- The Washington Times - Friday, August 2, 2002

Pulling together 22 different government organizations under the proposed Department of Homeland Security the wrong way may be the result of political compromise that leads to future lives and opportunities lost. Merging existing organizations will not by itself create an effective Department of Homeland Security. The president's insistence on personnel accountability and flexibility the focus of a partisan dispute with the Senate Democrats is not simply an attack on government work rules and unions. Rather, it is a realization that the new department must be transformed. The status quo has been found wanting. But change also presents risks of self-inflicted wounds.

It is hard to repair mistakes made in an organization's establishment. The compromises required to put together the National Security Act of 1947, creating the Department of Defense, though amended, hindered U.S. joint war-fighting capabilities until reforms in the 1980s. An organization will carry the attitudes and assumptions of the time it was formed in its bones in ways that may prove resistant to reform.

Joining organizations that have evolved separately is difficult (even where they have worked together). Do not build a tool by gluing together finely machined steel. Bringing the Army and Navy together in 1947 was difficult; bringing the Coast Guard and the Immigration and Naturalization Service together in a meaningful way will likely be more so. Forging comes through investment in training, exercises and senior personnel.

In organizational mergers, weeds rather than flowers thrive. The organizations of the Department of Homeland Security with personnel available to staff new department-level activities are not the smaller elite services, highly stretched since September 11. Make sure that convenience does not lead to the most populous (often least vigorous) bureaucracies occupying the high ground in the new department. The new department must not follow the wrong models; it must develop and procure needed capabilities faster and with more flexibility than does the Department of Defense.

No synergy will be realized without investment. The U.S. military's commitment to joint war-fighting became real in the 1980s through funding-expanded joint-service headquarters, improved communications links, and exercises and maneuvers. This process needs to be repeated if the new department will be a help rather than a hindrance on any future September 11. In fiscal 2003, the new department may be revenue-neutral at $38 billion. It is likely to have to cost more in the out-years.

Savings through consolidation are difficult to realize. There are reasons why the new department may have redundant capabilities. Operational and organizational realities as well as differing missions limit rationalization. For example, the Coast Guard and Customs Service air arms, with their different types of personnel, missions and aircraft, are unlikely to merge.

Organizational leadership must not starve needed capabilities or stifle innovation. Make sure that the capabilities that are triaged away as unimportant by the new management are not going to be sorely missed. This may include non-security functions being downgraded in a department that will focus on security.

Without investment in developing operational concepts and training quality senior personnel, no credibility or effectiveness is possible. Gen. Douglas MacArthur said, "In no other profession are the penalties for employing untrained personnel so appalling or so irrevocable as in the military." Homeland defense today is that other profession. That is why the president is right in insisting on flexibility in personnel. But even with the best personnel, the government must plan on spending money to link, train and exercise the new department and the other federal, state and local authorities with which it will work to make possible achieving enhanced capability in its complex tasks. The senior personnel need to be as good at joint homeland-security tasks as the military is at joint combat operations. There needs to be the homeland security equivalent of the Army's 1940 large-scale Louisiana Maneuvers to identify shortfalls.

The ultimate objective is for the Department of Homeland Security to make it possible for clear orders and effective priorities whether for actions in an emergency or for allocation of resources in the annual budget process to be implemented throughout the United States while avoiding massive federal intervention in what remains largely a state and local capability. Mistakes made in its organization can impede rather than help realize this goal.


David C. Isby is a Washington-based national-security consultant and author.

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