Sunday, September 11, 2005

Just Give The Government More Money

and they'll ask for more to waste and give themselves more immunity to screw you over, commit crimes, and silence whistleblowers. When are more of you out there, just going to wake up?

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Security Agency: Change Ahead?

Despite Katrina, Some See Strengths
September 11, 2005 By DAVID LIGHTMAN, Hartford Courant Washington Bureau Chief

WASHINGTON -- The new Department of Homeland Security flunked its first big test, and policymakers and experts worry that it is destined to fail again.

They see an agency still grappling with organizational problems, starving for budget money and saddled by leaders who may not be qualified for their jobs. They are particularly concerned because the department was slowly starting to become more nimble and efficient, but now could be forced to make too many unneeded changes in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

"Will we start to rearrange the deck chairs again without giving anyone a chance to make the current system work?" asked Juliette N. Kayyem, lecturer in public policy at Harvard's John F. Kennedy School of Government.

In assessing what went wrong - and what could be improved - experts and lawmakers advised looking down three avenues that have dogged the department since its inception 21/2 years ago.

"Follow the money," said David Heyman, director of the homeland security program at Washington's Center for Strategic and International Studies, in seeking answers to what went wrong. The budget for homeland security, he said, has consistently "been flat or gone down."

Follow the leaders, advised Jamie Metzl, president of Partnership for a Secure America.

"Clearly, we have a complete, catastrophic failure of leadership at all levels," Metzl said.

Notably under fire is Federal Emergency Management Agency head Michael D. Brown. Many congressional Democrats complain that the Oklahoma lawyer was ill-equipped to lead the relief effort. Brown was removed Friday from his role managing the Katrina relief effort.

Sen. Christopher J. Dodd, D-Conn., suggested looking down another path to learn how Washington could better respond to emergencies: Follow the department's organizational chart.

"We probably asked homeland security to do too much," he said.

Few of the watchdogs, though, argued for a massive overhaul of the department, created in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks to improve government's ability to respond to and prevent future disasters.

"We've got to remember that the alternative is not to go back to the disorganization that existed before, when none of these agencies were cooperating," said Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman, D-Conn., the top Democrat on the Senate homeland security committee.

James Jay Carafano, a homeland security expert at Washington's Heritage Foundation and a frequent critic of the agency, agreed that the Homeland Security Department shows signs of becoming more competent. Secretary Michael Chertoff in July launched a reorganization that will focus more on catastrophic emergencies, he said, and it shows promise.

"It should make things better in the future," said Carafano, "but Katrina got here first."

New Response Strategies

The agency was painstakingly designed to deal effectively with the response to such disasters as Katrina.

Lieberman, then chairman of the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee, led the fight in 2002 to create the new agency. President Bush was reluctant at first, joining the effort months later.

Throughout the debate, experts and many members of Congress warned that bringing so many disparate parts of government together would not necessarily make the nation safer.

"You have a mix of agencies that have never worked together," said Paul C. Light, professor of public service at New York University.

The Coast Guard and the Customs Service have wide responsibilities beyond searching for terrorists. FEMA has nothing specifically to do with terrorism.

Supporters countered that the last big government consolidation, combining the military services into the Defense Department in 1947, eventually worked out well, despite some initial reluctance by individual services to work together.

The disagreements caused some disarray at the outset of the Korean War.

"Imagine if we had disbanded the Defense Department in 1950," Carafano said. Not until the 1980s did joint operations become routine.

Light dismissed the analogy, saying there were always logical reasons the military would eventually work as one unit.

"Navy, Army and Air Force people may go into the same bars and get into fistfights," he said, "but ... they ultimately are used to fighting a common enemy, not each other."

The new Homeland Security agency had serious organizational problems from the start. The bureaucratic cultures and functions - immigration, emergency management, customs, airline safety and so forth - did not mesh smoothly.

The first secretary, Tom Ridge, was criticized for being too public relations-conscious and not detail-oriented. Critically needed money to help "first responders" buy equipment came slowly and was meted out through a highly politicized process.

