Name Calling

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What's in a name? Quite a lot if you're the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the largest agency of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Tom Ridge, secretary of DHS, has proposed changing the unit's name to Bureau of Investigations and Criminal Enforcement, partly to better reflect what the agency does and also to banish any perceptions that it's merely a reincarnation of the poorly regarded, now defunct Immigration and Naturalization Service. But the FBI is objecting, contending that the proposed name is too close to its own.

The rivalry goes well beyond the naming game. ICE, which was formed from several pre-9/11 entities, has become a serious investigative law enforcement agency with about the same number of employees as the FBI (both employ over 20,000). ICE's broad portfolio now includes, among other duties, running the Federal air marshals service, investigating money-laundering and other cross-border smuggling crimes, protecting the airspace over Washington, D.C., carrying out marine drug interdictions, and providing security at federal buildings nationwide. At times, the line between ICE's portfolio and the FBI's isn't clear, a made-to-order scenario for turf battles. In fact, it was ICE that nabbed Nuradin Abdi, the Somali who was charged on Monday with conspiring with al-Qaeda to blow up an Ohio shopping mall.

The FBI, which wouldn't comment for this story, is bristling that another high-profile agency might put the word "Investigations" in its title, sources close to the dispute said. The nomenclature clash even triggered a recent White House meeting in which the FBI's objections were aired. DHS first proposed the change late last year, sources there said. In February, it used the hoped-for title on the cover page of its fiscal 2005 budget request.

For now, ICE personnel are still using badges from the agencies they were with before DHS was created, such as INS and Customs, waiting for the change to come through. Ridge, according to DHS sources, is fuming about it. "It's creating real morale problems," said an ICE official.

This latest round of bickering has rekindled memories of a similar battle a year ago in which the FBI seized control of terrorism-related financial investigations from Homeland Security. Separately, Ridge is still upset, according to sources who work with him, over being blindsided by the Justice Department and FBI pre-Memorial Day press conference regarding possible terrorist attacks at various special events this summer. There was no fresh or specific intelligence to back up the dire warning, DHS sources maintain.

And there's more bad news for ICE on the horizon. According to a letter sent Tuesday to the DHS inspector general by Rep. Jim Turner, the top Democrat on the House Select Committee on Homeland Security, ICE is in danger of violating a federal law against overspending its budget — part of the problem stems from technology flaws with the agency's financial management system. Turner wrote that his staff's interviews with ICE employees had turned up claims such as funds being transferred on a daily basis to ICE from its parent DHS agency to avoid shortfalls; ICE pilots going months without knowing when or if they could get new parts, fuel or ammunition for their airplanes; and ICE often having no idea how much it had spent on various contracts, requiring employees to ask the contractors for the information. Dean Boyd, an ICE spokesman, says the agency has received the letter and is formulating a response. "The letter contains several inaccuracies," he said, "and we strongly reject the suggestion that we're violating the law."