In the year since Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda terrorist network attacked the U.S. homeland, the Bush Administration and Congress have initiated a number of new programs designed to protect the country from similar attacks in the future. The most ambitious is the President's proposal to consolidate 22 federal agencies into a new Department of Homeland Security (DHS)-the largest restructuring of the federal government since 1947.
The House of Representatives moved quickly, passing the Homeland Security Act of 2002 (H.R. 5005) on July 26, 2002, but the Senate is moving more slowly. The House bill, while not perfect, closely mirrors the President's initial proposal and provides an adequately flexible foundation for the DHS. The Senate Governmental Affairs Committee chose to develop an entirely different proposal that denies the President the ability to consolidate redundant homeland security programs and the flexibility to quickly adapt the department's priorities to the changing terrorist threat.
- Create a better federal fusion system for intelligence. An intelligence fusion center, working through the DHS, would gather, analyze, and share information as needed among appropriate agencies at the federal, state, and local levels. It should work closely with the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Central Intelligence Agency, which should remain independent of the DHS since their broad missions extend beyond counterterrorism.
- Consolidate first-responder programs and develop a national training network for state and local first responders. The President's First Responder Initiative and the establishment of the DHS are good first steps toward improving federal efforts to prepare the nation's first responders for terrorist incidents. Yet more should be done, including developing a national system of hands-on educational facilities that would consolidate federal assistance programs in their respective regions and function as a "one-stop shop" for training, information on federal grants, and distance-learning programs for first responders.
- Develop a comprehensive program of terrorism-response exercises. A critical element of preparing for further terrorism against the homeland will be conducting exercises that simulate WMD (weapons of mass destruction) events. Such exercises should be included in a national strategy for first responders developed by a task force under the auspices of the DHS, with representatives from the Office of Homeland Security (OHS), the Department of Defense, state and local agencies, National Guard units, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and other agencies.
- Expedite the development of a national health surveillance network. Since September 11, concerns about the ability of terrorists to harm large numbers of civilians with chemical, biological, radiological, or nuclear (CBRN) agents have focused public attention on the lack of local preparedness in this area. To mobilize a rapid response to such attacks, officials must be able to recognize early outbreaks of catastrophic illnesses or the contamination of food and water supplies. A nationwide network of local surveillance systems must be established to monitor and rapidly disseminate information about such occurrences across all levels of government.
- Develop a specific policy for smallpox vaccinations. The United States will soon have more than enough smallpox vaccine to protect every American citizen. A recent University of Michigan study estimates that such a campaign could result in up to 300 deaths and thousands of illnesses. However, it could also save millions of lives should a terrorist attack occur in high-density areas. The Administration should determine how safe the current vaccine options are and develop a strategy to allow individuals to be vaccinated on a voluntary basis.
- Expand the role of the National Guard. As a first responder in domestic emergencies, the Guard is well-positioned to assume the lead military role in homeland security. Moreover, much of the administrative and command infrastructure that is needed to enable it to take on such a role is in place. But Title 32, Section 102 of the U.S. Code forces the Guard to focus on providing support services to active forces, and the Pentagon cannot easily extract it from these duties and redeploy units for homeland security without affecting those active forces. Either the active forces' roster will have to expand to cover those services, or their commitments should decrease. Steps must also be taken to redefine the Guard's mission.
- Establish a federal team to facilitate state and local strategies that complement the national homeland security strategy. Homeland security transcends all levels of government and depends on the willing cooperation of all involved. To ensure that the design of state and local counterterrorism plans is compatible with the federal strategy, OHS Director Tom Ridge should establish a team of staff members who can travel to the states and local communities to help local homeland security officials develop and implement plans that complement the national strategy.
- Establish standing committees on homeland security in both houses of Congress. Today, the House alone has at least 14 full committees and 25 subcommittees that claim jurisdiction over different aspects of programs related to terrorism and homeland security. To complement the creation of a DHS and facilitate Congress's legislative and budgetary role in homeland security, both the House and Senate should form a standing committee on homeland security with sole jurisdiction for the functions assumed by DHS. Subcommittees should be established to address the departmental divisions proposed by the President: border and transportation security, emergency preparedness and response, CBRN countermeasures, intelligence analysis, and infrastructure protection.
Michael Scardaville is Policy Analyst for Homeland Security and Jack Spencer is Policy Analyst for Defense and National Security in the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for International Studies at The Heritage Foundation.