June 7, 2002 | WebMemo on Department of Homeland Security

The President's Proposal to Create a Department of HomelandSecurity: An Initial Assessment

Initial thoughts on the proposal:
The President's program for establishing a new Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is a much more comprehensive and far reaching proposal than similar recommendations made by the Hart-Rudman Commission or Congressional legislation offered over the course of the last year. The DHS as outlined by the President will consolidate many more federal offices into the new agency, completely removing the homeland security mission from numerous departments and agencies. For example, the Department of Transportation's (DOT) two homeland security branches, the Transportation Security Agency (TSA) and the United States Coast Guard (USCG) will both become part of the DHS and the DOT will return to focusing on promoting safety in the transportation and regulating the involved industries.

This President's proposal should result in new efficiencies, not new bureaucracy. The President's proposal will allow for the consolidation of redundant programs. The first responder assistance programs of the Department of Justice, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Health and Human Services will all be consolidated under the Emergency Preparedness and Response division of the DHS. Similarly, the cyber security functions of the FBI's National Infrastructure Protection Center and the Department of Commerce's Critical Infrastructure Assurance Office will be brought under one authority. In nearly every homeland security related function, fewer bureaucratic entities will be involved in policy implementation if the President's proposal is accepted. In fact, the President plans to fund and staff this new Department without increasing his budget request for Fiscal Year 2003 (the budget request will remain at $37.5 billion and the DHS will have just under 170,000 employees, equaling the sum of its parts)

As the DHS is developed, ensuring that its functions complement the remaining other federal agencies instead of competing with them will be vital. For example, the DHS's Intelligence Analysis and Infrastructure Protection division must insure that terrorism related information is fused and shared with other federal agencies. DHS cannot result in the establishment of another "stovepipe" that compartmentalizes intelligence as the CIA and FBI have historically done. In addition, steps must be taken to ensure that the non-homeland security functions of the agencies included in the new DHS receive appropriate attention. The Emergency Preparedness and Response division must be able to support America's communities after natural disasters such as floods and wild fires as FEMA has done for years and the Coast Guard must continue to serve important maritime rescue functions.

On the Need to Retain OHS:
Even with this reorganization, an independent coordination mechanism in the White House such as the Office of Homeland Security will be vital. Even with the consolidation of most homeland security functions into the Department of Homeland Security, at a minimum the Department of Defense, Federal Bureau of Investigation, and Central Intelligence Agency will still have roles to play. DHS cannot serve this coordinating function while competing with these agencies for budget resources. In addition, DHS will not be able to function as the President's primary advisor on homeland security issues. With statutory authority and Cabinet status as a Department, DHS will have responsibility to Congress and to its own bureaucracy. These responsibilities can clash with its responsibility to provide the President independent advise.

A similar situation arose after the Departments of the Army and Navy were merged into the Department of Defense after World War Two. When the federal government was reorganized to meet the new strategic paradigm of the Cold War, the National Security Council (NSC) was established. The NSC was initially intended as a weak body designed to build consensus in Congress but due to its independence from Congress and the federal bureaucracy, subsequent Presidents were able to mold it into an important advising and coordinating mechanism that frequently settled disputes between important federal agencies such as the Department of Defense and the State Department.

Since the DHS will not absorb all the homeland security functions of the federal government, such a mechanism will continue to be necessary. President Bush was wise to retain the Office of Homeland Security (OHS), which was modeled on the NSC, as part of his proposal. Congress would be equally wise not to alter this provision of the President's proposal by eliminating OHS or turning it into a Czar's office with a statutory mandate and responsibilities to Congress.

On Congress's role:
Congress must match the President's vision and leadership by reorganizing the Congressional Committee System. If the DHS has to have its policies vetted by the 88 Congressional Committees and Subcommittees that currently have responsibility for homeland security many inefficiencies will remain. Time and tax dollars will be wasted by having DHS officials consistently testifying in front of Congress, while important legislation is log jammed in committee due to legislative politics. Further, without a reorganization of the Congressional Committees, Committee chairman are likely to continue to put homeland security functions in other agencies over which they have direct legislative and oversight responsibility instead of in DHS, which they may not. Follies such as this occurred frequently prior to September 11th, resulting in a federal structure that maintained no less than half a dozen first responder assistance programs in nearly as many federal agencies. The President has twice shown his leadership in proposing to tackle the inadequacies of the executive branch, first with the establishment of OHS last October and now with his proposal to create the DHS. Congress must now show its ability to lead and address the inefficiencies of its own house.

Organizational Charts:


Michael Scardaville, Policy Analyst for Homeland Security, The Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for International Studies.

About the Author

Michael Scardaville Policy Analyst
The Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for National Security and Foreign Policy