- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 27, 2005

The confirmation earlier this month of Michael Chertoff as secretary of homeland security offers an important opportunity to “think anew” about the young — and troubled — department he now leads. While much has been accomplished in the two years since its creation, the Department of Homeland Security is still known more for duct tape and bureaucratic paralysis than for a strong, intelligent effort to secure the American people from catastrophic attacks. It’s time to turn this around.

More than anything, the attacks of September 11 demonstrated that our adversaries no longer view the oceans as significant obstacles to harming Americans here at home. In the wake of September 11, “asymmetric” and potentially catastrophic attacks on America’s soft underbelly — its civil society and people — must now be viewed as an expected method of warfare against the United States. In 2002, we created DHS to deal with this reality and to lead our effort to prevent further attacks, protect the national and globally integrated infrastructure vital to our economy and society and organize national capabilities for responding to catastrophic attacks should they occur.

While it has had important successes, DHS has not yet become the leader we need. Much of this can be chalked up to the growing pains of reorganization. But this cannot excuse major organizational mistakes that have caused bureaucratic stalemate and prevented DHS from addressing serious security gaps. On issue after issue — ranging from inadequate radiation detection, to cyberspace vulnerabilities, to gaps in immigration enforcement, to the inability to organize a cohesive national effort to identify and protect critical infrastructure under threat — DHS has failed to provide the strong leadership and policy innovation needed to bring real security. Indeed, it is telling that a large number of our most important “homeland security” efforts — such as the revamp of aviation security and the Container Security Initiative — were launched before the department was created.

This must be fixed. Thankfully, many — such as outgoing DHS Deputy Secretary James Loy and Sen. Susan Collins — recognize the problem and are starting to consider reforms. In December, the Heritage Foundation and the Center for Strategic and International Studies issued a report, entitled DHS 2.0 — Rethinking the Department of Homeland Security, that provides a roadmap for these efforts. Four recommendations are worth highlighting.

First, DHS lacks a strong, unified policymaking operation — one that looks at issues department-wide. A strong policy staff would permit the secretary to think with strategic vision about the threats facing the country and ensure that scarce dollars are being spent on the highest priorities. The Departments of State and Defense have similar structures. DHS needs one, too. And to his credit, Mr. Loy is leading an effort to create it.

Second, DHS is hampered by too many bureaucratic layers — with its few operational agencies submerged under middle-management “under-secretariats.” This hierarchical structure has ground major initiatives to a halt and disconnected the secretary from his operating arms. Furthermore, even if one wanted such bureaucratic layers, they are incomplete. For example, the “Border and Transportation Security” Directorate does not include the Coast Guard, thus rendering it difficult for DHS to forge coherent policies and strategies in the maritime-security arena. A better, more nimble structure would be a “flatter” one, eliminating the middle-management layers altogether, and with operational agencies of DHS reporting directly to the secretary — as in the Department of Justice. This reform, together with the creation of a DHS-wide policy staff, would bring greater power and control to the secretary and a more holistic look at DHS-wide issues like border and maritime security.

Third, DHS is populated with warring agencies with overlapping missions. Perhaps the most significant mistake here was the decision to create two agencies charged with interrelated border-security and immigration-enforcement responsibilities — Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). This has resulted in paralyzing fights over budgets, mission conflicts and turf. They should be consolidated into a single agency.

Fourth, the department needs to consolidate its fragmented efforts aimed at implementing a national — not just federal — strategy for infrastructure protection, preparedness and response. Right now, literally nine agencies have some piece of this. This byzantine structure thwarts DHS’s ability to provide the strong national leadership needed. And Congress shares blame, for it has handcuffed the secretary’s ultimate lever of power — grantmaking authority — by requiring “homeland security” grants to go to all 50 states, regardless of any threat analysis.

Organization is not everything, and strong leaders can overcome even the worst structure. But DHS’s dysfunction demonstrates that organization does matter. Many have recognized this, and are looking at reforms. Mr. Chertoff should embrace these efforts, quickly move to put his stamp on the department and design a new, more effective DHS.

Seth M.M. Stodder recently served in the Department of Homeland Security as director of policy and planning for U.S. Customs and Border Protection. He is also affiliated with CSIS, and co-wrote the “DHS 2.0” report.

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