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Published: Saturday, 9/7/2002

Hyping homeland security

It is troubling that 9/11 sentiment and the upcoming midterm elections seem to be the motivating factors behind the rush on Capitol Hill to approve the largest government reorganization plan in half a century. Despite solid arguments against the creation of what would be the government's third biggest bureaucracy, with nearly 170,000 employees and a first-year budget of about $38 billion, the plan will likely receive Congress' blessing sooner rather than later.

House members tried in vain to complete the bill establishing the Department of Homeland Security in time for a signing ceremony on the first anniversary of 9/11. Never mind that serious questions abound about the essential need for a new federal department. Politicians hoped the introduction of a giant homeland security agency would be a nice addition to 9/11 observances. Just another orchestrated photo-op.

The few dissenters in the House, like Toledo Congresswoman Marcy Kaptur, made little headway with colleagues when they suggested improving existing agencies rather than hatching another one to compound problems and divert attention from critical homeland security failures that need fixing.

Inexplicably, the FBI and CIA, which fumbled the ball big time with terrorist developments leading up to 9/11, are not included in the national security solution being debated in Congress. After the House rushed to give its approval to the bill establishing a new cabinet super-agency, the Senate had the sense to slow down its deliberations of the monumental legislation.

While the forces that inspired the House to act so quickly on the proposed federal department will no doubt persuade the Senate to follow suit, hopefully a more deliberative lawmaking process will result in a restored sense of balance between the legislative and executive branches of government.

The main dispute holding up the Homeland Security measure in the Senate deals with who manages and controls the budget of the vast new bureaucracy. The administration wants full authority to hire and fire and pay the new department's employees.

Senate critics wisely see the White House position as a power grab and insist government spending unquestionably remains the bailiwick of Congress, and the civil service system the appropriate vehicle for the hiring, firing, and protection of federal employees.

The White House can't have it all. The new agency, necessary or not, will eventually be a reality but it cannot operate free of the usual rules and regulations that apply throughout government.

The President, who once opposed and now embraces expansion of the federal bureaucracy, should spend less energy on its management flowchart and more on its considerable task ahead to coordinate his stepped up war against terrorism.



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