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ROGERS: A smarter, leaner approach to homeland security

Time to apply results-oriented litmus test to DHS

- - Thursday, October 25, 2012

President Reagan had it right when he said, "The nearest thing to eternal life we will ever see on this earth is a government program." The unchecked growth of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is one of today's most striking examples.

In the 11 years since Sept. 11, 2001, DHS has grown into the third-largest department in the federal government. With more than 240,000 employees and an annual budget of $40 billion, it is the epitome of government bureaucracy. Although spending on security is essential, DHS' massive size has unintentionally caused it to become flat-footed and complacent.

Given our deteriorating fiscal situation, we must come to terms with the fact that endless spending is not the right solution to the evolving security challenges we face. DHS cannot continue to waste taxpayer dollars in failed attempts to buy down risk. We need a smarter, leaner, more agile approach to homeland security.

The prime target of this improved philosophy is the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). I think there are three concrete steps that can be taken to make not only TSA, but also the rest of DHS smarter and leaner without compromising security:

1. Right-sizing the workforce. Nearly 1 out of every 4 DHS employees works at TSA. Over the past four years alone, TSA has increased its ranks by close to 10 percent. Meanwhile, passenger traffic at our nation's airports has declined. TSA could do a far better job of security with roughly 20 percent to 30 percent fewer, better-trained employees and could save up to $1.6 billion from DHS' annual budget. Those savings can only be realized, however, if TSA becomes a more risk-based agency.

Airports also should be allowed to decide whether they want to use the private sector instead of the federal government to conduct screening. By infusing private-sector ingenuity into the passenger-screening process, we can improve security and the travel experience.

2. Streamlining or eliminating offices that do little to enhance security. For example, despite the best efforts of the Science and Technology Directorate, DHS' internal research-and-development arm, it is largely ineffective in its current form. Some of the best evidence can be found at TSA.

In 2006, TSA spent millions on underdeveloped explosive trace detection "puffer" machines that sit boxed up in warehouses. Following the attempted Christmas Day attack in 2009, TSA again spent millions to deploy Advanced Imaging Technology (AIT) machines, or full-body scanners. TSA rushed AIT machines into the field at $250,000 a pop despite technological and privacy concerns. While AIT is more functional than its predecessor, the failure to fully develop this technology prior to deployment resulted in TSA's invasive pat-downs that we endure today.

Replacing the Science and Technology Directorate with a smarter, private-sector-oriented approach to research and development is essential and could save millions.

3. Examining the impact of regulations on our economy. For example, the aviation industry has been waiting nine years for DHS to finalize an important rule on foreign-aircraft repair-station security. This huge delay is costing jobs in the aviation manufacturing sector and hurting our global competitiveness. At the same time, the trucking industry is paying a high price for the poorly executed Transportation Worker Identification Credential program and redundant credentialing regulations.

Moving forward, I propose that Congress apply a litmus test to everything DHS does: Will it improve security? Is it a wise use of taxpayer dollars? Will it reduce the regulatory burden and partner with the private sector? If DHS cannot produce satisfactory answers, now is the time to find a smarter, leaner way.

Rep. Mike Rogers is an Alabama Republican.