Is the Department of Homeland Security effective?

Freedom Newspapers

It is probably too much to hope that the resignation of Tom Ridge as Secretary of Homeland Security will prompt a rethinking of the wisdom of creating such a department in the first place. As we noted when the department was created by bundling together 22 existing agencies, that kind of reorganization was likely to postpone rather than encourage reform of those agencies, many of which were badly in need of revamping.

Furthermore, the very existence of a “homeland security” department — with the term homeland implying there is an imperial outland — virtually cements in the public psyche the idea that the U.S. government sees itself as an imperial power in the foreseeable future. That strikes us as an unhealthy perception.

It is difficult to judge whether the creation of a vast new sprawling bureaucracy called the Department of Homeland Security has made the country more secure. It has given late-night comics a source of jokes with a less-than-useful color-coding system for terrorist alerts. And, to be sure, we have not had a major terrorist attack on U.S. soil since the 9/11 attack in 2001.

But it is impossible for anybody, including Tom Ridge, to say with certainty that the Department of Homeland Security had anything to do with this fact.

As James Coyle, who before becoming director of the Center for Global Education at Chapman University spent time as a State Department representative on the New York FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force, said, “in creating a new department they shuffled the deck but the same cards are still there.” Do the Customs and Immigration departments communicate with one another any better now that they are under DHS rather than Justice? The top officials claim they do, but it’s difficult to judge the reality.

Coyle also said that in any organization reorganizing is always somewhat disruptive. So at the very same time that all these agencies were being asked to redouble their efforts and improve their effectiveness, they were scrambling around trying to figure out whom they reported to now and what kinds of reports and performance measures they wanted.

Well, what’s done is done. The government has a new department, and, if President Bush follows the pattern he’s established, he will appoint somebody to head it even closer and more loyal to him personally than Tom Ridge was.

It’s difficult to find much policy significance here.