San Diego Union-Tribune

August 22, 2001

INS overhaul may split agency, new boss says


WASHINGTON -- After 11 days on the job, Immigration and Naturalization Service Commissioner James W. Ziglar said yesterday he hopes to have a blueprint for overhauling the massive, beleaguered agency ready within a month.

Ziglar, a newcomer to the immigration issue, also vowed to reduce stubborn backlogs in benefit applications, some now dragging on for years.

Those ambitious goals are among his top priorities, said Ziglar, who said he sometimes is baffled by the $5 billion agency's management structure.

"If you look at the organizational chart of the INS, it doesn't take you long to figure out that it looks like a Rube Goldberg contraption," Ziglar said. "I've got to tell you, I still have to stop and figure out where all these things go."

He added: "If we can get these things going, we can change the momentum of the organization."

The new commissioner said he intends to carry out President Bush's plan to carve the agency into two branches: one as a "service" bureau to process
benefits applications, the other as a "law enforcement" bureau to oversee inspections, investigations and the Border Patrol.

Ziglar declined to divulge many details of the overhaul proposal, which would be carried out over several years. The commissioner said the agency intends to streamline management and reshape the chain of command.

Ziglar, 55, is a former Wall Street banker. He most recently was sergeant-at-arms of the Senate, where he built a reputation as a smooth and efficient manager, particularly during the Clinton impeachment hearings. Ziglar enjoys support from Democrats and Republicans, even though he has virtually no background in immigration matters.

Ziglar said he intends to win bipartisan approval of plans to overhaul INS. For years, Democrats and Republicans have called for restructuring the INS, but failed to agree on how it should be done.

"Many of us feel that the time has long come to divide the agency into two separate bureaus, with clear chains of command -- one for services and one for enforcement," said Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee's immigration subcommittee and a Ziglar supporter.

Ziglar said he seeks an orderly restructuring of the INS, acknowledging that he did not want the agency to be a "stumbling block" to other Bush administration immigration policy proposals.

Among the most prominent proposal is the White House plan to consider a new temporary guest-worker policy that could lead to the legalization of millions of Mexicans who are living in the United States illegally.

Yesterday, Ziglar echoed other administration officials who said recently that the White House is moving slowly in completing a temporary guest-worker
plan. Ziglar said he wasn't sure what kind of policy statement might be made -- if any -- when President Bush plays host to Mexican President Vicente Fox during a state visit next month.

Observers contend Ziglar faces immediate bureaucratic, management and political challenges. When Congress returns next month, Senate and House committees are expected to examine INS restructuring plans.

The agency now faces "some very, very unfortunate" delays in processing benefits applications, Ziglar said. But he said he intends to meet Bush's goal of a six-month average for handling such applications in the next two to three years.

Ziglar also met with INS employees yesterday. He said he wants to be a strong advocate for the 33,000-member agency while ensuring that anyone who has contact with the INS is "treated with respect and dignity and without any hint of bias or discrimination."