Jewish World Review Dec. 13, 2004 / 30 Kislev, 5765

Jack Kelly

Jack Kelly
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Make new head of Homeland Security the fella who thought it up | If there is justice in this world, Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn) will be the next Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security.

This isn't because Lieberman is the best man for the job. Senators typically are as good at managing large enterprises as teenagers are at impulse control. Lieberman should get the job because DHS was his idea in the first place. If it's a good idea, Lieberman should get the credit. But if it's a bad idea, there would be cosmic justice if he were the one to get the headaches.

I'm not convinced it was a good idea. The Department of Homeland Security is a monster agency, 180,000 strong, cobbled together from 22 once separate agencies with different purposes and wildly varying corporate cultures. Getting all these fiefdoms to march to the beat of the same drummer would be a formidable task for the best of managers.

We don't know how good (or how poor) a job Secretary Ridge has done, because news coverage of DHS has been execrable. The birth pains of the second largest cabinet department (after the Department of Defense) should be big news, but journalists in Washington today seem unwilling or unable to cover anything more complicated than the color-coded alert system.

Nothing bad has happened to us since 9/11, a prima facie indication that the Department of Homeland Security must be doing something right. But knowledgeable observers like former Coast Guard officer Stephen Flynn, now with the Council on Foreign Relations, contend we're no safer now than we were three years ago.

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"It's just a huge bureaucracy that people can't seem to get their hands around," a senior DHS staffer told the American Spectator. "I think we've done the very best job we can to get the various parts together under one roof, but it hasn't been smooth or easy. There are still a ton of turf wars breaking out here day in and day out."

It made enormous sense to put some of these organizations together -- for instance, to combine the Coast Guard, the Customs Service, the Border Patrol and the Immigration and Naturalization Service into a single agency responsible for border security.

When the Coast Guard was part of the department of Transportation, the Customs Service part of Treasury, the Border Patrol and INS part of Justice, all were stepchildren which received little attention and less funding, and there was much duplication, but little cooperation, among them.

But the only sound argument for removing transportation security from the Department of Transportation is that it got the Transportation Security Administration (the second largest agency, after the Coast Guard, in DHS) out of the inept hands of Secretary Norm Mineta, whose chief concern about airport screening was that it might offend the sensibilities of Muslims.

Border security doesn't have much in common with transportation security, which doesn't have a lot to do with protecting nuclear power plants or the transmission grid, or with training policemen and firemen to respond to chemical, biological and radiological attacks. Lumping all these disparate functions together tends to create more headaches than cooperation.

But it was politics, not sensible management structure, that was on Sen. Lieberman's mind when he proposed creation of an over arching Department of Homeland Security. He was preparing to run for president, and after 9/11, he needed something to burnish his national security credentials, but which would distinguish him from President Bush. DHS fit the bill.

And it was good politics when Bush, after initially opposing creation of this mammoth department, embraced it, thus cutting the rug out from under the Democrats.

It would be good politics for Bush to appoint Lieberman to be Ridge's successor. It would show bipartisanship, and it would grow the GOP majority in the Senate, because Connecticut's governor, who would appoint Lieberman's successor if he left the Senate, is a Republican.

But good politics isn't the same as good government.

DHS should serve as a cautionary tale. Problems caused in large part by bureaucratic ineptitude rarely are eased by building bigger bureaucracies. Moving boxes around on an organizational chart does not compensate for a lack of competent personnel and adequate resources where the rubber meets the road. We should bear this in mind as we contemplate intelligence "reform."

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JWR contributor Jack Kelly, a former Marine and Green Beret, was a deputy assistant secretary of the Air Force in the Reagan administration. Comment by clicking here.

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