September 10, 2002

September 10, 2002 | Backgrounder on Department of Homeland Security

9/11 One Year Later: Progress and Promise

On June 6, President George W. Bush unveiled the most extensive homeland security proposal of his Administration--the creation of a Cabinet-level Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to consolidate many of the federal agencies that have missions related to homeland security. The President had previously established the White House Office of Homeland Security (OHS) to fill a much-needed coordinating role for those agencies' activities.

Legislation to implement the President's proposal has been passed by the House of Representatives and is being reviewed in the Senate. In addition, the Administration has worked with Congress to pass strong homeland security measures in the USA PATRIOT Act (P.L. 107-56) and Aviation Security Act (P.L. 107-71), and the White House has released the nation's first homeland security budget to focus Washington's energies on a number of long-neglected policies.

Despite such progress, a number of key policy issues and vulnerabilities that were not addressed before September 11 remain to be dealt with this year. For example, federal agencies continue to compartmentalize terror-related intelligence information and block rapid access to it. America's police, emergency medical services, fire departments, and public health workers are not adequately prepared to respond to mass-casualty terrorist attacks of any type, let alone those using a weapon of mass destruction.

Federally sponsored training exercises should be conducted for federal, state, and local personnel to help them prepare for a broad spectrum of possible scenarios. In addition, because there are only very limited means of detecting the beginning stages of a bioterrorist attack, a nationwide health surveillance network should be set up to enable local, state, and federal decision-makers to respond in the early stages when rapid responses are most critical.

The role of the National Guard in homeland security has not yet been adequately defined, despite the fact that the Guard is uniquely positioned to assist state and local efforts during and after such attacks. The Department of Defense (DOD) should redefine the Guard's current support role for the active forces so that Guard units would be better able to respond to homeland emergencies without seriously affecting the military.

Finally, Congress lacks efficient mechanisms to legislate and provide oversight of federal homeland security efforts. It should restructure its committees, with new standing committees to complement the establishment of the new Department of Homeland Security.

All of these areas should be top priorities for the remainder of 2002 and next year to target the federal government's resources more effectively on homeland security.

Federal Homeland Security: A Progress Report

After September 11, the immediate focus of the Bush Administration was on finding ways to protect the country from further terrorist threats, assess the resources available for protecting the homeland, and establish a budget for homeland security. Since the establishment of the Office of Homeland Security last October, the Administration and Congress have sought to address a number of serious related concerns.

The President, for example, included innovative proposals in his first homeland security budget to improve the way Washington assists first responders and to augment the nation's stockpile of medications. New customs initiatives and agreements with America's trade partners sought to improve commercial security. State and local government roles were integrated more fully into federal security strategies for everyday security concerns as well as special events, such as the Olympics. In addition, a new warning system was developed to communicate information about potential terrorist threats.

It is President Bush's proposal for the creation of a Department of Homeland Security, however, that will have the greatest effect by targeting federal resources more effectively to the mission of homeland defense. The consolidation of the majority of the 100 federal agencies with homeland security responsibilities into one department will entail the most massive restructuring of the federal government since World War II and, if implemented correctly, will result in a more effective homeland security policy.

Since President Bush presented his proposal, Congress has been working to implement his vision. The House of Representatives moved quickly by passing the Homeland Security Act of 2002 (H.R. 5005) on July 26, 2002. This bill, while not perfect, closely reflects the President's plan.2 However, the measure is moving more slowly in the Senate.

The Governmental Affairs Committee, led by Chairman Joseph Lieberman (D-CT), spent much of July developing an entirely different proposal for establishing a new Department.3 The legislation currently before the Senate denies the President the ability to consolidate redundant homeland security programs and the flexibility to quickly adapt the DHS's priorities to a changing terrorist threat.4 Wisely, the President has vowed to veto any of the provisions of this bill that would be an impediment to an effective homeland security policy.5

The Office of Homeland Security, which has become an important advisory body for the President on reorganizing the government, should continue to serve in this capacity, working independently from and cooperatively with the new department to coordinate federal homeland security policy throughout the remaining agencies.6 The effectiveness of the President's reorganization in preventing further attacks on America will be affected by the specific details of the restructuring determined by Congress.

Since September 11, Members of Congress have proposed scores of bills, amendments, and resolutions related to homeland security7 but have enacted only a small percentage of them. Congress passed, and the President signed, the USA PATRIOT Act and the Aviation Security Act last fall, and the Enhanced Border Security and Visa Entry Reform Act (P.L. 107-173) earlier this year. Each of these laws is designed to address fundamental security challenges facing the country. The USA PATRIOT Act gives law enforcement the ability to combat terrorists with 21st century technology. The Aviation Security Act and the Border Security Act seek to make it more difficult for terrorists and their weapons to enter the country.

