It is difficult to argue with Randall Yim, head of
the Government Accountability Office’s home
land security division.
Recent terrorism threat warnings from the Department of Homeland Security have not been helpful and might even be counterproductive. As Yim put it, “They didn’t say what was new and they didn’t suggest any additional measures to be taken other than please be a little bit more vigilant and please go about your shopping. I think that really attacks the credibility of the government warning system.”
That sums up some of the reasons the GAO has issued a report (after a request from Newport Beach, Calif., Republican Rep. Chris Cox, who heads the Select Committee on Homeland Security) calling for more specific and helpful threat warnings.
After surveying 28 agencies and 56 states and territories, the GAO found those who responded “generally indicated that they did not receive specific threat information and guidance, which they believe hindered their ability to determine and implement protective measures.”
Or, as Rep. Cox said, “A one-size-fits-all system for the entire country is unduly burdensome, expensive, and doesn’t get the job done.” Cox did say, however, that the department has started to make some progress on quietly providing more specific and regionalized information to potentially affected police and even some private-sector entities, though more still needs to be done to improve communication.
The GAO report does not address the green-yellow-orange-red color coding “system,” but urges the DHS to give “specific information about the nature, location and timing of the threat,” and guidance on action to take. Rep. Cox has been urging the same for more than a year.
It may be a sign of progress that Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge hasn’t used the color-coding system lately. We hope it’s being quietly scrapped.
There’s a long, sad tradition in Washington of ignoring what are often excellent reports from the GAO. Chairman Cox and ranking Democrat Jim Turner of Texas have promised their committee will offer reforms this summer to implement this report and improve information technology and communications capabilities. The Homeland Security Department should beat them to the punch.