- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 17, 2006

The nation’s security is in and in need of a fix. The fundamental issue rests in the appropriate assignment of responsibility, authority and accountability among our security agencies.

For example, the Department of Defense, whose military personnel are acquitting themselves with courage, perseverance and distinction in Iraq and Afghanistan, has been accused of a “turf” grab, overreaching its authority by delving too deeply into activities normally the preserve of the intelligence, law enforcement and homeland security agencies. Whether that is a fair charge or not, the intersections between defense, intelligence, law enforcement and homeland security in this post-September 11 world remain ill-defined and must be clarified.

Director of National Intelligence John Negroponte faces this challenge in integrating the intelligence community into a more effective and cohesive operation. Reinvigorating the CIA is part of this problem. Another part is fixing intelligence assessment and analytical responsibilities.And then there is the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

England’s great man of letters, Dr. Samuel Johnson, once observed about a dog walking on its hind legs was “not that the dog walked badly but that it could walk at all.” Merging an eclectic menage of dozens of disparate agencies and differing bureaucratic cultures totaling nearly 180,000 people is a tough job, and perhaps it is amazing the department functions at all.

But that is not good enough. With a new hurricane season literally around the corner, there are no guarantees that the department is better prepared for the next crisis than it was for Katrina.

Before producing fixes, understanding the causes of the problems that must be corrected is the first step. The overarching problem DHS faces is not of its own making.The root of the problem stems from the Constitution and the principles of federalism and checks and balances.

Today, multiple, overlapping federal, state and local jurisdictions preclude establishing clear lines of authority and accountability that actually put people in charge. Without those, assignment of responsibility is meaningless. Bluntly put, no single person or organization is (or can be) in charge of homeland security.

The national capital region vividly shows what happens. The region includes portions of Maryland and Northern Virginia that abut Washington, D.C. One would think that disaster planning here should be the national gold standard. It is not.A recent Government Accountability Office report concluded why: “no one is in charge.”

An obvious further reason for this absence of authority is sovereignty. No state or local jurisdiction wishes to relinquish its authority or control to an external entity, particularly the federal government. This was one key reason why the Katrina response failed so miserably.

Rather than enter into a pointless debate over how to reconcile these competing and often irreconcilable jurisdictions, a better solution exists. Until 1913, the American banking system had no one in charge. But a series of financial crises and bank failures led to the formation of the Federal Reserve Banking System. Similarly, the Securities and Exchange Commission was created in 1934 in the wake of the stock market crash of 1929 to ensure regulation of the securities’ industry.

The president should propose and Congress should create an independent Homeland Security Board to function along the lines of the Fed and the SEC. Dividing the nation into regions as the Fed does with its regional banks also bears examination.The role of this board, like the Fed and SEC, would be to regulate and set homeland security standards and policies, and, with DHS, to ensure compliance.

But delegation of authority is critical to fit different regional and local needs. Perhaps leverage points for homeland security could be found emulating the Fed’s power to set overnight interest rates and control the money supply to give this board or DHS better means for coordinating and mandating levels and standards of performance. DHS would work in tandem with this board, as Treasury does with the Fed and SEC.

Second, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) needs to be divided between the operational side that does planning, preparation and response, and the administrative side that is responsible for long-term aid and support well after a disaster has struck. The operational side should be integrated into the Coast Guard, a “can-do” organization, and the Coast Guard’s role expanded accordingly. With a four-star commandant who is also part of the military community and hence can fit in well with Northern Command, the Defense Department entity charged with homeland security and elevated to undersecretary status, this new organization should have the practical and operational wherewithal to carry out FEMA’s responsibilities.

Finally, as there is a professional military and Foreign Service corps, we must look at fielding a homeland security corps.Space precludes greater discussion. However, these fixes should merit attention and now. Hurricane season begins too soon to wait.

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