These efforts, well-intentioned as they are, are just the first steps the federal government must take to improve homeland security. As Congress debates the establishment of the Department of Homeland Security, many additional efforts should be undertaken. A review of what has been accomplished thus far will be useful in determining what needs to be done next.

Determining Coherent Budget Priorities for Homeland Security

Last February, before announcing his intention to create a new Cabinet-level Department of Homeland Security, the President released his fiscal year (FY) 2003 budget request, which included funding for homeland security. This is the first budget proposal ever submitted by a President that seeks to coordinate and prioritize the homeland security policy, and it provides a baseline for future budgets.

For 2003, the President has outlined four new initiatives to address areas in which federal policies before September 11 were particularly weak:

  1. Using 21st century technology to secure the homeland in the future,
  2. Supporting first responders,
  3. Defending against bioterrorism, and
  4. Securing America's borders.

These four areas account for approximately 55 percent of the President's $37.7 billion homeland security budget request. They include a tenfold increase in assistance for first responders and a 319 percent increase in funds for bioterrorism preparedness.8

President Bush and OHS Director Tom Ridge have demonstrated their willingness to tackle the most difficult homeland security problems facing the United States. For example, while more than a half-dozen federal agencies currently operate grant and training programs to support first responders, these programs are neither coordinated nor driven by a common goal. As the Advisory Panel to Assess Domestic Response Capabilities for Terrorism Involving Weapons of Mass Destruction (Gilmore Commission) reported last December, this disjointed approach reduces the effectiveness of federal assistance.9

Rather than requesting more money for scattershot programs, the President's First Responder Initiative provides a clear focus for federal first-responder assistance, consolidating these programs within the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).10 The Office of National Preparedness has been created in FEMA to manage this initiative and is in the process of developing guidelines for more efficient implementation. Under the President's proposal, the newly organized and improved FEMA would be consolidated into the new DHS, resulting in a concise federal response program more closely linked to general homeland security planning.

The Department of Justice has not actively fought this proposal, despite the potential loss of $3.5 billion in its FY 2003 budget. One reason for its lack of opposition may be the role of OHS Director Tom Ridge in advising the President on homeland security. Many skeptics had predicted that the entrenched federal bureaucracies and their Senate-confirmed leaders would resist initiatives developed by a presidential appointee who lacks statutory authority. Even critics now admit, however, that Ridge "has had his greatest success in the budget and personnel process,"11 the very areas where it was predicted that he would fail. While the creation of DHS may foster fierce turf battles in Washington, the end result may demonstrate that the OHS Director can effectively direct the allocation of federal homeland security money as well as the efficient reorganization of the federal government to enhance national security.

The FY 2003 budget request for homeland security illustrates the Administration's priorities, including working with state and local governments to address the concerns of America's communities. While the federal government can do many things to make the nation more secure, many essential tasks remain the responsibilities of state and local governments and the private sector. Rather than dictating what these entities should do, the Administration is encouraging an active partnership based on cooperation.

The focus on partnerships with state and local governments can result in tighter implementation, more innovation, and long-term attention to the mission. The establishment of a division within the Department of Homeland Security that is committed to working with state and local governments, as proposed by the President, would encourage this process, placing a high priority on communication across the various levels of government. It would facilitate first-responder exercises, strategic planning, vulnerability assessments, prevention, and other homeland security efforts.

Forging a National Strategy

Building on many of the concepts described in the President's budget request for 2003, Governor Ridge released the nation's first National Homeland Security Strategy on July 16, 2002.12 The Strategy provides specific programs for improving homeland security in six areas: intelligence and warning; border and transportation security; domestic counterterrorism; critical infrastructure protection; defense against terrorism with weapons of mass destruction; and domestic preparedness.

The goal of all of these initiatives is to increase the nation's ability to prevent terrorist attacks by reducing America's vulnerability. In accord with the President's priorities since September 11, Governor Ridge and the Office of Homeland Security have emphasized the need to incorporate state and local government, as well as the private sector, as partners in this plan.

