Having returned from its summer recess, Congress will soon
construct its legislative agenda for the rest of the year. Given
that this week marks the eighth anniversary of 9/11, Congress
should honor the memory of that tragedy by solidifying its homeland
security agenda. That means taking the right steps to keep the
nation safe, free, and prosperous.
At the same time, legislators must resist dumb initiatives that
add no security while impairing invaluable aspects of American
life. It is time for Congress to exert some leadership and set the
tone for homeland security for the rest of the year.
Homeland Security Today
Although some progress has been made, threats to the U.S.
remain. Recent foiled plots, such as the synagogue terror plot,
demonstrate that terrorists are still determined to kill as many
Americans as possible--and they must be stopped.
Since 9/11, over 23 attacks have been publicly foiled. Much of
this success is the result of legislation enacted after the
September 11 attacks--such as the PATRIOT Act and the Homeland
Security Act--that has paved the way for:
- Extensive information sharing between federal, state, and local
- The creation of a world-class Department of Homeland Security
- An ever-growing homeland security enterprise.
These relationships have helped keep Americans safer and should
be maintained, cultivated, and expanded. At the same time, Congress
has enacted or is considering some homeland security measures that
have much in common with bumper stickers: cute phrasing but
precious little substance. These measures should be rejected.
Likewise, Congress still has unfinished business to attend to,
important tasks that are yet to be completed.
What Congress Should Not Do
Some of what Congress has done or plans to do fail to enhance
security, protect individual freedoms and privacy, or allow
America's economy to grow and prosper. These initiatives are on the
list following list of don'ts:
Do Not Encourage Illegal Immigration. This year Congress
has pushed forward several proposals that would encourage illegal
immigration. These "silent amnesties," such as the DREAM Act (which
would give education benefits to illegal immigrants) andthe Ag JOBs
Act (which would give amnesty to illegal agricultural workers),
would erode rule of law and be costly to the American public.
Congress is also considering the PASS ID Act, which would roll
back the REAL ID Act of 2005. Instead, Congress should just
properly implement the existing REAL ID Act--doing so would prevent
the kind of identity theft and fraud that weakens the
identification system and facilitates illegal immigration.
Do Not Punish Tourists. Tourism dropped after 9/11, but
taxing tourists to get them to come back makes no sense. The
Tourism Promotion Act was reintroduced this year in both the Senate
and House. This legislation would create another government
entity--this time a corporation, funded on the backs of foreign
tourists--to promote travel to the U.S.
While promoting tourism is absolutely vital to America's
economic well-being, this is just the kind of activity that the
government should stay out of. Taxing tourists so that the U.S. can
encourage tourism simply makes no sense and sends the wrong message
to America's allies.
Instead of taxing tourists, the government should focus on
making travel to the U.S. easier by expanding the Visa Waiver
Program, improving visa services, and upgrading infrastructure at
key ports of entry.
Do Not Subsidize Hurricanes. The Homeowners Defense Act
(HDA) would create a catastrophic insurance fund--like the bankrupt
and highly inefficient National Flood Insurance Program--that would
provide government insurance to homeowners and businesses to
protect against the next catastrophic hurricane.
Such legislation would, essentially, require all Americans to
subsidize those who live in hurricane-prone areas and would allow
the states to create unrealistic disaster insurance programs and
once again turn to the federal government to cover losses.
One of the weaknesses in the HDA is that it uses the term
catastrophic to decide which disasters would be covered by
the act, but it fails to define what constitutes "catastrophic." As
a result, the HDA could easily be interpreted to mean any
Going forward, Congress needs to stop playing politics and
pandering to stakeholders and start looking at homeland security in
a holistic, long-term, sustainable fashion. Congressional
priorities should include the following:
Scrap the 100 Percent Mandates. Congress's 100
percent scanning mandate for maritime security and air cargo
continue to plague DHS. The department cannot find a way to meet
the mandate in a way that is practical and cost-effective and
actually enhances security. Furthermore, most security and supply
chain experts argue that the mandates are unnecessary and would add
little security. Congress should rethink these unworkable mandates
before more time, money, and resources are wasted.
Amend the Stafford Act. Much like the HDA, the 1988
Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act did
not contain strict enough limits on what can qualify for a federal
"disaster" declaration. As a result, the Federal Emergency
Management Agency has routinely ignored the Stafford Act's pliable
requirement and treated even comparatively small disasters as
requiring a federal response.
Although very few disasters that occur in America are truly
beyond the capabilities of state and local governments, this
reality does not aid those who see natural disasters as "very
political events." Congress should redefine what constitutes a
disaster under the Stafford Act in a way that includes only those
disasters that truly overwhelm state and local response--a step
that would ensure that scarce tax dollars are used when needed the
Reform the Homeland Security Grant Structure. The 9/11
Commission said homeland security grants were becoming pork barrel
legislation. The commission was right. DHS continues to hand out
grants based on highly suspect criteria.
This is, for example, the case with UASI grant program for urban
areas. DHS continues to expand the number of eligible cities,
spreading even thinner the finite resources available. And it also
allows states to keep some of the funding, depriving high-risk
urban areas even further.
Congress should reduce the number of UASI-eligible cities to the
35 highest-risk cities and require 100 percent pass-through of UASI
funds, ensuring that the money goes in the locations where it is
needed the most.
More fundamentally, the grant structure is the wrong tool for
increasing homeland security because it does not foresee
substantial federal involvement when in fact DHS is integrally
involved--from issuing requirements to unfunded mandates to
requiring yearly applications for funds.
A better approach would be the use of cooperative agreements.
With cooperative agreements, the federal government and the states
and localities can sit down as true and equal partners and
negotiate outcomes at the beginning, including covering
programmatic and financial oversight requirements, and then direct
funds to achieve those desired outcomes without the need for yearly
Encourage State and Local Immigration Enforcement
Efforts. The federal government has consistently failed to
address the ever-growing illegal immigration crisis. As a result,
states have begun enacting their own legislation and policies aimed
at reducing illegal immigration from a grassroots level.
But federal law still hangs over the states and localities as
they take these steps. For instance, the Immigration Reform and
Control Act carves out exceptions for state and local initiatives
only if they deal with "licensing or similar laws" concerning the
employment of illegal immigrants. States, however, still retain
extensive police powers by which they can control illegal
immigration in their jurisdiction and have the inherent power to
enforce federal law.
Given these powers, the federal government should encourage
states and localities to devise innovative methods of enforcement
that do not call for federal intervention. Congress, for its part,
should look to eliminate statutory restrictions that limit the
actions that states and localities can take to curtail illegal
Setting the right homeland security agenda this autumn is the
best way to mark the eighth anniversary of 9/11 and the best way
for Congress to meet its responsibilities for keeping the nation
safe, free, and prosperous.
McNeill is Policy Analyst for Homeland Security in the Douglas
and Sarah Allison Center for Foreign Policy Studies, a division of
the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for International
Studies, at The Heritage Foundation. James Jay
Carafano, Ph.D., is Deputy Director of Kathryn and Shelby
Cullom Davis Institute for International Studies and Director of
the Douglas and Sarah Allison Center for Foreign Policy Studies, a
division of the Davis Institute, at The Heritage Foundation. Matt A. Mayer
is a Visiting Fellow at The Heritage Foundation, President and
Chief Executive Officer of Provisum Strategies LLC and an Adjunct
Professor at Ohio State University. He has served as Counselor to
the Deputy Secretary and Acting Executive Director for the Office
of Grants and Training in the U.S. Department of Homeland