print-only banner
The White House Skip Main Navigation
In Focus
News by Date
Federal Facts
West Wing

 Home > News & Policies > April 2003

U.S. Department of Homeland Security
Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release
April 29, 2003

First 100 Days of Homeland Security
DHS Announces New 'US VISIT System' for Travelers as the Department Marks Its First 100 Days

Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge announced the launch of the new U.S. VISIT system as he discussed the Department's first 100 days. In a speech in Washington, the Secretary outlined the Department's plan to create a new entry-exit system backed by 21st century technology. The U.S. Visitor and Immigrant Status Indication Technology system (U.S. VISIT) is designed to make entering the U.S. easier for legitimate tourists, students and business travelers, while making it more difficult to enter the U.S. illegally through the implementation of biometrically authenticated documents.

Drawing heavily on developing technologies and scientific capabilities, the system will utilize a minimum of two biometric identifiers, such as photographs, fingerprints or iris scans, to build an electronic check in/check out system for people coming to the U.S. to work, study or visit. The U.S. VISIT system will replace the currently existing NSEERS program, integrate the SEVIS program, and encompass the Congressional requirements of the automated entry exit system.

The U.S. VISIT System is a critical new border security and enforcement tool that will capture point of entry and exit information on visitors. The system will be in its first phase of operation at international air and sea ports of entry by the end of 2003.

Progress in First 100 Days

Since its inception on January 24, 2003, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security has:

  • Orchestrated and launched Operation Liberty Shield, the first comprehensive, national plan to increase protections of America's citizens and infrastructure;
  • Deployed new technologies and tools at land, air and sea borders;
  • Stood up the Homeland Security Command Center, a national 24-7 watch operation;
  • Launched the Ready campaign, a national multimedia public information program designed to build a citizen preparedness movement by giving Americans the basic tools they need to better prepare themselves and their families and encouraging them to "Be Ready;" and since its launch, has become one of the most visited sites in America;
  • Expedited distribution of millions of dollars in grant monies to states and cities with more to come;
  • Initiated a comprehensive reorganization of the border agencies as well as other administrative measures to increase departmental services and capabilities;
  • Completed transition of majority of component agencies into the Department in the largest federal reorganization since World War II and;
  • Conducted a series of listening sessions at strategic ports throughout the U.S. and began development of the vessel, facility and port security plans required by the Maritime Security Act of 2002.

Other accomplishments to strengthen security and improve services:

Border, Transportation and Port Security

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) inaugurated the Federal Flight Deck Officer Training Program. The first class concluded on April 19th, with 44 pilots certified to carry firearms in the cockpit as Federal Flight Deck Officers. The training was conducted at the Department of Homeland Security's Federal Law Enforcement Training Center in Glynco, Georgia.

All front-line Bureau of Customs and Border Protection (CBP) inspectors across the country have received radiation pagers that alert them to the presence of radioactive material.

CBP acquired and deployed additional "A-STAR" and "HUEY" helicopters to bolster enforcement efforts along the U.S. Southern border.

The Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) launched a special operation to identify and remove persons with unknown or questionable identities with access to restricted areas of military installations. The effort called Operation Joint Venture, resulted in 37 arrests, of which 28 were removed from the United States.

Operation "Green Quest," a multi-agency task force led by ICE, continued its efforts to dismantle the financial infrastructure of al Qaeda and other terrorist organizations. Another ICE initiative, Project Shield America, also continued. This effort prevents sensitive U.S. technology and munitions from falling into the hands of terrorists and other U.S. adversaries. Under this initiative, ICE agents partner with U.S. manufacturers and exporters to guard against illegal arms exports.

The ICE Office of Air and Marine Interdiction (OAMI) provided 24-7 airspace security coverage over Washington, D.C. During Operation Liberty Shield, OAMI expanded this mission to include airspace security coverage over New York City as well.

TSA screeners at Denver International Airport developed a pilot program, "Tots Friendly," designed to put children at ease as they go through security. The program is being evaluated for possible nationwide expansion.

Working with other federal agencies and private industry, TSA took steps to improve customer service by coordinating screening across different forms of transportation. For example, passengers who are disembarking from cruise ships in Miami can now have their baggage screened for their flight home right at the dock as they depart from their cruise.

Secretary Ridge held bilateral meetings with UK Home Secretary David Blunkett, Canada's Deputy Prime Minister, John Manley, and Mexico's Secretary of Interior, Santiago Creel, to continue progress on security initiatives of mutual interest.

