- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 25, 2002

If the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is to succeed at its vital mission, government officials must do something they rarely do adapt to change.

Agencies and Congress must cede turf and institutional cultures. Employees must forego traditional protections offered by civil service. And flexibility must prevail over rigid bureaucracy.

To ensure this, Congress and the White House should work together to produce legislation based on these core principles:

• The department should ensure that intelligence about terrorist activity is shared between the appropriate agencies not hoarded.

• The DHS must consolidate offices under a "multi-use" approach and block attempts to expand the federal bureaucracy.

• The department must have flexibility in its spending and personnel policies to meet an ever-changing terrorist threat.

• The Office of Homeland Security (OHS) should be retained to advise the president and to coordinate policies of federal agencies with homeland security responsibilities.

• Congress' authorizing and appropriations committee structure for homeland security must be revised to reduce "mission overlap" and clear up any confusion about who is responsible for each task related to homeland security.

• The new department must be committed to protecting civil liberties as well as securing the nation from terrorism.

President Bush has proposed three functions for DHS: to prevent terror attacks in the United States, to reduce America's vulnerability to terrorism and to minimize the damage and time it takes to recover from attacks. To accomplish this, he has proposed that all the offices relocated to DHS fall into one of four major divisions border and transportation security, emergency preparedness and response, chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear countermeasures and information analysis and infrastructure protection.

The information analysis and infrastructure protection division is the logical home for what might be called an intelligence "fusion" center. This center wouldn't need its own agents to collect information. Rather, it would synthesize and distribute information as needed to consular offices considering visa applications, to local police investigating whether suspects in custody have terrorist connections and to immigration officials trying to find out if people seeking to enter the country are dangerous. The House Select Committee on Homeland Security has laid out a framework for DHS's intelligence arm to serve this purpose. The fusion center also could serve to improve communications between America's existing intelligence agencies, the FBI and CIA. Lapses in communications between and among officials in these agencies have drawn criticism in the wake of September 11.

Such "stovepiping" hoarding information within certain agencies or offices can't be tolerated in our war against a hidden enemy. It's time that the FBI and CIA cooperate, that local law enforcement have an avenue through which to channel and receive information, and that someone sit atop the structure with access to all the information and the wherewithal to analyze and distribute it. This function shouldn't fall to the CIA or FBI, and these agencies, with their vast intelligence-gathering capabilities and responsibilities that go far beyond securing the homeland, should not be folded into the new department.

What should be folded into the new department? Today, homeland security responsibilities are spread throughout the government, and programs frequently overlap or exist in agencies that do not have a security focus, such as the Department of Energy. To end this, all agencies with responsibilities for border security the INS, Customs Service, Border Patrol and the Coast Guard should be included in DHS.

All security functions can be synthesized through the intelligence office. FEMA should become part of DHS and share its successful "all hazards" approach for responding to disasters. Likewise, the Coast Guard must be brought in and freed from congressional micromanaging. Both agencies will retain non-homeland security missions, which will be strengthened by their transfer. In fact, FEMA and the Coast Guard should serve as examples for how the DHS culture should take shape.

The biggest hurdle to organizing an effective and efficient DHS is Congress. Today, 88 committees and subcommittees have jurisdiction over some part of homeland security.

Absent significant reform, DHS officials could spend nearly every working moment testifying before such committees or producing reports. And it's simply impractical to expect the department to function properly if it must seek funding from 10 appropriations bills. Congress should form standing committees for DHS in each house and create for the new department its own appropriations process.

Moreover, Congress must declare DHS an "earmark-free zone" and resist the kind of self-interested meddling that plagues so much of the federal government. The Coast Guard, for example, now labors under a rule that forbids it to purchase even emergency repair parts after the middle of the month. Such intransigence ill serves an operation focused on emergency response.

And Congress must relax its grip on the purse strings, at least a little. The director of DHS should be allowed to shift up to 5 percent of the department's budget without seeking approval from Congress. Our enemies certainly don't subject themselves to such encumbrances when priorities change rapidly, and neither can we.

And the secretary should be allowed to select, promote and retain workers based solely on merit. This may sound like common sense, but "demoting or removing incompetent employees is not exactly a hallmark of the traditional civil service," says Michael Franc, vice president for government relations here at The Heritage Foundation. In 2000, virtually every one of the 2.7 million federal employees received a pay raise, including 88 percent of those who received the lowest possible performance rating.

As part of establishing the DHS, Congress must take steps to mobilize America's technological advantage for defending the homeland. The private sector owns 85 percent of the critical infrastructure in the United States. However, Freedom of Information Act provisions make industry reluctant to share information on infrastructure vulnerability with the government. And companies may be deterred from developing technologies to prevent terrorism by fear of litigation if terrorists find a way around it. These concerns also must be resolved.

Without the tragic events of September 11, it's unlikely the nation would be having this discussion. Virtually no one supports adding another government bureaucracy that resembles those already in place. So, let's not allow this one to resemble them. Let's do this one right. Lives depend on it.

Michael Scardaville is a policy analyst in the Davis Institute for International Studies at The Heritage Foundation (www.heritage.org), a Washington-based public policy research institute.

Sign up for Daily Newsletters

Copyright © 2019 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide