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Jewish World Review June 13, 2002 / 3 Tamuz, 5762

David Silverberg

David Silverberg
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Pentagon Perspective: Getting ready for the big changes | Conventional wisdom holds that President Bush's plan for a Department of Homeland Security will result in ferocious bureaucratic turf battles.

Under ordinary circumstances, that would indeed be the case. But these aren't ordinary circumstances.

There's a saying about those who dare to predict the future: "When you're right no one remembers, and when you're wrong no one forgets." At the risk of incurring long-term derision, I'm going to hazard the prediction that implementing the president's proposal will result in far less bureaucratic warfare than is widely feared.

Why? Because we're at war, because there's a real need for these reforms, and because American civil servants and law enforcement agents can pull together magnificently when they face a genuine threat, when a solution is at hand, and when some real leadership is displayed.

It's worth looking back at the way the U.S. military united in 1990 in the wake of Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait. All the inter-service rivalries and petty jockeying were put aside and the job of defeating the Iraqis was done with dispatch.

We have survived such reorganizations before, the most prominent being the National Security Act of 1947 and its amendments that created the Department of Defense, the Central Intelligence Agency, and the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

That structure was as sweeping in its day as the Department of Homeland Security Bush has proposed - but for 40 years of Cold War it served the country well and everyone eventually adjusted to its strictures and structures.

A far more worrisome possibility than executive branch infighting is congressional bloodletting. Congress has always adjusted its own structures to reflect its oversight responsibilities toward the executive branch. This time is no different. Just as the country requires a Department of Homeland Security, the House and Senate require their own homeland security committees.

But the fury of a military defending its prerogatives can seem like a meditation session in a California hot tub compared to congressional chairmen fighting to retain their gavels.

Congress needs to rise above its normal turf wars. Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) has already endorsed the Homeland Security Department and will be working to implement the president's request. However, his task in implementing the executive changes is as nothing compared to the much bigger and more troublesome job of reorganizing the House to reflect the new realities.

But if the House situation is complex, it's as nothing compared to the situation in the Senate where the Democratic Caucus that had been trying to out-secure the president suddenly found the tables turned. If a new Senate Homeland Security Committee is formed, picking an occupant for that chair could be one of the caucus' most important political decisions this year. However, if the Senate can move quickly in creating such a committee it would give the Democrats an important role in formulating and overseeing the entire homeland security effort.

One of the hardest tasks in both the executive and legislative branches will be to distinguish petty bickering and parochialism from genuine concerns arising from the reorganization. Some agencies are rightfully asking how they'll fulfill their non-terrorism-related mandates if they lose their enforcement bureaus or offices to the new department. Indeed, there's a question to be raised about the fate of all non-anti-terrorist programs administered by the federal government.

Every so often events occur that signal epochal changes. Sept. 11 inaugurated a new era, one of domestic terror and response and it will be with us for a long time. We've been wrenched into a new and uncomfortable world dominated by hard men and their suicidal followers. American government and the American people will no doubt respond to this challenge as they've responded to every other one throughout their history.

In this atmosphere we shouldn't confuse legitimate skepticism with disloyalty. The president's proposal is generating an enormous number of questions.

They're real and necessary and will have to be answered in the days ahead if this new effort is to be done properly. We need to move forward with dispatch - but also with due deliberation.

JWR contributor David Silverberg is managing editor of The Hill. Comment by clicking here.

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© 2002, David Silverberg