Jewish World Review June 21, 2002 / 11 Tamuz, 5762
http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com | If you leave a stewpot on the stove untended for too long, a lot of gunk sticks to the bottom and sides. It's a good idea to stir the pot from time to time. This is one of the potential benefits of the proposed Department of Homeland Security. It'll stir a lot of bureaucratic pots.
Because they are not subject to market forces, government agencies tend to do the same things over and over again, even when the rationale for their creation in the first place largely has disappeared.
The Customs Service was created at a time (1789) when tariffs on imported goods were the principal source of federal revenues. So it made sense for Customs to be in the Treasury department. Tariffs today are a miniscule source of federal revenue. Customs agents are much less interested in catching tax cheats than in protecting us from contraband that can kill us. The old rationale for having Customs in Treasury no longer applies.
Worker bees in Customs and the Immigration and Naturalization Service do essentially the same job in essentially the same places. At most border crossings, INS guys/gals and Customs guys/gals work alternate shifts. When the INS guy is on duty, he checks for both illegal immigrants and contraband. When the Customs gal is on duty, she checks for both contraband and illegals. It makes enormous sense to combine the functions.
It would be a good idea to add the Border Patrol to Customs and the INS in a single border agency. Currently, Border Patrolmen are the Rodney Dangerfields of federal law enforcement. They spend their time along our southern border, catching the same Mexican illegals week after week. Morale is low, and turnover is high. It makes no sense to have a wall of separation between agencies which protect the border at border crossings, and an agency which protects the border between border crossings. A combined agency for border security would facilitate coordination, and provide Border Patrolmen with greater potential for promotion.
INS, Customs and the Border Patrol are supposed to protect us from illegal crossings on land. The Coast Guard protects us from illegal crossings by sea, so it's obvious why the Coast Guard should be in the Department of Homeland Security.
The Secret Service was put in the Treasury Department because, in its early days, its work against counterfeiting was considered more important than executive protection. These days, executive protection is a lot more important. The Secret Service belongs in the Department of Homeland Security. But the counterfeiting function (and the personnel who perform it) should be transferred to the FBI.
Another Treasury Department police agency, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, was not included in Bush's plan, but that decision should be revisited. BATF could be the poster boy for the eternal life of government agencies. It was created to enforce Prohibition, which was repealed in 1933.
BATF has the best arson and explosives experts in federal law enforcement. These should be transferred to Homeland Security, and the responsibility for chasing moonshiners through the Ozarks given to the FBI, which is likely to give it the low priority it deserves.
Creation of the Transportation Security Administration was a huge mistake which has weakened security elsewhere without improving it at airports. It's the best reason why, though it should act expeditiously, Congress should think carefully about how it puts together the Department of Homeland Security. It would have been better to arm pilots and beef up the FAA's security force. But now that we're stuck with TSA, it's clear it belongs in Homeland Security.
It is inevitable the new department will be headquartered in Washington D.C. This is too bad. As the testimony of Minneapolis FBI Agent Coleen Rowley dramatically illustrated, its the headquarters pukes in Washington, not the troops in the field, who put institutional prerogatives ahead of interagency cooperation, political considerations ahead of effectiveness in the fight against terror.
The foremost enemy of security is bureaucracy. The Department of Homeland Security will be a colossal failure if it does not reduce substantially the layers of management in existing agencies.
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