The Strategy also lays the groundwork for the 2004 federal budget, identifying the following seven priorities for that year:

  1. Improve the FBI's ability to analyze intelligence and law enforcement information,
  2. Improve intelligence analysis and infrastructure protection efforts through the DHS,
  3. Finalize the "Smart Borders" program,
  4. Secure international shipping and commerce,
  5. Re-invest in the United States Coast Guard to modernize its fleet,
  6. Deploy new sensors and procedures to prevent terrorism with weapons of mass destruction,
  7. Develop modern medicines and vaccines to respond to biological terrorism, and
  8. Improve information-sharing horizontally across the federal government.

The National Strategy builds on many of the programs discussed in this paper and constructs an agenda for immediate implementation and planning for future years. The Strategy should be used, first, to guide the construction of the new Department of Homeland Security and, eventually, to help the DHS to assist state and local governments in implementing their own plans.

Stockpiling Pharmaceuticals

In the wake of the September 11 attacks and the subsequent anthrax attacks, the Administration made it clear that America's lack of preparedness for biological terrorism is an unacceptable vulnerability. In less than two months, the Administration requested an additional $1.5 billion for FY 2002 to decrease that vulnerability. These funds are being used to build up federal and state pharmaceutical stockpiles, expand America's smallpox vaccine supplies, expedite the Food and Drug Administration's pharmaceutical development activities, increase bioterrorism preparedness at the local level, expand the response capabilities of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), and improve food safety.13 The Administration should be applauded for quickly laying the groundwork in this critical area.

As the anthrax strike demonstrated, early treatment in the event of bioterrorism is vital. The Administration has been most successful thus far in building up the nation's stockpile of smallpox vaccine, a vital component of the nation's anti-bioterrorism strategy.

On September 11, the national stockpile contained 15.4 million doses, which is woefully inadequate for a population of nearly 300 million people. In November 2001, HHS awarded a contract of $428 million to Acambis, Inc., to produce 209 million doses by the end of 2002. On March 28, 2002, HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson announced that the existing U.S. supply of the vaccine could be diluted up to five times and still retain its potency--essentially expanding the existing vaccine supply from 77 million doses to up to 150 million doses. The next day, the French firm Aventis Pasteur announced that it would donate more than 75 million doses that have been stockpiled in its Pennsylvania facility for the past 30 years. Because reducing America's vulnerability to smallpox was deemed to be a national priority, by the end of 2002 there will be more than enough vaccine available to protect all Americans from a smallpox attack.

In the event that future terrorists use contagious agents as a weapon, having an adequate supply of vaccines will be instrumental in limiting an outbreak. The new Department of Homeland Security should play a central role both in maintaining pharmaceutical stockpiles and in developing and executing a strategy for early treatment.

Strengthening America's Borders

The September 11 attacks shattered the myth that the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans buffered the United States from foreign threats. The 19 terrorists involved in that day's carnage were able to enter the United States legally-although three had overstayed their visas. It became clear that the U.S. border is porous not only to terrorists wishing to enter, but also to their weapons--including weapons of mass destruction. One easy point of entry has been the nation's seaports: As of early 2002, less than 2 percent of the over 11 million cargo containers entering the United States every year was inspected.14

The United States cannot completely close its borders, and stifling immigration and travel contradicts the free and open nature of America's democracy. Moreover, conducting comprehensive inspections of every person and cargo container entering the United States would be extraordinarily expensive and damaging to the economy.

The Administration has faced a daunting task in making the borders more secure against those who wish to cause the country harm while also remaining open to legitimate travel and trade. It has adopted a multi-pronged approach, relying both on traditional means (such as new immigration regulations and additional border security officers) and on innovative approaches (such as using advanced technology, signing new international agreements, and establishing public-private partnerships on security issues).

One of the hallmarks of the Administration's border security policy since September 11 is the signing of the Smart Border Agreements with Canada and Mexico in December 2001 and March 2002, respectively. These agreements, negotiated in large part by Governor Ridge, include both the traditional and innovative measures mentioned above and serve the unique economic and security relationships that the United States has established with its two neighbors. Immediately after September 11, economic relations with these North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) partners--valued at nearly $1 trillion--appeared in jeopardy, as long lines grew at America's ports of entry. In fact, since September 11, Mexico has experienced a 20 percent decline in trade with the United States.15

The Smart Border Agreements attempt to alleviate the pressure posed by tightened trade and travel security measures. First and foremost, both agreements include new intergovernmental customs standards and public-private partnerships to speed the passage of non-threatening people and products across the border and allow border security officials to focus their efforts on travelers and goods that are suspect. Companies that qualify under these agreements will be permitted in the accelerated inspection lanes at enhanced ports of entry. They must first ensure the government that their entire supply chain--from manufacturing to the showroom floor--is secure. The first operational port with such accelerated lanes is in Detroit, near the border with Windsor. As many as 100 companies have already applied to be part of this program.

