Why a Multi-Use Approach Is Essential to the Success of the DHS

Report Homeland Security

Why a Multi-Use Approach Is Essential to the Success of the DHS

July 18, 2002 8 min read
Michael Scardaville
Former Policy Analyst
Michael served as a Policy Analyst for The Heritage Foundation

President George Bush's proposed legislation (H.R. 5005) creating a Department of Homeland Security (DHS) had included a number of important federal agencies as well as flexibility provisions to allow federal assets to be used for multiple purposes. This multi-use strategy for organizing and funding the new department would promote greater effectiveness and efficiencies within the department and limit bureaucratic redundancy.

But these important aspects of the President's proposal are in danger of being left out of the final legislation being drafted by the House Select Committee on Homeland Security. A number of House committees have removed the multi-use functions from H.R. 5005.

During markup of the bill last week, for example, the House Judiciary and Transportation and Infrastructure Committees removed provisions that would transfer the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and United States Coast Guard (USCG) to the Department of Homeland Security. FEMA and the Coast Guard, it was argued, already have too many diverse missions that would suffer from being included in a new department. The Appropriations Committee, meanwhile, removed a provision that would permit the Secretary of Homeland Security to transfer up to 5 percent of the department's annual budget among its programs.

The committees failed to provide convincing justification for their actions. In each case, the real issue appears to be not concern for affected agencies and programs but parochial interests and personal prerogative.

Why the Select Committee Should Commit to a Multi-Use Approach.
It is vital that the bill submitted for a vote next week include the President's multi-use organizational and operational structure. Including FEMA in the DHS would facilitate its efficient interactions with state and local first-response organizations and help eliminate potential turf battles. The Coast Guard would be better placed to receive the modern assets it needs to conduct its maritime operations. Finally, the Secretary of Homeland Security should have budget flexibility to shift funds as needed to respond to the threats, particularly during the initial transition period. Without such provisions, the final structure of the department could well undermine its success.

Why Make DHS Multi-Mission?

Building Blocks for the DHS.
A number of homeland security and non-homeland security challenges can be met with similar resources and methods. Each division of the new Department of Homeland Security will have multiple and, at times, potentially conflicting duties.

FEMA and the Coast Guard offer clear examples of the culture that should emerge in the new department to address this obstacle. FEMA's approach to the challenge of dealing with many different kinds of disasters has enabled it to develop strong relationships with the first-response community that have been central to its success. The Coast Guard's focus on maritime operations has allowed it to develop tactics that are applicable to any situation that arises on America's waterways. This kind of multi-use flexibility is essential if DHS is to succeed in meeting its diverse missions.

Including FEMA and the Coast Guard in the DHS also would enable linear progression in threat planning. Conversely, excluding either agency would create overlapping jurisdictions and heighten coordination concerns. Moreover, to develop its own multi-mission-based culture, the new DHS should be able to point to centers of excellence in multi-use tasking within its own structure, such as FEMA and the Coast Guard. These two agencies can serve as models of multi-use planning for underperforming components of the proposed DHS, such as immigration enforcement.

A multiple-use approach to homeland security assets is the best strategy to enable the department to meet its important mission efficiently and effectively. Organizationally, such an approach also would be cost-effective. Thus, this is an issue not only of good governance, but also of practical necessity if the federal government is to interact efficiently with local agencies involved in its various missions.

FEMA and All Hazard Cooperation

FEMA is the main federal agency responsible for working with state and local authorities to prepare for, prevent, and respond to disasters, including acts of terrorism. It has established close operational relationships with state and local first-response organizations (such as the police, fire departments, emergency medical services, and public health sectors) that are responsible for the initial and ongoing responses to a disaster.

First responders must be trained and equipped to handle all disasters equally, regardless of whether they are due to acts of nature, human error, or terrorism. As a result, their equipment, tactics, training, and doctrine must be multi-use in nature--a strategic approach called "All Hazards" that FEMA has utilized for years as the basis of the Federal Response Plan. The Office of Homeland Security has also made this all-hazards approach the basis of the emergency response provisions of its national strategy. 1 Any effort to separate disaster response into two categories--terrorist-related, on the one hand, and natural disasters, on the other--would be artificial and harmful to the nation's preparedness for both missions for a number of reasons. Specifically:

  1. Two agencies working on preparedness would breed confusion. Should FEMA and DHS remain independent, they would likely develop competing standards of preparedness. This would be problematic for communities on limited budgets that cannot afford two sets of equipment and redundant training programs. Likewise, FEMA and the DHS would likely adopt different strategies on how to prepare for and respond to incidents, which would lead to conflicting doctrines. Such confusion would become even more evident in the agency grant programs, which should be consolidated under the DHS's Office for State and Local Coordination.
  2. A separate FEMA would complicate response time. Under the House committee proposals, the federal government would need to determine the nature of the disaster before either FEMA or DHS could respond. Turf fights between the two could delay the federal response, costing lives. And if an initial assessment proved wrong, one agency would likely have to pack up while the other moved in, further complicating matters on the ground.
  3. Two agencies for emergency response would unduly expand government. Under the House plans, FEMA and the DHS would have redundant structures and personnel for supplying grants, coordinating and communicating with state and local officials, conducting exercises, and responding to an incident. Such duplication would be a dramatic waste of taxpayer dollars and unduly increase the size of the federal payroll.

