background checks relating to immigration benefits.
Credentials 750,000 workers requiring unescorted access to facilities and maritime vessels (through the TWIC program)
Today the SCO also serves as something of a budgetary pilot program itself by planning its requirements and budget needs through 2014. A Department-wide 5-year budget planning process is likely a far way off still. In its coordinating, its clear from Patty’s portfolio alone that this relatively small office has its hands in almost everything. We discussed today the ways in which SCO supports the CIO, CFO, and USCIS.
Other issues on the horizon surely include the forthcoming presidential transition. The SCO, like other offices (DNDO, ONA, Operations Coordination) will face a change in the presidency that could bring a change in priorities that’ll demote or devolve such things as screening coordination. Were that to be proposed, it would seem the SCO could count on champions from across the agency to speak to its value and utility.
Here’s another thought on that: If the budget is looking five years out, then it ought to be reflective of the Quadrennial (four-year) Homeland Security Review. Since the next Administration will inherit a draft QHSR, among other things, it would make sense for that document to be explicit about this priority.