While improved security at points of entry will make it more difficult for terrorists to transport personnel or material over the northern and southern borders, they may still find opportunities along America's unguarded borders. To address this danger, the Smart Border Agreements also include provisions for sharing intelligence and immigration information and coordinating visa and asylum policies.

The specific provisions of these agreements are in varying degrees of implementation, but significant progress has been made, and Governor Ridge continues to work with his Canadian and Mexican counterparts. Having similar security standards in all three countries will make it more difficult for terrorists and their weapons to enter any of them.

The Smart Border Agreements also can serve as a model for securing global trade and commerce. Point-of-origin inspections of cargo and travel documents that cannot be easily forged will help secure trade and travel with all of America's friends and allies. The U.S. Customs Container Security Initiative, announced in January 2002, will provide screening services to sea containers before they reach the United States. The objective of this initiative is, first, to target the ports that send the highest volume of container traffic into the United States: Nine ports have already signed on to the program.

In April 2002, the U.S. Customs Service unveiled the Customs-Trade Partnership Against Terrorism (C-TPAT) to provide advantages similar to the Smart Border Agreements with security-minded foreign companies from other nations that trade with the United States. C-TPAT rewards companies that ensure the security of their supply chain, regardless of their location, by accelerating the processing of their products at customs inspections stations at the ports of entry. This multifaceted approach to enhancing point-of-origin inspection systems would allow customs inspectors to focus on cargo originating from sources that are of greater risk because their security measures are not known.

The Administration has also sought to strengthen the federal agencies that are responsible for securing the border. The President's FY 2003 budget request seeks a substantial increase in border security personnel--an additional 1,160 Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) inspectors and 570 Border Patrol agents--as well as a tenfold increase in the federal investment in developing an entry-exit monitoring system.

Congress has also made border security a priority since September 11. The USA PATRIOT Act, passed last October, provides additional personnel for securing the northern border, expresses the sense of Congress that a mechanism is needed to monitor entry and exit of visa holders, requires the FBI to share more information with the Department of State, and makes it more difficult for terrorists to enter the country and easier to deport them by redefining "terrorist activity" for immigration purposes.

On May 14, the President signed the Enhanced Border Security and Visa Reform Act of 2002, an important step in improving border security. Specifically, it authorizes appropriations for additional border security personnel and technology, requires that the law enforcement and intelligence entities more effectively share terror-related information with the Consular Affairs division of the State Department and INS, establishes additional requirements for INS implementation of an entry and exit monitoring system, restricts visas to citizens of countries designated as state sponsors of terrorism, reforms the visa waiver program, and establishes a program for monitoring foreign students studying in the United States.

Consolidating all the agencies that are responsible for securing the nation's borders-- including the services of the Border Patrol, INS, the new Transportation Security Agency, and Visa Processing--under a new DHS would help to ensure that border security personnel are more adequately prepared and better organized to deal with terrorist incidents. Regrettably, both the House and Senate bills establishing the DHS create obstacles to such consolidation.

In the House bill, the Customs Service is retained as a "distinct entity," preventing its consolidation with other border security programs. The Senate bill not only retains Customs as a "distinct entity," but removes the Coast Guard, Border Patrol, and immigration enforcement activities from the authority of the Border and Transportation Security Directorate. The Senate bill further prevents the Secretary of Homeland Security from consolidating functions of programs created by law or transferring authorities between directorates. The result would be an unacceptable disorganization of security efforts at the nation's points of entry.

Developing a Partnership with State and Local Governments

As noted above, both the President and the OHS Director consider the involvement of state and local governments in the development of a coherent homeland security strategy a priority.

Improving communications between local, state, and federal authorities, as well as the private sector, will foster the development of a coherent national strategy and inform officials about what each sector can expect of the others. Currently, a fireman in Nebraska may have a vision of homeland security that is far different from that of a Washington bureaucrat. An agreed upon, or at least formally recognized, vision or definition will be necessary before a strategy can be implemented across all jurisdictional boundaries.

To facilitate communication and coordination among the federal, state, and local governments, the Administration has established the Office of National Preparedness under FEMA. This is an important first step in creating the framework through which local authorities can consult with and receive support from the federal government.

