- The Washington Times - Monday, June 17, 2002

What a tragedy that we had to endure the September 11 terrorist attacks on the United States before reorganizing the government's related security and disaster-response agencies into a single, unified Department of Homeland Defense.
President Bush's plan would unify more than 20 bureaucracies now scattered across government under one roof where their efforts can be better coordinated and directed in the war against terrorism. Such a reorganization was long overdue, even without the terrorist attacks, because it will make both a single, high-powered leader and a team fully accountable for their performance and effectiveness.
At least that's the idea.
The transfer of agencies will be sweeping and comprehensive and, before Congress is finished moving the bureaucratic boxes around, more programs will likely be added to the total. There is talk of moving parts of the CIA and the FBI into this department, which is not a good idea, but more on that later.
When the plan is enacted, possibly by this September, the department would be responsible for immigration, border security, emergency and disaster-assistance preparedness, chemical, biological and nuclear protection countermeasures, and a broad range of information gathering and analysis.
This bureaucracy, with 169,000 federal workers (the third-largest in personnel) and a budget of $37.4 billion, would have much more visibility and oversight powers. And, presumably, it will have more clout to demand bigger budgets.
This last point is a sticky one that often is produced by overcentralization and big, far-reaching bureaucracies. When Jimmy Carter created the Education Department in the 1970s, consolidating a large number of separate educational agencies that were spread all over Washington, he said it would save taxpayers money and produce major efficiencies.
Since then, however, the Education Department's budget has skyrocketed by tens of billions of dollars, our public schools have become noticeably worse, and testing scores have continued to decline.
The fact is in government as well as in the private sector the bigger the bureaucracy, the harder it is to move quickly and efficiently. This is something Congress is going to have to address as it creates layers of assistant secretaries, deputy secretaries, assistant deputies, directors, assistant directors and so on.
The Immigration and Naturalization Service is one of the agencies to be merged into the department. But will this move dramatically improve its dismal performance of the past several decades? Not too long ago the INS approved visas for two of the terrorists in the September 11 suicide airline attacks. This agency needs more improvements than just a change of address.
But the strategic thrust of Mr. Bush's reorganization plan is to harden our security system and put higher-level management people at the top of the chain of command who can improve these systems and make them work as one.
Thus, the department will include the Customs Service, the Coast Guard, the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, the Transportation Security Administration, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear response programs from Health and Human Services. A number of analytical programs will also be shifted into the department to analyze information from the FBI, CIA and the National Security Agency.
All of this raises tough questions that Congress is going to have to sort out. If an agency like FEMA is working perfectly where it is now, why move it? And how can new layers of high-level, far-removed bureaucrats run these agencies any better than managers who are closer to them and to the problems they face?
There is something oddly outdated about reorganizing boxes on a bureaucracy chart in an age of high-speed computers, satellite telecommunications and global Internet data systems that can connect agencies and gather and analyze data in a nanosecond.
Still, many of these programs do have intimately related security functions and have long been in departments that have nothing to do with their central mission. The Secret Service, for example, is in the U.S. Treasury, which collects taxes and pays the government's debts. Who made that decision?
Meantime, congressional leaders are talking about shifting parts of the FBI and the CIA to Homeland Defense, which would be a big mistake. The central mission of the FBI is law enforcement and should remain in the Justice Department and under the direction of the attorney general.
The CIA is the nation's largest intelligence-gathering agency with a much broader mission than homeland security. Its independence is crucial to its mission, effectiveness and secrecy.
The Department of Homeland Defense will receive intelligence data from both these two agencies, as it should to do its job. But Mr. Bush rejected proposals to fold them into the new department. That decision was wise.

Donald Lambro is chief political correspondent for The Washington Times and is nationally syndicated.


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