The reorganization plan Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff announced Wednesday makes several good correctives for problems of mission drift, mismanagement and turf warfare plaguing the department. But more than a few experts, even ones who wholeheartedly support Mr. Chertoff’s changes, know the hard work is only just beginning. Some think the management changes don’t even begin to address the real policy questions.
Particularly regarding border security and immigration, we agree. But we are heartened to see Mr. Chertoff make an earnest effort at rationalizing DHS under some of the most challenging circumstances in government. Getting the fundamentals right today will help prevent pre-DHS legacy missions of individual offices and agencies, spending politics and internal bureaucratic warfare from derailing the department tomorrow.
First the positives. In words and we hope in deed in the coming months, Mr. Chertoff is putting priorities back where they belong: on high-risk threats involving nuclear or biological weapons. Mr. Chertoff ranked those threats first in listing the six key imperatives he thinks should drive the department, concluding that preparedness for “catastrophic” events must rank highest. This is to the good: The agency’s signature activities cannot and should not be limited to color-coded threat-warning systems or aviation-security efforts. Lawmakers sometimes encourage the type of mission drift that causes this: After the London bombings, some have been calling for massive spending increases on transportation security. Those calls are well-intentioned (and may be useful) but are too ad-hoc to make for sustainable policy. Nor have small-state lawmakers, particularly in the Senate, been helpful in their efforts to divert spending away from high-risk urban states. But with worries of loose nukes and biowarfare afoot, it’s clear where our priorities must lie.
Second, Mr. Chertoff is gutting some ineffective bureaucratic structures and centralizing management in ways that increase his own and the deputy secretary’s clout. Specifically, Mr. Chertoff will centralize terror analysis and intelligence capabilities and attempt to increase standing in the intelligence community; he will disband the agency’s highest-profile component, the Border and Transportation Security Directorate, which includes the Transportation Security Administration and the agencies that used to be the Immigration and Naturalization Service and the Customs Service, and will oversee those agencies personally in the future; and he will replace senior management positions with one undersecretary for policy reporting directly to himself. Mr. Chertoff is also creating some promising new offices like a chief medical officer to oversee bioterror preparedness and to coordinate the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention with state and local agencies.
Third, to support the claim that DHS is “open to change,” Mr. Chertoff will require that foreigners visiting the United States be fingerprinted with all 10 fingers to increase precision (currently only two fingers are scanned), and he will end the rule that passengers flying into or out of Reagan National Airport must remain seated for 30 minutes.
The problem with all this pertains not to managerial reshuffling but to the policy. As Mark Krikorian of the Center for Immigration Studies put it to us a few hours after Mr. Chertoff’s announcement Wednesday, “This could end up being one more evasion for an administration that doesn’t want the immigration law enforced.” Mr. Krikorian says he doesn’t care where the boxes and flowcharts go, as long as the underlying enforcement deficiencies are addressed. But in that regard, Mr. Chertoff is very much a prisoner of the administration he serves, capable only of enforcing the law as much as President Bush allows.
Even some observers enthusiastic about Mr. Chertoff’s changes — experts whose proposals ended up in Mr. Chertoff’s plan — sound some notes of disappointment. Speaking yesterday at George Washington University’s Homeland Security Institute, the Heritage Foundation’s Paul Rosenzweig, a supporter of the Chertoff plan, explained that DHS declined Heritage’s proposal to merge BTS and the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Directorate, saying DHS hoped to get the agencies to “play nice” (something Mr. Rosensweig thinks could work). Daniel Prieto of the John F. Kennedy School of Government’s Homeland Security Partnership Initiative, said he found it “curious” that by abolishing the BTS undersecretary, there is now no official solely responsible for border and transportation security. The hope now must be that Mr. Chertoff and his deputy will fill that role directly. Mr. Prieto also lamented the lack of mention of “metrics” or mechanisms to measure progress in Mr. Chertoff’s proposals.
Clearly, Homeland Security is very much a work in progress even for people who accept Mr. Bush’s border-enforcement and immigration policy. For them, as Mr. Prieto put it, “This is the windup, not the pitch. You still have to perform.” For ourselves, there are policy problems at the highest levels that cause us to leaven our applause for Mr. Chertoff with skepticism for his superiors.