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This Week – Homeland Security continues to dominate the House as nearly a dozen committees submitted their suggestions to a Select Committee that is working to create a bill implementing President Bush’s vision of a new Department. In the meantime the House is also moving through the Appropriations bills. This week they expect to have four on the floor – Interior, Agriculture, Legislative Branch and Treasury, Postal.
The Senate spent all of last week on a bill to curb accounting abuses. After voting on that bill early this week they will move to a prescription drug debate. This bill is expected to take up two solid weeks of the Senate schedule putting them even further behind the House on appropriations bills.
Department of Homeland Security, Meet Government Bureaucracy
Both the House and Senate have thrown themselves full force into creating a new Department intended to provide the broad reach of ‘homeland security.’ Nearly a dozen House Committees worked at a break neck speed last week to mark up the President’s proposal and put their fingerprints on it. The breadth of this measure is stunning.
While I am not qualified to defend or attack the proposal as a whole, I must say that the little doubting Thomas’ in my head are beginning to wake up. It is not just the speed of the whole endeavor. Although it is concerning that one of the largest re-organizations of the federal government is being shoved through the Congressional proceedings faster than a speeding bullet. And it is not just the cost of the measure – expected to cost nearly $40 billion (and those are the conservative estimates.) My main concern is the change in government this wholesale change requires, and the odds of that happening.
The scope of the Bush proposal is unprecedented in our time. They plan to merge all or parts of 22 agencies into a single department with a $38 billion budget and approximately 170,000 employees. Not to mention (once again) that the House and Senate want to have a final bill encompassing all of these changes within the month. This from the same Senate that doesn’t even have their budget done for the year! If that doesn’t ring clarion bells of alarm I don’t know what will.
To conduct this type of wholesale reorganization takes more though than just moving blocks around on a piece of paper. It is easy enough to say, "oh we need to make sure our borders are safe so Coast Guard can go into the new department." It is actually quite another to take the Coast Guard and their thousands of employees out of the Transportation Department that had been managing them and move them lock, stock and barrel to a whole new agency that really isn’t quite ready yet to have all of these new employees. And what do you do if only 60% of the Coast Guard is focused on terrorism and national security? The rest will continue their efforts at search and rescue or other such activities – but under the auspices of the DHS?
This is just a microcosm of the large-scale questions that have to be addressed. President Bush realizes the enormity of this change. He included several fundamental reforms as well to provide the new Department with some flexibility so it wouldn’t be ham strung by bureaucracy like all of the other government agencies have become. However, many of his well intentioned proposals are already under attack. Unwilling to give up jurisdiction of many of their program the House Chairmen voted to keep most of the agencies where they are and allow for an inter-agency office to liaison with the DHS instead. And the worker flexibility proposal - to allow workers in these sensitive positions to actually be held accountable for their actions since they are responsible for our safety – was narrowed down to a demonstration project. That sure will have a lot of teeth in it.
Suffice to say that after the events of 9/11 a shift in government culture and resources is necessary. The Department of Homeland Security could be a great idea – IF it got rid of duplicative functions, allowed the necessary worker and bureaucratic flexibility and streamlined the government functions relating to security. Frankly though, I don’t see any of this happening. Lessons from the past and the already strong back-biting would lead me to believe that this will be governance as usual. Members of Congress know that they need to produce something to give their constituents the feeling of safety – so they will go along with the President’s plan in theory. BUT, they won’t allow any true streamlining of government functions because they are afraid of losing control of their pet agencies such as the Coast Guard or FEMA. They also won’t provide the Administration any of the worker flexibility of inter-agency reform that they need to make this work because it would be ‘the camel’s nose under the tent’ and could possibly lead to government wide reform, and we all know how terrible that would be!
Instead I envision a new massive bureaucracy with a mixed mission and no real authority or leadership. And that, my friends, is what happens when your new Department meets government bureaucracy!