- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 30, 2005

If Michael Chertoff is confirmed by the Senate as homeland security secretary, he will take the reins of a department that critics say is beset by management problems, policy challenges and structural failings — and at a time when its phenomenal budget growth appears ready to end.

Several powerful senators with oversight of the third-largest Cabinet agency are weighing a major reorganization less than two years after the department was created.

Supporters say Mr. Chertoff — who has a reputation for a razor-sharp intellect and an insider’s appreciation of Washington politics — is up to the challenge.

The newly empowered Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, which last year won oversight over the organization of the department — though only some of its activities — after a bruising turf battle, kicked off the 109th Congress with its first hearing last week, presaging some of the issues that Mr. Chertoff doubtless will be asked about at his confirmation hearing Wednesday.

A panel of think-tank analysts, including the department’s acting inspector general, told the committee that the Homeland Security Department has made the nation safer but has a long, hard way to go, and that much of the heavy lifting is necessitated by internal weaknesses and flaws.

The problems in management are critical, argued the Heritage Foundation’s James Carafano, “because they cut against the core rationale [for the department] — gaining the synergy of [merging] the key federal agencies with homeland security responsibilities.”

Committee Chairman Susan Collins, Maine Republican, said she was considering a major overhaul of the department’s structure, including creating an office of strategic policy and planning and merging two of its largest law-enforcement components — Immigration and Customs Enforcement, covering the country’s interior, and its border counterpart, Customs and Border Protection.

The Homeland Security Act, which established the department’s current structure, “was not the last word” on how it should be organized, she said.

One administration loyalist on the panel, Richard Falkenrath, a former White House homeland security adviser now based at the Brookings Institution, was aghast at that suggestion.

“This is exactly the wrong time for a statutorily driven reorganization,” he said, arguing that the new secretary needs time to find his feet, and that “reorganization always imposes a near-term penalty on performance.”

Besides, Mr. Falkenrath said, the problems at the department were not “significantly worse than … at any other major federal department or agency — none of whom had had to cope with the unique challenges” that the Homeland Security Department had.

Nonetheless, two days later, outgoing Secretary Tom Ridge, whose last day at work is today, told reporters in a conference call that he agreed with some of the proposals for “internal changes that will make us more effective,” including the establishment of an office charged with doing the department’s strategic planning and policy development.

Although the secretary has some limited authority to reprogram funds and reorganize the department, any larger changes would have to receive congressional approval.

One of the senators who holds the department’s purse strings warned that there could be no more growth in spending, signaling a no-raise budget for the department next year.

“Homeland Security’s had as much money as we can possibly afford since September 11,” said Sen. Ted Stevens, Alaska Republican.

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