Monday, July 21, 2008

More Whine, Please

The Department of Homeland Security doesn't like being subjected to Congressional oversight: it's too time consuming and apparently too confusing. At least that's the tenor of this op-ed piece authored by Stephen R. Heifetz, the deputy assistant secretary for policy development at the Department of Homeland Security published in today's NY Times.

IN a city known for paralyzing bureaucratic turf fights, one of the most debilitating and potentially disastrous has received scant attention: it’s the Congressional mess that produces tangled homeland security laws. This tangle obstructs our ability to prioritize risks at the Department of Homeland Security, where I work alongside more than 200,000 colleagues, almost all of us civil servants (not political appointees) who will remain in place after the election. ...

Roughly 80 committees and subcommittees oversee the Department of Homeland Security and its subcomponents. By way of comparison, the Department of Defense works primarily with four committees.
[Emphasis added]

While I tend to agree that Congress needs to revamp their committee system to accommodate the mish-mash known as Homeland Security, I don't think DHS deserves only four committees, or even a dozen. As it is presently constituted with everything from FEMA to TSA housed in that one department, it is in our interests to keep a sharp eye on people who insist on speaking in terms such as "prioritize."

Mr. Heifetz hardly does his argument any favors by pointing to 9/11, the sole reason for this massive reorganization:

To appreciate the challenge we face, it is important to remember that the Sept. 11 terrorist attack was a classic “low-probability, high-consequence” event. In the pre-9/11 era, if experts had generated a list of risks to our country — various terrorist attacks, hurricanes, contagious diseases and so on — they probably would have concluded that terrorists flying planes into skyscrapers and government buildings was unlikely, in light of the security and logistical obstacles the terrorists would have to overcome. While those experts would have acknowledged that such an attack would have grave results, before 9/11, relatively few people worried about such low-probability, high-consequence security events. After 9/11, however, many people began thinking about a broad range of such attacks.

Actually, a better date might have been selected. I'm thinking 8/6 might be the leading candidate. That was the date President Bush sloughed off the PDB which warned of an imminent terrorist attack by Al Qaeda. The CIA and other intelligence agencies, including the FBI knew something was afoot. Our president wasn't interested. Perhaps he should have asked a few questions, brought some pressure to bear on fleshing out that warning, but he just wasn't interested.

The whole point of the creation of the Department of Homeland Security was to facilitate information sharing among the various agencies involved in, well, actual homeland security. But, as often happens in Washington, people got carried away, with the result that little old ladies have to take their shoes off at the airport and over a million Americans who occasionally have to travel find that their names are on a 'no-fly' list for absolutely no good reason.

The DHS doesn't need less oversight, it needs more, even if that oversight is carried out by fewer committees.

Sorry, Mr. Heifetz. You'll have to do better. So will your colleagues.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

The idea for a homeland security department was originated by Joe Lieberman; enough said. There was never a good reason to do it and there is no reason to have it. Collaboration is, mainly, a culturally based activity. I don't believe, in the absence of solid data to contradict me, that the degree of collaboration increased since the mammoth department was created.

More importantly, this country was never under severe threat of terrorism. it's not Britain, Turkey, Lebanon, Pakistan and of course Israel. ( )
The positive thinking is that we overreacted to our own failures on 9/11. The realistic thinking is the it was another of an endless ploys the Bushes masterminded to get us all in line. The Op-ed piece tries to exploit an empty threat even further. Mr. Heifetz is toiling for an empty threat and the more obstacles we can erect in his way the better.

When you walk in Washington DC you cannot ignore buildings surrounded by tank blockers. It's a result of total panic spread by a malicious regime. Do you know one terrorist who will drive a tank successfully through Washington, without being seen, until she/he reaches the World bank?

The more obstacles for DHS the merrier.

8:12 AM  

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