The attacks of September 11, 2001 illustrated dramatically thatthe U.S. governmental security apparatus has paid too muchattention to the defense of other nations and too little to thesecurity of the U.S. homeland. But in the wake of this horribleevent, Washington policymakers in the Executive Branch and Congressmay feel so much pressure to act that they will make hastydecisions on policies that actually might reduce U.S. homelandsecurity further.
Specifically, I believe that the Bush administration's plan tomerge disparate agencies into a new Department of Homeland Securitywill do nothing to enhance homeland security and may actuallyreduced it. The threat we face from al Qaeda and other terroristgroups is one of agile, non-bureaucratic adversaries who have thegreat advantage of being on the offense - knowing where, when andhow they will attack. Terrorists take advantage of the sluggishnessand poor coordination among military, intelligence, lawenforcement, and domestic response bureaucracies to attack gaps inthe defenses. Yet the Bush administration has rushed, before thecongressional intelligence panels have completed their work todetermine the exact nature of the problem prior to September 11, topropose a solution that does not seem to deal with preliminaryindications of what the major problem seems to have been-lack ofcoordination between and inside the intelligence agencies making upthe vast U.S. intelligence bureaucracy. Instead, the president hasproposed reorganizing other agencies into a new super bureaucracy,while leaving out the CIA and FBI. Furthermore, although seeming toconsolidate federal efforts at homeland defense, the new departmentmay actually reduce U.S. security by adding bureaucracy rather thansubtracting it. More bureaucracy means more coordination problemsof the kind that seem to have been prevalent in the intelligencecommunity prior to September 11.
The United States Now Faces a Non-Traditional StrategicThreat
The intelligence community and other agencies involved insecurity have traditionally battled nation-states. Fortunately,those states have governments with bureaucracies that are oftenmore sluggish than our own government's agencies. In contrast,terrorist groups have always been nimble opponents that weredifficult to stop, but they were not a strategic threat to the U.S.homeland. As dramatically illustrated by the attack on September11, terrorists willing to engage in mass slaughter (withconventional weapons or weapons of mass destruction) and commitsuicide now pose a strategic threat to the U.S. territory andpopulation.
No security threat to the United States matches this one. Tofight this nontraditional threat, we must think outside box and tryto be as nimble as the opponent (a difficult task). The Bushadministration is correct that the current U.S. governmentstructure - with more than 100 federal entities involved inhomeland security - is not optimal for defending the nation againstthe new strategic threat. Although consolidating federal efforts isnot a bad idea in itself, it does not ensure that the bureaucracywill be more streamlined, experience fewer coordination problems,or be more effective in the fight against terrorism.
Bush's Proposal May Make the Government Less Agile WhenFighting Terrorists
The Bush administration's merging of parts of other agenciesinto a Department of Homeland Security will add yet another layerof bureaucracy to the fight against terrorism. In his message toCongress urging the passage of his proposal to create the newdepartment, the President made a favorable reference to theNational Security Act of 1947, which merged the departments of Warand the Navy to create the Department of Defense (DoD) and createdan Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD) to oversee the militaryservices. But today, 55 years after the act's passage, OSD is abloated bureaucracy that exercises comparatively weak oversight ofmilitary services whose failure to coordinate and cooperate evenduring wartime is legion. Even Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeldhas compared the efficiency and responsiveness of the DoDbureaucracy to Soviet central planning.
Fifty-five years from today, I hope we will not have createdanother organization like today's Department of Defense. Yet thenew proposed department is similar to DoD because it will bringtogether agencies with very different missions and methods ofoperation and create a large new departmental bureaucracy to try torein them all in. As was the case when DoD was created,consolidation of the government's efforts is not a bad idea, but itmay be unhelpful or even counterproductive to establish anotherlayer of bureaucracy without cutting out layers of management fromthe agencies being merged or removing some agencies entirely fromthe homeland security arena and giving their functions to existingagencies. Interagency coordination problems may just becomeintra-agency coordination problems - agencies with each other andwith the secretary's office.
A good analogy to use may be the creation of the European Union.Creating a consolidated market for goods, services and financialtransactions was a good idea. But a bloated EU bureaucracy has nowbeen superimposed over the already intrusive national governmentsin Europe. It is yet another layer of bureaucracy for people livingin Europe to deal with.
