- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 11, 2002

While Congress investigated, the president acted. He adroitly proposed an Office of Homeland Security as a Cabinet-level department, leaving many of his foes on the Hill flat-footed. It was a magnificent political move that should not detract from the fact that it probably is the most sweeping proposed governmental reform more than 50 years. Some of the president's foes have concentrated on the potential problems of implementation. Several Democratic members have puffed themselves up beyond their already ample girth and boldly proclaimed that they will have to "fix" some of what is wrong before they can legislatively mandate what the president has proposed. Like the story of the little hen baking her bread, the unwanted helpers have every opportunity to ruin the recipe before it gets in the oven.

There are several ways that the "friends of hens" faction in the Congress can ruin or dilute this proposal. We need to hold them accountable for their actions if they attempt to do so. How can they ruin it? Let me count the ways. First, they can fail to give the new homeland security secretary the authority to reprioritize resources among the various agencies assigned to the new department.

By resources, we primarily are speaking of money and personnel, the coin of the realm of power in Washington. Such a move would leave the new secretary virtually as powerless as the homeland security coordinator is today. Such a department merely would be a collection of independent duchies as was the old Holy Roman Empire. If the Holy Roman Empire was not holy, Roman, nor an empire, such a toothless department would neither be a department, nor would it provide any of us additional security.

Another sure way the friends of hens could hobble the new department at birth would be to withhold some of the new agencies proposed by the president. Powerful subcommittees will lose agencies whose budgets represent much of that power. The subcommittee chairmen will be aided by powerful employees unions; these undoubtedly will feel largely threatened over seniority and retention issues.

The new secretary will need to create a planning and operational staff capable of keeping up with the Defense Department in its ability to do future planning and adequate liaison with other agencies. Most of the existing agencies that will make up the new department lack an operational planning level. They do strategic planning in Washington and local tactical planning at their branch offices, but they lack the depth to participate in or plan large interagency levels. One of the most frequently heard complaints from the military when it asks most of these agencies to participate in interagency crisis management war games is that they simply cannot free up the manpower to participate. The president's proposal has the potential to create the kind of economy of scale that would fix this. This makes the capability.

Congress must also authorize the new secretary to hire and fire the leaders of the subordinate agencies. Just as the secretary of defense has the power to recommend the service chiefs and the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff to the president, so should the secretary of homeland security have the power to recommend the hiring and firing of the directors of his subordinate agencies.

If there is anyone in Congress qualified to lend a sense of legitimacy to crafting the proposed legislation, it is probably Sen. Joseph Lieberman. He was beaten to the punch in proposing similar legislation by the president's Bill Clinton-like skill in pre-emption, but Mr. Lieberman's name undoubtedly will be on any such authorizing legislation. He, therefore, has a vested interest in making sure it is a solid package, and he should bear witness to any attempts to water the proposal down or load it with extraneous pork.

Finally, Congress can hurt this proposal if it does not authorize sufficient funds to create an information management system that will allow for the coordination of the vast flow of information that these separate agencies collect on a daily basis. Shared net and intelligent agent technologies that can do this are available today, but they are beyond the aggregate combined budgets of the agencies that would be pooled to create the Homeland Security Department. Congress should find out how much it would cost to create such an information-sharing system and authorize it up front rather than force the new secretary to fight for it later.

In the last month, there has been a lot of wind blowing off Capitol Hill calling for better federal anti-terror coordination. The president has deftly put the ball squarely in the congressional court. At the risk of sounding like Jesse Jackson with his flair for alliteration, I will do so anyhow. It is now time to legislate rather than to investigate.

Gary Anderson is with the Potomac Institute for Policy Studies in Washington.

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