After the 9/11 attacks in 2001, the Bush administration insisted that, to preclude further attacks, it needed to centralize many agencies into a new Department of Homeland Security.
The department was established on Nov. 25, 2002, almost three years ago. It consolidated immigration, Customs, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and other agencies.
So how is it working? The whole world was watching when the department and FEMA botched the recovery efforts in the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
An Oct. 31 Associated Press story detailed the many other ways the department has missed deadlines “for developing ways to protect airplanes, ships and railways from terrorists. A plan to defend ships and ports from attack is six months overdue. Rules to protect air cargo from infiltration by terrorists are two months late.”
The poor performance “suggests they didn’t necessarily take the deadlines very seriously,” said Chris Preble, director of foreign policy studies at the Cato Institute. He said that, in practice, the Bush administration and department organizers “underestimated the difficulty of cobbling together a number of agencies that had been operating separately.”
Another problem, he pointed out, comes from Congress, which continues to insist the department answer to a number of different committees, instead of just one or a couple of committees in each house.
When the department was being advanced in 2002, we warned that the process was too fast and that creating one giant agency might obscure real problems such as top-heavy bureaucracy and the failure of agencies to communicate with one another. The department didn’t even consolidate all security agencies, with the FBI, CIA, DIA and other agencies maintaining their powerful, independent bailiwicks in other departments.
Alas, for now it seems that we’re stuck with the department. “The public still wants to believe DHS can do what it’s meant to do,” Preble said.
But it’s not too early to talk about someday disassembling and downsizing it.