A key component of the President's proposed Cabinet-level DHS is an intergovernmental affairs office that would consolidate and streamline intergovernmental relations and coordinate federal programs with state or local governments. The existence of one central point of contact at the federal level would greatly facilitate the dissemination of information to state and local authorities. Such lines of communication are already being put in place. FEMA sought input from state and local authorities, for example, on how it should spend the $3.5 billion set aside for the First Responder Initiative in the spring of 2002. It held a listening session with over 50 representatives from the first-responder community and relevant federal agencies.16

In a similar outreach effort, the OHS provided a 45-day comment period to get feedback for its terrorism alert system. The office has held less formal meetings with members of the homeland security community and also has addressed numerous state and local associations, including the National Governors' Association and the U.S. Conference of Mayors.

In terms of first response, the burden of preparedness ultimately rests with the political leaders of each city and state in the United States. Leaders such as those in Baltimore and New York who have taken the initiative to increase the security of the citizens they represent have found that there are federal tools available to help them. Once established, the DHS would be able to improve these tools and make them more accessible, in addition to facilitating communication among all levels of government.

Securing America's Public Gatherings

In 1998, President Bill Clinton issued a presidential decision directive (PDD 62) to, among other things, address "National Special Security Events."17 These are high-profile events of national interest that attract national and international media, and often thousands of people, and are considered high security risks. The presidential directive established a framework for the coordination of federal, state, and local counterterrorism efforts at these events. Once an event is assigned this designation, the Secret Service becomes the lead federal agency working with local and state authorities to develop and execute a security strategy.

Since September 11, the "Special Event" designation has taken on new importance. In two recent cases, the Administration has had success in working with local and state authorities to ensure the public safety. The 2001 Super Bowl and the 2002 Winter Olympics entailed especially complex security environments. In both instances, good planning, willing cooperation, and proper training resulted in safe events. A total of 5,000 to 7,000 local, state, and federal security personnel were on duty at the Winter Olympics, and approximately 3,000 were on duty at the Super Bowl,18 where representatives of the National Football League, the FBI, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Louisiana State Police, the Louisiana National Guard, the New Orleans police, and private individuals cooperated on security.19 By all accounts, security at these events was stellar.

These successes show how the homeland security community, across all levels of government and the private sector, can train and prepare for large-scale events. Further, they demonstrate the importance of having a guiding framework, such as PDD 62, that delegates responsibilities among the agencies involved. The creation of a Cabinet-level Department of Homeland Security would streamline this framework by placing the Secret Service under the direct authority of the Secretary of Homeland Security. The Secret Service would retain its primary mission--the protection of the President and key government leaders--while providing its unique and highly specialized expertise as a complement to the security activities of the new DHS.

Improving Communication and Warning

The new Homeland Security Advisory System (HSAS) announced by Governor Ridge in March should greatly improve communication between the federal government, state and local officials, and the public once it is fully implemented. Though frequently ridiculed, this system will fill a major communication void once it is tied to specific actions.

The consequences of warnings that have been issued in the past highlight the value of establishing a well-defined categorization of threats. Late last year, the FBI issued a warning to Governor Gray Davis of California that it had uncovered a "credible" threat to a number of bridges in that state. The governor took the threat warning to be more severe than the FBI had intended and, in the view of some observers, overreacted. The failure was not in Governor Davis's response, but in the miscommunication.

Similarly, in April, after the FBI had warned banks in the Northeast of potential terrorist attacks, the response was not uniform; some banks closed while others remained open. The FBI failed to coordinate its warning to the banks with a public relations strategy to ensure that the public knew of what was happening and what a proper response to the warning should be. The HSAS should provide detailed mobilization plans and a coordinated public relations strategy when it considers releasing a general warning.

The FBI, in coordination with the OHS, should continue to work on this system. However, with its specific homeland security mission, the new Department of Homeland Security would be better positioned to operate it. The system should be incorporated into DHS operations, and a formal, permanent office should be established to manage it.


Improving the Dissemination of Intelligence

The intelligence community has been the object of increased scrutiny since September 11, with criticism focused largely on the inability of the agencies to predict the terrorists' attacks. However, even if substantial information was available, unless agencies within the intelligence community can share information across departmental and agency boundaries, an accurate assessment of threats to national security would not be possible.

Before September 11, various intelligence agencies had identified specific al-Qaeda operatives as possible terrorists. Nevertheless, a breakdown in interagency communication allowed two people on the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) watch list to board commercial planes and hijack them. The CIA's intelligence on Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi was not collated with that of other agencies (Alhazmi was in the United States on an expired visa) or made available to the end user--in this case, the airline reservation system. There was a failure to link information from various sources because no single agency was tasked with piecing together the bits of information on potential terrorists into a single recognizable picture.

