May 2, 2005 | WebMemo on Department of Homeland Security

House Bill Is a Promising Step for Better Homeland Security

Last week, the House Homeland Security Committee approved HR 1817, The Department of Homeland Security Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2006. This act promises to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Congress should promptly consider the bill and key additions to improve it.


A Step in the Right Direction

Authorization legislation provides Congress a valuable tool for providing appropriate oversight of federal activities. DHS appropriations, however, have never been authorized by the Congress. That is a mistake. In "The Homeland Security Authorization Bill: Streamlining the Budget Process," Heritage experts recommended writing an authorization bill that "provides stronger statutory oversight of key personnel programs, critical missions, major research programs, and IT (information technology) investments." This legislation would largely accomplish that goal. Congress, however, can still improve on it.


Getting Borders Under Control

Section 102 authorizes hiring 2,000 additional border patrol agents-but opting for just hiring more people, without a clear strategy for enhancing border security, amounts to little more than throwing money at the problem. The Heritage Foundation Executive Memorandum "Border Security: Setting the Right Federal Priorities" offers a more realistic set of priorities for Congress.


Setting Strategic Priorities

Section 201 requires DHS to produce a comprehensive annual Terrorist Prevention Plan. Demanding annual plans, however, is not a good idea. Strategic needs should not change enough on a yearly basis to require reports that frequently. In "National Security Requires a National Perspective-and Congressional Action," Heritage experts put forward a better proposal, that plans should be required every four years in conjunction with the Quadrennial Security Review (QSR) that assesses priorities, assets, and resources.


Warning: Better Advisory System Needed

Section 221 mandates changes to the color-coded Homeland Security Advisory System (HSAS). They changes are not sufficient. While the system and the proposed changes will work well at the federal level, they are inadequate to meet the needs of state and local governments, the private sector, and the public. In " Homeland Security: Alerting the Nation," Heritage experts offer a comprehensive set of recommendations for a better public alert system.


Authorization Should Be a Priority

The war on terrorism will be a protracted conflict, and homeland security needs a department structured to produce effective policies and programs for the long term. Authorization legislation could significantly improve congressional oversight of the programs that protect Americans against global terrorism. Congress should make authorization a priority.

James Jay Carafano, Ph.D., is Senior Research Fellow for National Security and Homeland Security in the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for International Studies at The Heritage Foundation.

About the Author

James Jay Carafano, Ph.D. Vice President for the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for National Security and Foreign Policy, and the E. W. Richardson Fellow