Recent Weekly Columns
Aug 22 2002
Felicia KnightPresident George W. Bush has proposed a bold plan to create a Cabinet-level Department of Homeland Security. The decisions that federal lawmakers will make over the next several weeks on reorganizing the executive branch will have both near- and long-term consequences for the preservation of our democratic institutions, our national security, and the success of the war against terrorism.
The new Department must improve coordination among federal, state, and local governments, as well as the private sector, and ensure that governments at all levels have realistic plans and effective training and exercises. We also must ensure that information about the presence of terrorists and potential threats is shared among intelligence agencies, so that the “Berlin Walls” that have impeded communication and cooperation are taken down once and for all.
As many as one hundred federal agencies, with hundreds of thousands of federal employees, now share responsibility for homeland security. When that many entities are responsible, nobody is really accountable, and turf wars and bureaucratic barriers are inevitable.
Recently, the Committee on Governmental Affairs, on which I serve, heard testimony from former U.S. Senators Warren Rudman (R-NH) and Gary Hart (D-CO) on the need for the new Department. These witnesses reiterated what they’ve said in the past that “we face a threat that is neither conventional war nor traditional crime, and . . . combating it requires new government structures, new policies and new thinking.” They are right.
Since September 11th, much has been done to make our nation more secure: the Administration has created an Office of Homeland Security, and Congress has approved tens of billions of dollars in additional spending to secure our borders, protect critical infrastructure, and train and equip those who are first to respond to a crisis. The President also has signed into law legislation to help us deter, detect, and respond to a bio-terrorism attack.
There is still much work to be done, including reorganizing the federal government to provide the best possible structure to deal with current and future threats to our security. The President has recognized that reality by proposing an unprecedented reorganization of the executive branch to strengthen homeland security. According to the President, “The Department of Homeland Security would make Americans safer because for the first time we would have one department dedicated to securing the homeland . . . our goal is not to expand government, but to create an agile organization that takes advantage of modern technology and management techniques to meet a new and constantly evolving threat.”
The President’s plan is an excellent beginning. It will remedy many of the weaknesses in our current structure, including a patchwork of agencies and the resulting lack of focus, myriad jurisdictional rivalries, and inadequate sharing of intelligence and information generally across federal agencies and levels of government. Under the President’s plan, there will be a clear and efficient organizational structure with four main divisions: Boarder and Transportation Security; Emergency Preparedness and Response; Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear Countermeasures; and Information Analysis and Infrastructure Protection.
While we cannot afford to rush to a judgment we will later regret, I hope that the Senate and House will complete action on the President’s plan so that he can sign it into law before September 11. This issue is far too important to delay.