The top U.S. official on homeland security says he will work with the business sector on finding ways to safeguard the country without impeding commerce.
Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff told business leaders meeting in Washington that he is committed to a partnership with the private sector that will increase both security and the free flow of goods.
"We do not want a fortress state,” said Mr. Chertoff. “We want a state that is open and robust and preserves the best of America while preserving American lives. Our vision at the end of the day through these kinds of programs is to say to businesses, look, if you will put into place the kinds of robust screening and security protections that will assure us that goods and services and people are not a threat, we can offer you expedited processing, streamlined movement and at the end of the day a more productive result."
Secretary Chertoff spoke at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which lobbies on behalf of business and industry groups in the U.S. Congress.
Some business leaders expressed concern in the wake of the 2001 terrorist attacks that expanded security measures might inhibit commerce, particularly the arrival of overseas shipments in U.S. ports.
During Friday's session, Mr. Chertoff was pressed to improve the flow of information about potential terrorist threats that are passed on by the government to private industry.
Michael Hershman is president of a private investigating company called the Fairfax Group. "Often, the information is not very timely and not very useful," said Mr. Hershman.
Secretary Chertoff was also cautioned on the issue of immigration reform, which many experts say is a key part of improving homeland security.
U.S. Chamber of Commerce President Tom Donohue says the government should be careful about targeting millions of undocumented workers now inside the United States who take on jobs that many Americans decline.
"There are 11 million, plus or minus [a few], illegal aliens, undocumented aliens in this country and the overwhelming majority of them work hard in jobs that most Americans are unwilling to take. If we try to deport them, our economy will collapse in many ways," he said.
Mr. Chertoff says he expects to work closely with business leaders to craft a security strategy that will take into account the needs of the private sector. But he also says private industry will need to share a greater burden of safeguarding itself from the threat of terrorism.