- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 26, 2005

Michael Chertoff’s confirmation as secretary of homeland security offers an opportunity to “think anew” about the young — and troubled — department.

While much has been accomplished, “DHS” is still known more for duct tape and bureaucratic paralysis than for a strong, intelligent effort to secure the American people from catastrophic attacks. It’s time to turn this around.

The September 11, 2001, attacks demonstrated that our adversaries no longer view the oceans as significant obstacles. “Asymmetric” and potentially catastrophic attacks on America’s civil society and people are now an expected method of warfare. In 2002, we created the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to lead in protecting our national and globally integrated infrastructure, and organize national capabilities for responding to any catastrophic attacks.

Though it has had important successes, DHS has not yet become the leader we need. Growing pains of reorganization cannot excuse organizational mistakes that prevented DHS from addressing serious security gaps.

On issue after issue — from inadequate radiation detection, to cyberspace vulnerabilities, to gaps in immigration enforcement, to the inability to organize a cohesive critical infrastructure protection — DHS has not provided strong leadership and policy innovation. Indeed, many of the most important “homeland security” efforts — such as revamping aviation security and the Container Security Initiative — were launched before the department was created.

Thankfully, many — such as outgoing DHS Deputy Secretary James Loy and Sen. Susan Collins, Maine Republican — are starting to consider reforms. In December, the Heritage Foundation and Center for Strategic and International Studies issued a report, titled “DHS 2.0 — Rethinking the Department of Homeland Security,” that provides a road map for these efforts. Four recommendations are worth highlighting.

(1) DHS lacks strong, unified policymaking. A strong policy staff would permit the secretary to think strategically and ensure scarce dollars are spent on the highest priorities. The State and Defense Departments have similar structures. Mr. Loy is leading an effort to create it at DHS.

(2) DHS is hampered by too many bureaucratic layers. This hierarchical structure has brought major initiatives to a halt, and disconnected the secretary from his operating arms. Furthermore, even were such bureaucratic layers desired, they are incomplete. For example, the “Border and Transportation Security” Directorate does not include the Coast Guard, thus rendering it difficult for DHS to develop coherent policies and strategies for maritime security. A more nimble structure would eliminate the middle-management layers altogether, with DHS operational agencies reporting directly to the secretary — as in the Justice Department. This reform, together with the creation of a DHS-wide policy staff, would bring greater control to the secretary and a more holistic look at departmentwide issues.

(3) DHS has warring agencies with overlapping missions. Perhaps the most significant mistake was creation of two agencies charged with interrelated border security and immigration enforcement responsibilities — Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). This has resulted in paralyzing fights over budgets, mission conflicts, and turf. The two agencies should be consolidated into one.

(4) The department needs to consolidate its fragmented efforts for instituting a national — not just federal — strategy for infrastructure protection, preparedness, and response. At present, nine agencies have some piece of this. This Byzantine structure thwarts DHS’ ability to provide strong national leadership. And Congress shares blame, for it handcuffed the secretary’s ultimate lever of power — grantmaking authority — by requiring “homeland security” grants go to all 50 states, regardless of threat analysis.

DHS’ dysfunction demonstrates organization does matter. Many are looking at reforms. Mr. Chertoff should embrace these efforts, and quickly design a new, more effective department.


Former Department of Homeland Security director of policy and planning for U.S. customs and border protection.

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