Numerous agencies and departments at the federal level either monitor terrorist activity or respond to terrorist attacks. The Department of Justice controls the FBI, INS, and Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). At the CIA, there is an all-source intelligence collection agency, the Counter Terrorism Center (CTC), which is restricted to collecting foreign intelligence. FEMA and the CDC in HHS are essential first responders in the event of an attack. The Department of the Treasury and the Coast Guard also have pieces of the counterterrorism intelligence puzzle.

If U.S. intelligence gathering is to be effective, the federal government must be able to look at all available pieces of the terrorist puzzle and provide the President with a comprehensive and timely analysis. Intelligence fusion for the country is currently the responsibility of the Director of Central Intelligence (DCI), who has the resources of a Community Management Staff (CMS), a dedicated Deputy for Collection, and a dedicated Deputy for Production. Although the CMS is responsible for making organizations share intelligence, before September 11, the CMS and the primary agencies within the intelligence community (the CIA, the FBI, and the Departments of Defense, Treasury, Energy, and State) failed to ensure intelligence-sharing. With the Office of Homeland Security, the proposed DHS would be responsible for ensuring that homeland security-related intelligence is shared.

The President has proposed a number of new policies to promote such information-sharing. The most important is the creation of a center that would fuse and analyze terrorism-related intelligence within the Department of Homeland Security. The fusion aspect of this center would remedy part of the problem of compartmentalization that still characterizes the collection of intelligence in the nation. The fusion center should ensure that intelligence is not only collected and analyzed, but also disseminated to appropriate federal, state, and local agencies with homeland security missions, including the FBI and CIA. If the DHS intelligence office does not facilitate the sharing of information, it may do no more than create an additional "stovepipe" that further compartmentalizes the intelligence that is received.20

Other steps taken after September 11 include daily briefings of the President by FBI Director Robert Mueller and DCI George Tenet. Each agency head now knows what is at the top of the other's agenda. In addition, federal intelligence agencies conduct two secure video conferences each day to discuss information related to terrorist threats.

These are good first steps that will improve information-sharing at a number of levels. However, they do not ensure that all necessary information will reach all decision makers in a timely fashion. Midlevel officials in the agencies frequently decide whether or not to pursue the recommendations of field agents and whether a specific issue deserves a director's attention. This was the case regarding the lack of action on FBI Agent Kenneth Williams's July 2001 memo to FBI headquarters on the potential threat of terrorists attending American flight schools.21

To ensure that all federal terrorism officials have access to the full scope of government information related to cases they are investigating, it is necessary to establish an institution that pulls together information from all pertinent intelligence agencies and makes it accessible on a need-to-know basis. Such an institution must be independent of the intelligence community and free from the cultural limitations of the existing bureaucracies within these agencies. Although the establishment of an intelligence fusion center within the new DHS could serve this purpose, neither the Senate nor the House legislation, as currently written, provides the department's Secretary with the authority he would need to implement such a program.22

Conducting First-Responder Exercises

While the federal government has done a commendable job of laying the foundations for terrorism response capabilities, it should expand this effort to reach all levels of government. The funding of these initial activities is targeted to 122 of America's most vulnerable cities. The time has come to ensure that every American community is prepared to recognize and respond to terrorist attacks.

Part of the $3.5 billion in anti-terrorism grant funding in the President's FY 2003 budget request has been earmarked to fund first-responder exercises. What is lacking is a coherent strategy that incorporates all appropriate elements of the local, state, and federal governments and the private sector.

The proposed new department could clear up the confusion about the appropriate roles and responsibilities of the local, state, and federal governments in first responses by establishing a national policy and guidelines. The DHS should direct training exercises and drills for federal, state, and local response teams for attacks using chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear (CBRN) weapons. A mechanism will be needed within the DHS to report the lessons learned from each exercise to all communities. Conducting such exercises will be one of the most important aspects of domestic security.

First-responder exercises will force authorities at all levels to analyze their capabilities, identify where their responsibility lies, and critique the weaknesses in their response structure. By juxtaposing this information with their goals and performance indicators, local, state, and federal authorities will be able to establish more accurate baselines of preparedness that can be used to identify where future federal grant dollars should be targeted.