In short, consolidation is fine as long as we cut before pastingrather than paste before cutting. In other words, agencies shouldbe trimmed and reformed (and some totally eliminated) beforeconsolidating them. If the agencies are consolidated with thepledge of cuts or savings to come later, that promise is not likelyto be fulfilled. Once the new, large consolidated department iscreated - it will be one of the largest departments in thegovernment - the new department head will be a powerful advocatefor more money and people rather than the opposite. Yet the Bushadministration proposes pasting agencies together first, but doesnot even promise savings. At best, policymakers in theadministration have promised that a consolidated department willnot increase costs. But it is telling that the president's plan hadno cost estimates accompanying it. Historically, mergers ofgovernment agencies have increased costs rather than decreasedthem. Although some longer term savings by consolidation of payrolland computer systems may occur, creating the new secretary'sbureaucracy to ride herd over all of the agencies will likelyincrease net costs. The president's proposal calls for adding onedeputy secretary, five undersecretaries, and up to 16 assistantsecretaries.
So the president's plan is likely to cost more rather than less.More importantly, we must follow the money; if costs are not goingdown, the plan is unlikely to streamline the government's effortsin counterterrorism and homeland defense. With more than 100federal entities already involved in homeland security, moregovernment is not better than less. With so many agencies involved,in the event of a catastrophic attack with weapons of massdestruction, we are likely to have chaos. With the president'splan, we may get fewer agencies, but probably more government. Astealthy and nimble enemy is at the gates and we do not have muchtime to put the government on a diet. Instead, the government maybe headed to the pastry shop. More bureaucracy means morecoordination problems and more opportunities for terrorists.
Bush's Plan Does Not Solve the Problem with Intelligenceand May Make It Worse
The president' plan for a new department does not solve what atleast preliminarily seems to be the primary problem - the lack ofcoordination within and between U.S. intelligence agencies,specifically the FBI and CIA. Those agencies are conspicuouslymissing from the president's plan.
Yet for enhanced homeland security, intelligence is the keyingredient. The U.S. government has infinitely more resources foruse against al Qaeda and other terrorist groups than they doagainst it. If the U.S. government can discover plots or thelocation of targets and terrorists in time to take action, thatoverwhelming superiority in military or law enforcement resourcescan be brought to bear to foil the plot. Mitigating the effects ofthe attack after it happens is important but, in many cases, thegovernment may only be able to marginally help reduce casualties.Yet, without good intelligence, that may be the government's onlyrole. The United States has an unparalleled ability to collect vastamounts of raw intelligence data-the pieces of the jigsawpuzzle-but the already too numerous agencies in the U.S.intelligence community have had trouble fusing it into a completepicture.
Regrettably, in intelligence, as in his overall homelandsecurity proposal, the president's plan will make the governmenteven less likely to put the jigsaw puzzle together and even moreungainly and sluggish in combating terrorists. A new intelligenceanalysis center will be created in the new Department of HomelandSecurity to analyze threats to the U.S. homeland. Yet the FBI andCIA and other intelligence agencies already analyze such threats.Apparently, the new analysis center will not be able to get rawintelligence from those agencies unless the president personallyapproves it. Thus, the new agency will be analyzing the analysis ofother agencies. If the new analysis center is supposed to be fusingthe analyses of those agencies, it would seem to be usurping therole of the intelligence community staff under the Director ofCentral Intelligence. Furthermore, if the FBI and CIA fail to fullycooperate or coordinate with each other because of turf jealousies,excessive secrecy, or burdensome bureaucratic rules for interagencycoordination, the problem is likely to get worse as anothercompeting bureaucracy is added.
If interagency coordination was the main problem prior toSeptember 11 and parts of the FBI and CIA are not folded into thenew department (some members of Congress have proposed includingthem), interagency coordination problems are likely to worsen. Evenif parts of the two agencies are included in the reorganization,once again the interagency coordination problems will most likelybe turned into intra-agency ones. Again, the only solution is toreduce not only the number of agencies, but also the layers ofbureaucracy. To reduce the number of agencies in the intelligencecommunity means getting rid of some, not just folding them into onesuper agency that will act as an advocate of more funding andpersonnel. Once again, we need to cut before pasting rather thanvice versa. And while we are at it, the plethora of federal lawenforcement agencies need to be pruned too.
