- - Monday, November 26, 2012

With new leadership comes new vision. As President Obama mulls over his options for some new faces in his Cabinet, he would be wise to take a page from another revered president of the left. In 1960, President-elect Kennedy had the foresight to select a former bean-counter who had worked his way up to be president of Ford Motor Co. to run his Department of Defense.

Although Robert S. McNamara remains a controversial figure because of his leadership during the Vietnam War, he single-handedly reformed how the Pentagon did business. He quickly became one of the stars of the Kennedy team, offering advice to the young president in areas of business and the economy as well as national security. The day after being sworn in, McNamara explained to a New York Times reporter that his job at the Pentagon was “to bring efficiency to a $40 billion enterprise beset by jealousies and political pressures while maintaining American military superiority.”

McNamara wasted no time challenging the Pentagon’s top brass by establishing elaborate controls over department resources and refusing to spend funds for weapon systems he did not approve. He consolidated seven of the Defense Department’s assistant secretary posts into five and created a new Office of Management, Planning and Organization Studies. He applied the same business principles from his years at Ford Motor Co. to the department and created a Planning, Programming and Budget System that enabled leadership to project the first five-year budget in the department’s history.

McNamara’s staff stressed systems analysis as an aid in all budgetary decision-making. The secretary thought the United States could afford any amount needed for national security but that “this ability does not excuse us from applying strict standards of effectiveness and efficiency to the way we spend our defense dollars. You have to make a judgment on how much is enough.”

With these same sound business principles in mind, it is necessary to conduct an independent, top-to-bottom examination of deficiencies in Department of Homeland Security (DHS) leadership and management structure. My determination follows five management-oversight hearings, is based on extensive work by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) and comes 10 years after the inception of DHS. The idea has bipartisan support from Rep. William R. Keating, Massachusetts Democrat and ranking member of the Homeland Security subcommittee on oversight, investigations and management.

DHS was created by merging 22 government agencies into one. Though it is primarily a law enforcement and investigative department, I think it will take a chief executive with private-sector credentials to ensure that inefficiencies do not hinder it from executing its security plans.

Our hearings and the GAO audits identified a culture of corruption, waste, duplication and systematic management problems with little in the way of answers.

After squandering close to $1 billion on the failed Secure Border Initiative (SBI-net), DHS is attempting yet another border security project. Once again, the lack of coordination, communication and integration at the administrative level has produced similar results. The department is unable to justify the rationale for specific technologies, how much is needed or even where to put the technology along the Arizona border. Offices, programs or initiatives in 16 Homeland Security areas have similar or overlapping objectives.

In fiscal 2011 alone, Customs and Border Protection and Immigration and Customs Enforcement had 9,073 allegations of employee misconduct, including 893 for corruption, such as personnel collaborating with drug smugglers and filing fraudulent travel documents. The Transportation Security Administration had 612 allegations of misconduct, including allowing thousands of pieces of luggage onto flights without proper screening and taking bribes to allow passengers expedited security checks. The list goes on.

It will take a dedicated team of experts to root out these flaws and recommend changes. As the saying goes, we can reshuffle the deck chairs on the Titanic. However, as with that tragic voyage, the root of the department’s problems is beneath the waterline. Until DHS can manage simple core functions such as acquisition, procurement, financial systems and data consolidation, the mission of protecting the homeland will be compromised.

Ten years after the creation of the Department of Homeland Security, taxpayers need to see what they got for the billions of dollars spent on the new bureaucracy. If we can get the management right, Americans will have more confidence in the mission. The advisory panel is meant to be a support to leadership, not a substitute for it.

We need administration leaders who understand bottom-line management instead of just top-line budgets. We need leaders who have the courage to pick winner and loser programs inside their departments. We need leaders who understand that we are in a budgetary crisis and manage their department as if it were a business with expected outcomes to their shareholders, the American people.

Rep. Michael T. McCaul, Texas Republican, is chairman of the Homeland Security Oversight, Investigations and Management Subcommittee.