Although last year's attacks were devastating, they were minuscule in comparison to the carnage that would result from a chemical, biological, nuclear, or radiological event in which the entire first-response community of a metropolitan area could be killed. Were that to occur, it would be up to the surrounding suburban and rural first-response units to react. Cross-jurisdictional exercises must be included in the preparedness planning.

Establishing a Health Surveillance Capability

The community of health providers--including doctors, nurses, veterinarians, and public health workers--may be the first people in a position to detect an environmental contaminant or biological weapon attack in the form of smallpox, anthrax, or some other agent. The damage from such an attack could be reduced significantly if these officials know how to recognize, diagnose, and treat the early symptoms of an outbreak associated with agents that are known to be in the possession of terrorists and the rogue states that support them.23 Individuals equipped with such training would provide the basis for a national health surveillance network.

The Bush Administration has taken several important steps to educate the public health community. Its FY 2003 budget request includes over $500 million for preparing hospitals to respond to CBRN events and another $100 million to train and prepare health care professionals to respond to terrorist attacks.24 Further, the DOD will be establishing such networks in four cities--Washington, D.C.; Albuquerque, New Mexico; and two other cities--as part of a two-year, $300 million pilot program to increase cities' abilities to detect an attack.25

However, the President's proposal for establishing the Department of Homeland Security fails to mention this important element, although the Senate bill does discuss such a capacity. The new department would be a logical place to house such a surveillance system, since it would also have the important communication link with state and local governments mentioned above. Congress should include such a health surveillance system in the legislation establishing the Department of Homeland Security and should duly recognize the health community as a key component of preparedness for CBRN attacks.

Early detection and treatment is vital to mitigate the consequences of a biological attack. A biological incident, unlike other terrorist incidents, is not likely to be marked by a visible or audible event because the delivery of a biological agent does not rely on explosives or other distinguishable means of delivery. Rather, a biological attack is more likely to occur by nondescript means, such as delivery through the mail or the covert release of an aerosol agent. In fact, in 28 percent of the previous terrorist attacks using chemical or biological agents,26 the means of dissemination was not identified.27 Recognition that an attack has occurred happens only after a significant number of people start to become sick and an investigation is begun. By this time, many Americans may have been exposed to the pathogen.

For early recognition of such an attack, a number of states, cities, and communities have established municipal or regional health surveillance networks. Kansas City, Missouri; Baltimore, Maryland; Allegheny County, Pennsylvania; and the state of Florida have established or are developing monitoring and reporting systems. Yet there is no effective way to connect all of these systems into a single national network, and even if there were, there is no guarantee of compatibility since each system is based on different techniques of data collection and distribution.28 It is therefore essential that the federal government develop monitoring standards for state and local health agencies and the health care community, as well as the DOD's new pilot program.

While governors and mayors should designate a top public health official to oversee the development of health-surveillance networks in their communities, the Administration, working with the CDC, should develop and implement a strategy to link existing systems and establish a national system to collect and analyze relevant data. Once established, the Department of Homeland Security should be given the authority to oversee this system jointly with the CDC to ensure its effectiveness and communication among the federal, state, and local levels of government and among all members of the health community.

Improve Enforcement of Immigration Laws

Though all 19 terrorists involved in the September 11 attacks entered the United States legally, a number of them were on federal terrorist watch lists or had overstayed their visas. Since the attacks, the nation's beleaguered immigration system continues to prove that it is not up to the task of monitoring those who cross our borders.

Incredibly, in March 2002, the Immigration and Naturalization Service sent notification to two of the dead hijackers, Mohamed Atta and Marwan Alshehhi, that their student visas for flight training had been approved. By September 11, both men not only had completed that training, but had used their new skills to attack the World Trade Center.

To correct such glaring problems, Congress, the Department of Justice, and the Administration are all seeking to restructure the INS. The centerpiece of all three reorganization proposals is a separation of the INS's enforcement and service functions, which are currently performed simultaneously by all INS officers.

Prior to his recent resignation, INS Commissioner James Ziglar began implementing internal reforms to streamline management and communications. His reforms were designed to create two new bureaus for Immigration Services and Immigration Enforcement. The Commissioner of the INS would still oversee both bureaus, but INS field offices would report directly to the appropriate bureau at headquarters instead of to dual-hatted district and regional directors. Removing layers of bureaucracy should increase the INS's ability to act more swiftly.

Last November, Representative James Sensenbrenner (R-WI) offered legislation that would create a more dramatic distinction between the roles of immigration enforcement and immigration services. The Immigration Reform and Accountability Act of 2002 (H.R. 3231) would abolish the INS and transfer its responsibilities to a Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services and Bureau of Immigration Enforcement within the Department of Justice. A new Associate Attorney General for Immigration Affairs would supervise these bureaus.

