The creation of the Department of Homeland Security consolidated 22 agencies and over 200,000 federal employees. (Walker, 2007, 3). The goal of the DHS was to improve communication and streamline coordination amongst domestic security agencies. Its inception constitutes the largest government reorganization since Truman reorganized national security to defend against the Soviet threat. (Ridge, 2002).
It follows logically that an amalgam of 22 agencies creates an atmosphere where tension, infighting and turf-wars are replete. As just one of many examples, a battle ensued between the DHS and the Transportation Security Agency (TSA) over who is to be the overseer of security on U.S. trains. (Mintz, 2005). This policy squabble is said to have slowed progress on the issue for over one year. Similarly, quarrels between DHS and FEMA ensued over the ownership of the National Response Plan. The various intelligence agencies (FBI, NSA, DHS, CIA) claim that their counterparts obfuscate vital information, which detracts from the intended mission of the DHS. Criticisms of this type keep DHS under scrutiny, and make it a prime candidate for reorganization or decentralization.
For all of the criticisms lobbed against the DHS, it does seem to have some successes. The initial goals of the department were to “1) to prevent terrorist attacks within the United States, (2) to reduce the vulnerability of the United States to terrorism, and (3) to minimize the damage and assist in the recovery from terrorist attacks that do occur within the United States.” (Carafano and Heyman, 2004, 7). The lack of terrorist attacks on domestic soil since September 11th seems to indicate that this goal has been achieved. In addition, the DHS has been credited with addressing vulnerabilities in the aviation system, forging high-speed communication links with state and local authorities, and effectively sweeping shipping containers for any traces of radiation materials. (Mintz, 2005).
In addition, the DHS creates a means for communication and accountability amongst federal agencies that did not exist before its inception. In June of this year, the Department of Homeland Security launched a five-day national exercise designed to coordinate federal, local, state and private sector partners in an effort to test capabilities against terrorist attacks. (DHS, July, 2009). Exercises of this type are necessary to refine interagency communication and test its readiness. They are also demonstrative of what a centralized agency is capable of providing.
However, even for its successes, that is not to say that the DHS should not be a candidate for reorganization in order to reduce bureaucracy and enhance efficiency. One cannot overlook the fact that infighting, inefficiencies and heavy bureaucracy slow down and detract from the original mission of the DHS. In order to meet this head on, Homeland Security must take stock of its successes and challenges, and reorganize accordingly.
A plan to reorganize DHS seems more feasible and necessary than a call to decentralize it. As the Carafan and Heyman report points out, there needs to be a “capacity to share and compare intelligence regarding terrorism.” (18). Clearly such an undertaking requires some type of oversight. Remanding Homeland Security to its regional components would make it more difficult to connect the dots amongst the various agencies. Dismantling a relatively nascent agency that has the important task of protecting American security lends itself to unwarranted vulnerability.
Even if decentralization does not seem feasible, that is not to say that there are no conditions that support this theory. If the component parts of the behemoth agency are disjointed, it becomes difficult to operate efficiently. A decentralized Department of Homeland Security would allow for lower-level decision-making. State and local agencies do much of their own homeland security legwork, and decentralizing DHS would remove federal guidelines for subnational governments. In addition, a regional decentralization coupled with relocation would move DHS from the already target-heavy Washington, DC. Should DC find itself under attack, it would behoove the DHS to be headquartered elsewhere to eliminate the threat of agency wide annihilation. Also, it can be effectively argued that decentralization may make sense where the missions are tangential. FEMA, for instance, is tasked primarily with responding to national disasters. The primary mission of DHS, on the other hand, is to prevent terrorist attacks. It becomes easy to see why the mission of FEMA may get mired in the counterterrorism priorities of DHS, and may need to be a separate schism.
FEMA was once a cabinet-level post. Because of its non-homeland security mission, it may be necessary for it to return there. Apart from that decentralization, it seems that what the Department of Homeland Security needs is a vast reorganization, where oversight is present, divisions of power and responsibility are clearly delineated, spending is closely monitored and layers of bureaucracy are minimized.
Carafano, James Jay, Ph.D. and David Heyman. (December, 2004). DHS 2.0 Rethinking the Department of Homeland Security. The Heritage Foundation, pp. 1-33. Retrieved from http://www.heritage.org/Research/HomelandDefense/upload/72759_1.pdf.
“DHS Coordinates National Level Exercise to Prevent Terrorist Attacks with Federal, State, Local Tribal, Private Sector, and International Partners.” Press Release, Office of the Press Secretary, July 24, 2009. Retrieved from http://www.dhs.gov/ynews/releases/pr_1248450105741.shtm.
Grunwald, Michael and Susan B. Glasser. (December, 2005). Brown’s Turf Wars Sapped FEMA’s Strength. The Washington Post. Retrieved from http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2005/12/22/AR2005122202213.html.
Homeland Security Act of 2002. Pub. L. No. 107-296, 116 Stat. 2135 ( Nov. 25, 2002. Retrieved from http://www.dhs.gov/xabout/laws/law_regulation_rule_0011.shtm.
Jenkins, Brian Michael. (January, 2007). Basic Principles of Homeland Security. Testimony Before the Subcommittee on Homeland
Security of the House Committee on Appropriations. pp. 1-5. Retrieved from http://www.rand.org/pubs/testimonies/2007/RAND_CT270.pdf.
Mintz, John. (September, 2003). Government’s Hobbled Giant. The Washington Post, A01. Retrieved from http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A36519-2003Sep6.html.
Mintz, John. (February, 2005). Infighting Sighted at Homeland Security: Squabbles Blamed for Reducing Effectiveness. The Washington Post, Page A01. Retrieved from http://www.washingtonpost.com/ac2/wp-dyn/A55552-2005Feb1?language=printer.
Ridge, Tom. (September, 2002). “Director Ridge Addresses U.S. Conference of Mayors.” Remarks by Homeland Security Advisor Tom Ridge on the Department of Homeland Security. Retrieved from http://www.dhs.gov/xnews/speeches/speech_0025.shtm.