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Critics Call for DHS Overhaul

If, as the saying goes, a camel is a horse designed by committee, then the only question unresolved by critics of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is whether the agency has one hump or two.

But it’s not too late to reengineer this domestic dromedary, according to a new paper by the Heritage Foundation and the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS).

The joint study calls for a major revamping of DHS to prune redundant activities, improve oversight, strengthen its policymaking function, and rationalize its spending. In some ways, it is calling on the DHS to do for its agencies what the Intelligence Reform Act is doing with the intelligence community—develop mechanisms to improve communication and ensure a cohesive and long-term strategy.

With its 40 recommendations, the Heritage/CSIS report addresses an organization that “is weighed down with bureaucratic layers, is rife with turf warfare, and lacks a structure for strategic thinking and policymaking.”

Similar concerns are voiced in a report by former DHS Inspector General Clark Kent Ervin, issued just before he left that post. In the IG report, Ervin writes that “structural and resource problems continue to inhibit progress in certain support functions.”

On the issue of constituent agencies and offices that have overlapping duties, the Heritage/CSIS report calls for the creation of an Undersecretary for Protection and Preparedness. That role would consolidate infrastructure protection, state and local government coordination, “nonoperational transportation infrastructure protection,” government and private-sector preparedness, and DHS grantmaking authority, the report says.

“Consolidating these disparate efforts would provide the DHS Secretary with a stronger platform from which to lead national efforts,” the authors write.

The authors would also merge Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), whose current situation they liken to a police department divided into two separate agencies: one for “beat cops,” the other for detectives. The merged agency would report directly to the secretary via the agency’s deputy secretary.

In addition, echoing one of the 9-11 Commission’s recommendations that did not make it into the final intelligence reform legislation, the Heritage/CSIS report calls for Congress to streamline its oversight of homeland security. The 109th Congress has already made some efforts in that direction but turf battles remain an impediment. Committee chairmen are loath to relinquish power.

Heritage and CSIS also advocate enhancing the Homeland Security Advisory System by, in part, establishing “capabilities-based performance standards of preparedness and response for state and local authorities.”

That suggestion smacks of the federal government dictating decisions on local-level issues, objects James O’Reilly, a professor at the University of Cincinnati School of Law and general editor of The Homeland Security Deskbook. “We want sharing of intelligence and competence, but we don’t want to subsume what local governments are capable of doing within a federal directive.”

Former IG Ervin also calls for consolidation of DHS components, as well as better financial and personnel management, integrated information systems, and enhanced border and transportation security.

It may be a while until DHS gets over the hump. DHS is a “fractionated” department because it is a compromise created by a fractionated Congress, says O’Reilly. “Until [Congress] gets its act together, there will be structural flaws in DHS.”