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Homeland Security trains for presidential transition

  • Story Highlights
  • This presidential transition is a first for department, formed after 9/11
  • Agencies get together for drills with mock hijackers and drug runners
  • Homeland Security says it knows of no specific threat related to the transition
  • Member of think tank skeptical: "It looks more like showmanship"
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From Jeanne Meserve and Mike M. Ahlers
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GLYNCO, Georgia (CNN) -- Federal agents sped after phantom drug runners and fired at mock hijackers in coastal Georgia this week as senior officials from various agencies watched and sometimes participated.

Federal agents simulated various scenarios during training in Georgia this week.

The Department of Homeland Security brought the top officials together to prepare for the transition that will follow this fall's presidential election.

The department says it knows of no threat related to the transition. In other countries, however, terrorists have struck shortly before or after government changes.

In an effort to ensure a smooth transition, the Department of Homeland Security brought more than 100 top career employees -- nonpolitical employees who are expected to stay in their jobs -- to build their knowledge about the department's 22 agencies.

The idea is to prepare them to manage other agencies on an interim basis, as one round of political appointees gives way to a new president's picks.

The senior officials watched as agents pursued a "drug runner" around a closed course at speeds of up to 90 mph, culminating in a fake but realistic shootout. Watch simulated shootout, real explosion »

After briefings from agents, they shot simulated bullets at mock hijackers. They watched incidents involving deranged gunmen, suicide bombers and others intent on causing mayhem.

Department officials say the exercises are particularly important because this presidential transition is a first for the department, which was formed after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Yet the elaborate exercises, held at the sprawling Federal Law Enforcement Training Center in Glynco, Georgia, are not without skeptics.

"It's late in the game," said P.J. Crowley of the Center for American Progress, a Washington think tank. "I mean, developing a career civil service within the Department of Homeland Security should have been a priority five years ago when the department first stood up.

"I think it looks more like showmanship than real team building, but I'll wait and see."

Department officials say they hope the incoming president will designate a new secretary and other top officials before January 20, Inauguration Day, to ensure continuity.

Nancy Ward, a career employee who could temporarily head the Federal Emergency Management Agency during the transition, says the experience is valuable.

"I have really been able to see what [other DHS agencies] do on a day-to-day basis and understand how they do it," she said.

All About U.S. Department of Homeland SecurityTerrorismFEMA

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