Coast Guard

Coast Guard forces served on the leading edge of maritime security for Operation Liberty Shield by providing maritime security off our shores and in our harbors. During this effort, Coast Guard units escorted 1,809 ferry boats and passenger ships, and conducted 1,597 air and 12,049 surface patrols, respectively. Coast Guard sea marshals and security teams boarded 1,059 merchant ships to assure their safe transit into and out of U.S. ports.

In April, the Coast Guard awarded a $140 million shore-based response boat contract, which will dramatically improve Coast Guard capabilities. This contract calls for the delivery of up to 700 new vessels that will be capable of speeds in excess of 40 knots (46 miles per hour), have an enclosed cabin for crew protection allowing for all-weather operations, weapons mounting capability for light machine guns and less than lethal technology, state of the art navigation systems and a communications system enabling Coast Guard personnel to communicate with other homeland security partners.

The Coast Guard's Helicopter Interdiction Tactical Squadron (HITRON) was tasked to develop airborne use-of-force tactics to counter possible terrorist threats, and operating guidelines for the employment of HITRON assets for homeland security missions. HITRON was originally developed for counter-drug operations and is comprised of fully armed MH-68 helicopters capable of providing precision disabling fire, lethal fire, as well as close in suppression fire.

Coast Guard cutters and over 1,100 personnel deployed to the U. S. Central and European Commands continue to participate in coalition efforts to bring freedom to Iraq.

Since March 1st, the Coast Guard has:

  • Interdicted 172 Haitians, 196 Dominicans, 213 Cubans and two Ecuadorians who were trying to illegally enter the U.S.;
  • Seized 17,878 lbs of cocaine and 1,500 lbs pounds of marijuana destined for the U.S. and;
  • Documented five significant violations of domestic fishing vessels and made three catch seizures (totaling 44,310 lbs of Atlantic sea scallops and 1,200 lbs of summer flounder) as a result of illegal fishing activity.

In the wake of the most challenging ice season in 25 years, Coast Guard icebreaking cutters, in concert with their Canadian counterparts, worked to keep critical Great Lakes sea lanes open, permitting passage for 619 ore carriers and other vessels carrying cargo worth an estimated $620 million in this economically vital region.

Emergency Preparedness

Since March 1st, EP&R processed, and the President declared, six major disaster declaration requests and 12 emergency declaration requests related to various events, including the President's Day snowstorm.

Following President Bush's emergency declarations for Texas and Louisiana after the Space Shuttle Columbia incident, Secretary Ridge directed FEMA to lead the federal effort to help protect public health and safety, recover debris and reimburse the affected localities. With the help of more than 6,000 people, the effort produced 30,000 pieces of debris totaling almost 43,000 pounds to assist NASA with its investigation. FEMA also reimbursed Texas and Louisiana for almost $3 million in associated expenses.

FEMA accepted 19,949 applications requesting more than $2 billion from the Assistance to Firefighters Grants program (AFG). Grant announcements are expected to be made in late May after a peer review process. The AFG has approximately $750 million to distribute to an estimated 8500 fire departments over the next twelve months to help better train, equip and prepare our nation's firefighters.

The Emergency Management Institute (EMI) expanded its training partnership with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to include integrated emergency management for bioterrorism, Incident Command System (ICS) training for federal, state and local public health agencies and health care-specific, exercise-based training for specific jurisdictions. A new facility FEMA acquired during the Homeland Security transition, the Noble Training Center in Anniston, Alabama, will host some of this training.

FEMA trained a record number of leaders from volunteer fire departments for its Volunteer Incentive Program. This reflects a 42% rise in admissions for the program.

FEMA's National Fire Academy trained 27 FBI agents and investigators at an Arson Training Course to help improve their investigatory skills. The training included use of site burn buildings, scenario simulation labs, classroom and NFA curriculum.

To improve on-site management of federal assets in the immediate aftermath of an incident, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) initiated plans for the rapid deployment of DHS Incident Management Teams.

To significantly strengthen DHS emergency response capabilities, FEMA began incorporating Domestic Emergency Support Teams, Nuclear Incident Response Teams, the National Disaster Medical System and the Strategic National Stockpile into its planning and response capabilities.

In support of Operation Liberty Shield, EP&R enhanced operational readiness of the National Interagency Emergency Operations Center (NIEOC), Regional Operations Centers, National Disaster Medical System, Domestic Emergency Support Teams and other specialized support teams.

