Jewish World Review August 6, 2002 / 28 Menachem-Av, 5762

Jack Kelly

Jack Kelly
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Fears about the Department of Homeland Security are misplaced | Conservatives who aren't ridiculous are making arguments which are in opposition to the proposed Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Glenn Harlan Reynolds, the University of Tennessee professor who runs the entertaining website "Instapundit" refers to it as "a joke." Kate O'Beirne, Washington editor of National Review, says DHS is a department conservatives "will spend a lifetime criticizing."

Conservatives fret chiefly about the civil liberties implications of DHS, and about the growth of "big government."

Concerns about civil liberties are legitimate, though exaggerated, but wholly misplaced with regard to DHS. If the war on terror does result in an infringement of our rights, the infringing will be done by the FBI and other police agencies which will not be part of DHS.

With about 170,000 employees and a budget of around $37 billion, DHS would be the largest Cabinet department after the Department of Defense. O'Beirne says it "promises to be a bigger, more expensive version of the bureaucratic status quo." Neither facts nor logic support this assertion.

The 170,000 employees are not new hires. They are already employed by the 22 agencies President Bush wants to consolidate in a single department. The consolidation could result in a net increase in aggregate federal employment. But it more likely would result in a decrease, and most likely would result in no significant change at all.

There are three fundamental reasons for the consolidation Bush proposes: (1) To rationalize and streamline the agencies most responsible for homeland security. With responsibilities spread among 22 different agencies, there is considerable duplication, and substantial gaps. Consolidation could reduce the redundancy, and narrow the gaps.

(2) To increase cooperation and facilitate information-sharing. We've learned since Sept. 11 that the agencies charged with protecting us haven't been talking to each other much. The State Department's Bureau of Consular Affairs didn't tell the Immigration and Naturalization Service to whom it was issuing visas, and the FBI and the CIA didn't tell either Consular Affairs or INS which visa applicants are terror suspects. The information systems in these separate agencies are obsolescent and "stovepiped." It is hard for the agencies to share information even if the bureaucratic honchos were willing to do so. If all the agencies are part of the same "family," there is likely to be less institutional opposition to cooperation. And the fact of the reorganization can justify the purchase of computer systems which actually can talk to each other.

(3) To foster an emphasis in multipurpose agencies on homeland defense. The agencies which would be transferred to DHS are stepchildren in Cabinet departments which have purposes other than homeland defense. They often have a hard time getting respect, and a harder time getting resources. A Department of Homeland Security would foster a bureaucratic "culture" which puts security first.

Goal (1) argues for fewer, not more, employees. Consolidation will mean fewer jobs for middle and upper echelon bureaucrats, not more, a concept which leaders of public employee unions seem to have grasped, even if it eludes Ms. O'Beirne and Mr. Reynolds. The frontline people in the Customs Service and the INS at our land border crossings do exactly the same things.

But they report up two different chains of command. With consolidation, one of those chains becomes superfluous.

It is possible that after consolidation there will be more employees in the agencies than there are now. But this is mostly a good thing, and the increase is likely to be smaller, and more productive, than it would have been if the consolidation didn't take place.

We've learned since 9/11 that we need more Customs agents, Border Patrolmen and Coast Guardsmen. It would be nice if, for each additional cop we hired, we'd dispense with the services of a bureaucrat at OSHA writing regulations on the shape of toilet seats, or at EPA, finding an obscure bug to put on the endangered species list. But providing the security we need at our borders ought not to be held hostage to reducing featherbedding elsewhere.

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© 2002, Jack Kelly