After the September 11, 2001, terrorist attack, President George W. Bush rightly resisted Congress’ urge to create a new federal department charged with the homeland security mission. Bush believed the federal government could protect America with a strong homeland security council managed by the White House, similar to the National Security Council. Following relentless pressure, he acquiesced and the federal government gave birth to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) on March 1, 2003.
The new department largely consists of agencies and offices pulled from other existing cabinet departments. After twelve years of mediocre-to-poor operations and countless scandals, it is clear President Bush’s initial instinct was right. The core functions overseen by DHS can be managed more effectively elsewhere, especially where territorial battles undermine operational efficacy.
It is time to eliminate DHS and put the various components where they are a better fit. Eliminating DHS would result in annual fiscal savings of more than $2.5 billion, with 4,000 fewer employees. Those reductions, however, only represent part of the rationale for eliminating DHS. The other reasons to do so are that DHS is riddled with performance inefficiencies and that its existence creates inefficiencies in other federal entities due to the need to coordinate across organizational boundaries. America can’t afford more of the same as terrorist threats reemerge.
With a new President getting elected in a year-and-a-half, starting this discussion now hopefully will spur proponents and opponents to enter the fray, and help presidential candidates to think about how they might more efficiently and effectively protect America during their time in office.
In the nine years since I left DHS, I likely have written more on DHS than just about anyone, including a book, Homeland Security and Federalism: Protecting America from Outside the Beltway.
It goes without saying that I observed up-close the dysfunction, turf battles, and inherent limitations in an entity that does so much. These problems are exacerbated due to the fact that, in many cases, the activities DHS engages in require enormous coordination with entities embedded in other federal departments.
For example, the Transportation Security Administration must continually coordinate with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) given the overlap among their responsibilities. By moving the non-air components to DOT and the air components to the FAA, decisions would be made more quickly and without the turf battles between department heads.
Similarly, with the creation of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Homeland Defense and Americas’ Security Affairs, having the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) outside of the U.S. Department of Defense is nonsensical. Syncing the four military branches that focus on our external threats with the military branch that secures our domestic waterways will enable unified command and control capabilities and streamlined support systems. (Please consider this notion when analyzing cyber-threats!)
Two entities within DHS that would align better elsewhere are U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services (USCIS) and its Ombudsman. USCIS’s functions are closely associated with the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Consular Affairs (BCA). A quick look at their respective mission statements shows how similar the two entities are. The mission of USCIS is:
USCIS will secure America’s promise as a nation of immigrants by providing accurate and useful information to our customers, granting immigration and citizenship benefits, promoting an awareness and understanding of citizenship, and ensuring the integrity of our immigration system. Sorry, but what integrity?
The mission of BCA is:
The mission of the Bureau of Consular Affairs (CA) is to protect the lives and interests of American citizens abroad and to strengthen the security of United States borders through the vigilant adjudication of visas and passports. CA contributes significantly to the USG goal of promoting international exchange and understanding. Our vision is to help American citizens engage the world. The Bureau issues the travel documents that allow Americans to travel the globe and lawful immigrants and visitors to travel to America and provides essential cycle of life services to American citizens overseas.
I would suggest to you that the way current affairs are being run now, the deep resentment by just two of the entities sited it just appears that DHS has gotten to big and far too soon.