Citizen Corps signed a partnership with the U.S. Junior Chamber (Jaycees) to raise public awareness about emergency preparedness, first aid, disaster response training and volunteer service.

Citizen Corps initiated a partnership with the National Volunteer Fire Council to work together to raise public awareness about emergency preparedness, fire hazards, volunteer service programs and the development of fire safety training.

Citizen Corps has added 13 additional states and territories and 191 local governments to the Citizen Corps Council roster. This brings the total of Citizen Corps Councils to 41 and 449 respectively.

For the first time in more than eight years, the National Flood Insurance Program is operating in the black and currently has surplus funds, which it has begun investing through the U.S. Treasury.

FEMA delivered the first set of digital flood map products to the Map Service Center. These new tools are integral to the emergency planning of local communities.

Intelligence and Infrastructure

DHS' Intelligence Analysis and Infrastructure Protection division (IA&IP) and its industry and government partners eliminated the SendMail vulnerability that was threatening email servers.

IA&IP implemented a plan to conduct standardized vulnerability assessments for all critical infrastructure sectors. Vulnerability assessments will build to a rate of eight per week, spanning all critical infrastructure industries.

IA&IP began a major organizational initiative to implement the requirements of the Homeland Security Act and the National Strategies to Secure Physical Assets and Cyber Space by creating an office dedicated to cyber security.

Collaborated on legislative initiatives to establish DHS as the lead for Chemical Site and Nuclear Site Security and developed and submitted to the Federal Register for review the proposed Critical Infrastructure Information (CII) to guide DHS' handling of private sector information.

Integrated the legacy operations of the NIPC, CIAO, NCS and Energy Assurance Office, and developed the functional organizational components of the IA and IP directorates.

Science and Technology

DHS' Science & Technology division (S&T) established the Biowatch program in several metropolitan areas across the country. The Biowatch program employs devices to detect terrorist agents like anthrax in time to distribute life-saving pharmaceuticals to affected citizens.

S&T released the first Homeland Security Broad Agency Announcement through the Technical Support Working Group for rapid prototyping of off-the-shelf or nearly off-the-shelf technologies for use by DHS agents in the field.

Guidelines for technical performance and testing of radiation detection equipment were also developed by S&T.

Pilot programs to test radiation detection equipment were launched at various sites in cooperation with the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.

Initiated the Homeland Security Fellowship Program, which provides scholarships for undergraduate and graduate students pursuing degrees in the physical, biological, and social and behavioral sciences and interested in careers aligned with the mission and objectives of the Department. For more information, please visit

S&T created the Homeland Security National Laboratory composed of all the incoming DHS labs across the country.

Citizenship and Immigration

The Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services (BCIS) has now developed the technology to accept electronic filing as an option for two of the most commonly submitted immigration forms - the application for replacement "green card" (Form I-90) and the application for Employment Authorization (Form I-765). These forms were selected in part because filings of these applications represent over 30 percent of the total number of applications filed with BCIS annually. The system will go online shortly.

Approximately 165,000 new citizens have been processed in the months of January, February, March and April. In May alone, BCIS plans to conduct over 290 ceremonies and the naturalization of approximately 50,000 citizens.

BCIS also processed approximately 6,500 requests for expedited citizenship for military applicants since July 2002. In the last 30 days, eight requests have been processed for posthumous citizenship, which is granted to non-citizens whose death resulted from injury or disease incurred while on active duty with U.S. Armed Forces during specified periods of military hostilities.

BCIS launched a pilot project to standardize the English, government, and United States history tests administered to citizenship applicants. The first phase of the two-stage pilot focused on the English language test. Five cities participated in this first phase of the naturalization pilot: Newark, Los Angeles, Sacramento, San Antonio and Atlanta.

Reorganization and Administration

CBP consolidated incoming agencies into a single face of government at ports of entry by establishing a new organizational framework involving Interim Port Directors to integrate all of the incoming border agencies into one chain of command.

ICE combined all the investigative functions of Customs, Immigration and the Federal Protective Service into one bureau. ICE has taken steps to provide a single point of contact within DHS for U.S. Attorneys and other law enforcement agencies.

National Communications System (NCS), National Infrastructure Protection Center (NIPC) and the Federal Computer Incident Response Center (FedCIRC) combined their watch and warning functions into a single, more effective "virtual" watch.

DHS launched the effort to create a new human resources management system that merges the personnel and pay systems of all DHS component agencies into a single system. The new system will be completed by the end of the year.