The U.S. Coast Guard and Maritime Domain Awareness

The U.S. Coast Guard has primary responsibility for ensuring the security and safety of America's waterways, a task that encompasses many missions. However, the Coast Guard does not detail unique assets for each of its missions. Instead, nearly every USGS asset is employed for every mission, every day.

Regardless of the situation that arises, the Coast Guard's tactical approach involves a multi-use policy called "Maritime Domain Awareness." This approach relies on (1) quick recognition of what is occurring on America's waterways and (2) rapid response, usually within two hours. The process of surveillance, detection, classification, and interception is generally the same for each mission, although the specific nature of each situation may vary. This approach also allows the Coast Guard to fulfill many missions with the same assets. It is the approach that the Department of Homeland Security should take.

The greatest threat to the Coast Guard's operational success is not the breadth of its duties, however, but a lack of adequate modern resources. Currently, despite its multitude of missions and large geographical area of responsibility, the Coast Guard is forced to make do with small budgets and antiquated technology. In fact, its two oldest active-duty ships were commissioned in 1936, and a number of others saw service in World War II. Further, according to a July 2002 report of the Congressional Research Service, a lack of budget resources required the Coast Guard to reduce the operations of some of its ships and aircraft by 10 percent during fiscal year 2001. 2 Simply put, the Department of Transportation, which currently has authority for the Coast Guard, puts a higher priority on facilitating transportation by building infrastructure than it does on equipping the Coast Guard to perform its missions.

Moving the Coast Guard into the new DHS makes sense. The DHS will share its institutional culture, which should lead to better resource allocation over the long term. Funding modern, efficient, and reliable equipment for the Coast Guard will improve its ability to respond to all maritime challenges.

Why Give DHS Budget Flexibility?

The Department of Homeland Security needs a flexible budget to shorten its transition period and adapt quickly to changing threats. It will have many missions, each of which will need to be fully funded. The strategic approach needed to meet the domestic threat of terrorism is very different from that needed to meet challenges to American national security abroad. Global threats develop slowly (for example, military equipment must be procured) and are observed and can be prepared for in advance. Adaptation to meet these challenges can be met through the annual budget process.

Terrorists, however, do not rely on long-term procurement strategies or a stable home front. As a result, they can change their tactics quickly. What the DHS views as its top priorities during the budget authorization and appropriations process can change even before the budget takes effect. If the Secretary must ask for Congress's blessing to shift resources each time the terrorists shift tactics, the United States will constantly be a step behind.

Nevertheless, the House Appropriations Committee struck down the proposed budget flexibility entirely, with some Members vaguely suggesting that the provision might be unconstitutional. In reality, there is nothing in the U.S. Constitution that prevents Congress from granting this type of minimal spending flexibility to a department secretary as long as the authority is expressly granted. The General Accounting Office, an arm of Congress, agrees. 3

Nor is there anything to the contrary in Clinton v. City of New York, 4 a decision that invalidated a novel Line Item Veto Act that would have allowed the President to cancel or impound an otherwise lawful appropriation, not merely to shift spending between approved accounts. By contrast, provisions similar to the one in H.R. 5005 have been inserted into many other appropriation bills. Further, Congress will retain its legitimate authority over any transfer, as the Secretary must report any reallocation 15 days in advance.

The Appropriations Committee's refusal to grant flexibility to the Secretary of Homeland Security to reprogram a mere 5 percent of the DHS budget to respond to dramatic new threats or national catastrophes shows precisely the kind of narrow congressional mindset that must be discarded in this time of war.


As the House Select Committee on Homeland Security drafts the final version of H.R. 5005 for a vote next week, it should ensure that the bill is rooted in provisions that promote a multi-use organizational and operational structure in the DHS. FEMA should be placed in the new Department of Homeland Security to ensure efficient interaction with state and local first-response organizations and linear planning that is free from bureaucratic turf battles. The Coast Guard also should be included and given the modern assets it needs to boost all of its maritime domain operations.

Both FEMA and the USCG must be included in the new department now when their successful cultures could best influence the entire department. Further, the Secretary of Homeland Security must have budget flexibility. Such provisions are constitutional and necessary to respond to the threat of terrorism. Failure to include any of them will threaten the multi-use objective of the DHS that is essential to its success.

Michael Scardaville is Policy Analyst for Homeland Defense in the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for International Studies at The Heritage Foundation.


Michael Scardaville

Former Policy Analyst