The Government Already Has the Machinery to CoordinateHomeland Security
The old maxim that a crisis leads to bigger government has neverbeen more true than in the wake of the September 11 attacks. InWashington, the typical response to such an event is to show thepublic that something is being done by rearranging organizationalcharts and adding bureaucracies. And after this horrendousincident, everyone in Washington is racing to fix the problembefore we are sure what it is. And, as noted earlier, we seem to befixing something entirely different (not that it may not needimproving) from what the intelligence hearings are preliminarilypointing to as the main problem.
But whether or not lack of coordination among the intelligenceagencies turns out to be the major or the only problem, we alreadyhave the governmental machinery to fix them. In his message, thepresident also mentioned that the National Security Act of 1947also created the National Security Council (NSC), on which sit theheads of the major departments and agencies that are responsiblefor the nation's security. The president's powerful NationalSecurity Advisor officially only coordinates policy among theagencies but in reality is a potent independent voice in thepolicymaking process. It would seem logical that catastrophicterrorism against the U.S. homeland would affect the nationalsecurity and thus fit under the purview of the NSC and NationalSecurity Advisor. But apparently not.
Before proposing the new Department of Homeland Security, thepresident created a White Office of Homeland Security (OHS), aHomeland Security Advisor, and a Homeland Security Council (HSC).Yet even with the creation of the new department, all of thisbureaucracy will remain. The president maintains that protectingAmerica from terrorism will remain a multi-departmental issue andwill continue to require those entities to oversee interagencycoordination. But the roles of the Homeland Security Advisor andHomeland Security Council appear to be redundant with the NationalSecurity Advisor and the NSC. For 55 years, the National SecurityCouncil existed to provide for the national security, but as soonas the nation is attacked we apparently need a new homelandsecurity bureaucracy to provide national security at home. Both thepresident's statement and his proposal for a new cabinet departmentappear to subscribe to the strange notion that the NationalSecurity Council should provide for security only overseas.
What Should Be Done
- The whole process to find a "fix" for 9/11 "failures" should beslowed down. This deceleration would allow the main problem (orproblems) prior to September 11 to be discovered by Congress. Itwould also allow cooler heads to prevail so that we do not end upwith new bureaucracies piled on top of each other (the newdepartment on top of the OHS, the homeland security advisor, andthe HSC) and on top of the old ones (a new secretary's bureaucracyon top of existing agencies).
- The NSC and National Security Advisor could adequatelycoordinate homeland security without a new department if theintelligence and law enforcement communities were pruned (ofagencies and layers of bureaucracy). Senator Richard Shelby, ViceChairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, noted thatthe FBI (and CIA) are not very agile, and GAO has recommendedreducing the layers, levels, and units within the FBI. Such arecommendation should apply for all agencies that remain in thehomeland security arena. But many of the more than 100 federalentities also need to be ejected from homeland security mission. Toreduce the chances of lapses in intelligence coordination and chaosin domestic crisis response, there needs to be fewer governmententities in need of coordination.
- Although reducing the number of people and amount ofbureaucracy seems to go against the tide in the present crisisatmosphere, preliminary indications are that coordination amonggovernmental entities is the main problem, not a lack of rawinformation or insufficient resources.
- Fighting a new stealthy, agile enemy is not like fighting coldor hot wars against nation-states. In the rush to "do something"Congress-by enlarging an already huge and sluggish nationalsecurity bureaucracy--might make the risk of another successfulcatastrophic terrorist more likely.
- Even with real improvements to the intelligence and homelanddefense machinery (rather than adding bureaucracy), it is probablyonly a matter of time before the terrorists strike again. Mosthigh-level Bush administration officials say that it will be "whenand not if." Of course, in the short-term, we must decisively takedown the rest of the al Qaeda terrorist network militarily and withlaw enforcement but, in the long-term, we might want to take stepsto lower our target profile to terrorists. The United States coulddo this by reducing unneeded interventions, both politically andmilitarily, in the world--particularly in the Middle East.According to a recent Zogby poll, a majority of the populations ofall Islamic states polled liked U.S. culture, including movies andtelevision, but disliked U.S. policies toward the Middle East.Because intelligence and homeland security cannot be perfect, achange in U.S. foreign policy might lessen the chance thatterrorist groups would be motivated to launch catastrophic attacksagainst the U.S. homeland.