EDITORIAL: The homeland-security myth

Expanding the size of government has imperiled our freedom

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After the fall of the twin towers, President George W. Bush and Congress desperately sought to do something to guarantee such an attack would never happen again. They ultimately agreed to fold 22 existing federal agencies into a new Department of Homeland Security (DHS). A decade later, America is no safer.

In times of crisis, lawmakers are willing to dust off any proposal sitting on the shelf if it will enable them to appear decisive before voters. The Hart-Rudman Commission on National Security for the 21st Century just happened to be standing by with a plan to create a Cabinet-level National Homeland Security Agency, which it had released eight months before the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. DHS took shape from the commission’s blueprint.

Back then, the Border Patrol, Coast Guard and Customs Service shared overlapping missions but answered to three Cabinet secretaries. Hart-Rudman proposed taking these three agencies and the Federal Emergency Management Agency to form the core of a new department. The idea was to pool each agency’s resources — aircraft, boats and helicopters — because, “Consolidating overhead, training programs and maintenance” would “save money,” as the commission explained at the time.

It’s how think tanks like to address problems: Rearrange organizational charts in a logical way and call it a day. Unfortunately, Washington often finds itself more concerned with threats to political turf than the threat of terrorism. For instance, the late Sen. Ted Stevens, Alaska Republican, said he would torpedo the entire department to prevent the Coast Guard from losing any prestige in a reorganization. It’s no wonder infighting and rivalry were rampant among newly merged agencies that worked not toward a common goal but toward preservation of their status.

A March report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) shows morale at DHS remains low to this day. Compared to the rest of the executive branch, DHS employees are less satisfied with their jobs and are happy only with their overly generous paychecks and easy workload.

Dissatisfaction is at its peak among the blue-gloved agents of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). This is the agency responsible for foisting untested, pornographic X-ray machines on the populace as the “solution” to security threats, yet nothing TSA has done has ever caught a terrorist. Molesting and ogling toddlers, ladies, the handicapped and the elderly has made nobody safer.

Investing billions in high-tech gizmos and swelling the ranks of unionized federal employees may advance the interests of well-connected lobbyists, but it doesn’t thwart terrorism. Instead of replacing one of the existing 14 executive departments, DHS became the 15th, adding yet another layer of bureaucracy, paperwork and expense. The budget for homeland security has tripled from $19.5 billion in 2002 to $59.7 billion under the theory that spending more on “homeland security” yields more actual security.

Doling out wads of cash feeds entrenched special interests who fight to keep their lavish benefits above all else. The alternative is to spend radically less, jettisoning failed experiments such as federalized airport screening in favor of more efficient solutions. Only a smaller, smarter, more efficient government will ever be nimble enough to get ahead of the next big threat to our freedoms.

The Washington Times

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