Meanwhile, OHS Director Ridge has offered a proposal that would go even further by removing immigration enforcement responsibility from the INS and establishing a border security agency comprised of the Border Patrol, the U.S. Customs Service, and the U.S. Coast Guard.

President Bush and Attorney General John Ashcroft have voiced their support for the Immigration Reform and Accountability Act. Both Governor Ridge's consolidation of federal border security programs and Representative Sensenbrenner's proposed reforms of the immigration system have been incorporated in versions of the legislation to establish the DHS.

The President's proposal for the new Department of Homeland Security calls for "an immigration services organization that would administer our immigration law in an efficient, fair, and humane manner" and "assume the legal authority to issue visas to foreign nationals and admit them into the country."29 This important federal consolidation effort would help to improve communication and efficiency in the important task of issuing visas while maintaining a separation between immigration services and enforcement consistent with the restructuring plan proposed by former INS Commissioner Ziglar. As details emerge as to how the proposed new INS structure will function once it is inside the new department, it will be important to make sure that the Service cooperates and communicates with the State Department, which will continue to play a critical role in administering the visa application and issuance process.

As the proposals for the DHS, the INS restructuring plan, and the Immigration Reform and Accountability Act all recognize, separating immigration enforcement from immigration services makes sense. Enforcing immigration laws is different from promoting citizenship and requires unique skills. However, it is not enough simply to separate these two functions. New policies and technologies are also needed. For example, whether the INS Commissioner, a new Associate Attorney General, or a new agency head is responsible for managing immigration policy, accountability on the part of the enforcement arm must be ensured and new technology should be obtained to combat terrorism more effectively.

One of the hallmarks of a strengthened immigration regime must be a mechanism to monitor the entry and exit of visa holders. Currently, once visa holders have entered the United States, the INS has no way to determine whether they leave the country before their visas expire. In 1996, Congress required the INS to establish an entry-exit monitoring system as part of the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act (P.L. 104-208). No such system was ever implemented. The President's FY 2003 Immigration Budget includes $488 million in resources for the nation's ports of entry, including the development of an entry-exit system.30

Last year, Congress again called on the INS to establish an entry-exit monitoring system in the USA PATRIOT Act and the Enhanced Border Security Act. The visa application and approval process is a vital element in the effort to protect Americans against terrorism. Properly empowered, consular affairs and immigration officials can use this process to determine whether an applicant may be a threat to national security. However, without the means to monitor a visa holder's entry and exit, this system can break down.

The visa renewal process offers immigration officials an important mechanism for continually checking that a visitor is not engaging in terrorist activities. When this process can be circumvented, appropriate law enforcement responses become more difficult. The new DHS and OHS, working with the Attorney General and Congress, should maintain active oversight of the INS or any successor organization to ensure that a comprehensive entry-exit monitoring system is implemented as swiftly as possible.

The INS currently maintains more than 80 computer networks that are poorly connected with each other and rarely connected to other federal agencies. INS's information technology failings complicate accurate record keeping on immigrants and visitors, as well as information- sharing among offices and agencies, and make enforcing immigration law more difficult. INS enforcement officials frequently must sift through large paper files, which in some cases must be transferred between field offices before they can be reviewed.

Past efforts to improve the INS's computer systems have met with only moderate success. The U.S. General Accounting Office and the Office of the Inspector General have been critical of how the INS manages technology upgrades.31 Further, the INS has not taken measures to ensure that its staff are trained in and utilize available technology. For example, Glenn Fine, Inspector General for the Department of Justice, testified before Congress that

[The Office of the Inspector General] had found that the INS was not enrolling all of the aliens apprehended along the U.S.-Mexico border into IDENT [Automated Biometric Identification System]32 and had virtually no controls to ensure the quality of the data entered.... INS had not adequately trained its employees on the system.33

Quick, reliable access to information is vital for making good decisions. The INS must modernize and simplify its computer networks, ensure that they are linked to an all-source intelligence fusion center, and train employees in the use of technology to meet this objective. Since establishment of the DHS would require integrating more than 20 unique federal networks, its creation presents an exceptional opportunity for the government to upgrade the INS's outdated networks. Congress should authorize funds for this purpose as part of the DHS founding legislation.

About the Author

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

Jack Spencer Vice President, the Institute for Economic Freedom and Opportunity