- The Washington Times - Monday, November 25, 2002

The Senate's 90-9 vote to create a new Department of Homeland Security was a classic, textbook lesson in how to beat down a Democratic filibuster.
Now that the department is becoming a reality, the questions now is, do we need it? More to the point, will it better protect us from the terrorists who want to kill us and destroy our way of life?
Despite hand-wringing from the punditry class on how it would be for President Bush to get the 60 votes needed to break such filibusters (and move his agenda through Congress), the president, like Ronald Reagan before him, won by turning the Democrats' opposition to the House bill into a national issue. He won a mandate for action in the Nov. 5 elections and, just 15 days later, smashed the filibuster and the bill pass overwhelmingly in the Senate.
But Mr. Bush had beat the Democrats on this issue before the fight started. The White House clearly saw what Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle too busy carrying out orders from his labor bosses at the AFL-CIO did not.
Homeland security was one of the voters' chief concern in this election. Most voters did not understand the arcane civil service employment issues Democrats were fighting over. However, they did understand Mr. Bush's call for a bill giving him the tools to help prevent future attacks.
The White House had already agreed to some compromise language to protect worker rights, which won over enough Democrats to stop West Virginia Sen. Robert Byrd's fiery filibuster against the bill that he called a "bureaucratic behemoth." And so Congress has created yet another Cabinet-level department the 15th that will further inflate the federal bureaucracy.
As someone who has written a lot about big government and wasteful federal spending in books like "Fat City" (Regnery Publishing, 1980) and "City of Scandals" (Little Brown & Co., 1987), this new 22-agency department falls into a category all its own.
On the one hand, this department will bring with it a whole new layer of bureaucrats and bureaucracy that has yet to exist. There will be another Cabinet secretary, Tom Ridge, plus an untold number of assistant secretaries, deputy secretaries, assistant deputies and personnel.
They will all have substantial staffs of their own and, in many cases, the staffs will have staffs, eventually adding hundreds to thousands of people to the federal work force. In the end, figuring in all the additional overhead, the cost to run these agencies will multiply like rabbits in a wildlife sanctuary.
Moreover, this newly created bureaucracy will be huge and somewhat unwieldy. We know from experience with huge corporations that they can be enormously inefficient and slow to move in a crisis. CEOs have dealt with this problem in the New Economy by spinning off parts of a business and giving it increased autonomy to make decisions quickly.
The department will bring together a number of large agencies under one roof. The Immigration and Naturalization Service, the Customs Service, the Coast Guard, the newly created Transportation Security Administration, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and many more.
And this is where a single department could make some sense. All these agencies have been operating separately from, at times oblivious of, or counterproductive to one another.
A central senior-management authority will be able to better coordinate their programs and policies, move resources where they are needed most and most importantly reshape and strengthen the nation's total homeland security apparatus.
At least that is the theory.
Certainly some of these agencies desperately need tough, high-level supervision to whip them into shape. Some, like the INS, are notorious for being inefficient and mistake-ridden. This is an agency, after all, that gave some of the September 11 terrorists permission to remain in this country after the attacks had been carried out.
One big problem with this new department: It is going to take a long time before it is fully operational. The bill estimates a year of reorganizing, hiring and moving, though lawmakers said last week that it is likely to take much longer than that.
To its credit, the bill gives the administration plenty of latitude to move bureaucracies and people around. Mr. Ridge and his top lieutenants will have more freewheeling management authority than most of his counterparts in Mr. Bush's Cabinet.
But let's not kid ourselves. This will still be a government bureaucracy that will, by its very nature, be inherently inefficient. The burden will be on this administration, Tom Ridge in particular, to prove that it can work in a high-speed, digital, micro era where lean-and-mean, highly decentralized corporate organizations are the wave of the future.

Donald Lambro, chief political correspondent for The Washington Times, is a nationally syndicated columnist.


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