Experts routinely decried the effort.

"The organization is weighted down with bureaucratic layers, is rife with turf warfare and lacks a structure for strategic thinking and policymaking," a 27-member task force of academics, think tank researchers and congressional staffers said last year.

As a result, it found, "America is not sufficiently prepared to respond fully to a catastrophic terrorist attack on U.S. soil that involves chemical, biological or radiological weapons."FEMA Gets LostAdrift in this ever-churning sea was FEMA.Created in 1979 to coordinate disaster relief efforts that had been performed by different agencies, FEMA wound up in the Homeland Security Department because its expertise and basic functions were similar to those needed in case of a terrorist attack.The Hart-Rudman Commission, which first reported on potential terrorist threats in 1999, recommended the creation of a Department of Homeland Security and said FEMA should be part of it. Ten days after the Sept. 11 attacks, Lieberman argued for that as well.Doubters countered that FEMA needed quick, direct access to the president, rather than having to go through a Cabinet secretary first."I don't think it's a good fit for FEMA. FEMA's role is to work with state and local governments," James Lee Witt, President Clinton's FEMA director, said of the Lieberman plan.The senator thought otherwise, saying, "prevention and response to a terrorist attack - certainly response - is not that different from response to a natural disaster."FEMA became part of the new Homeland Security Department in 2003. Its stature and access were diminished, and its domestic mission was largely forgotten as the homeland security agency and Congress turned their attention to more urgent matters."Terrorism was the topic du jour, and instead of looking at the effects of an attack or a crisis, we were more worried about how to prevent it," Dodd said.Lieberman, though, is not ready to sever FEMA from homeland security. "It's very premature to decide DHS didn't do anything right, or that it's necessary that FEMA be pulled out of DHS," he said. "We need more inquiry and more thought."But other members of Congress were ready to act. "Absolutely it was a mistake," Sen. Trent Lott, R-Miss., said of putting FEMA into homeland security. "FEMA should be a freestanding, independent agency reporting only to the president of the United States, to cut back on any bureaucratic delays."Major RepairsThe Department of Homeland Security's future success depends on three factors: its leadership, its structure and its budget.

Experts were cautiously optimistic the structure is being fixed.Chertoff, who took office in March, immediately undertook a review that spawned a reorganization plan this summer that puts special emphasis on preparedness, securing transportation and improving border security.

Heyman, Kayyem and Carafano saw promise. "Before last week," said Kayyem, a member of the National Commission on Terrorism, "I'd been a convert to DHS's ability to respond to terrorism and emergency needs."Heyman still thought this year's National Response Plan, designed to help state, local and federal agencies coordinate relief efforts, is a "good plan."In addition, Lieberman saw the agency carrying out a number of functions successfully. The Coast Guard operates efficiently, he said, and congressional reports have cited infrastructure protection initiatives as proceeding well and border security as getting tighter.Transit funding is being increased, and William W. Millar, president of the American Public Transportation Association, told Congress last week that his industry is making "great strides in transit security improvements."The leadership issue has focused in recent weeks on Brown, whom many Democrats want ousted."If we're going to succeed at federal emergency management," said House Democratic Leader Nancy D. Pelosi, D-Calif., "and I emphasize the word management - we have to have accountability, and we have to have confidence."We don't have that at the head of FEMA," she said. Dodd agreed, saying there was "gross incompetence" in the relief effort and Brown should be fired. Brown is expected to leave FEMA this fall.The third challenge, money, is being addressed at the moment as emergency funds flow into the Gulf Coast, but there are concerns about whether a federal budget facing record deficits can accommodate all of the nation's homeland security needs.During the heightened state of emergency for U.S. transit systems this summer, after the London bombings, costs for added security totaled about $33 million. To maintain adequate security, Millar said, more funding is "critical."The Bush administration has not been regarded as overly generous with homeland security money. A July Congressional Budget Office report found that federal resources dedicated to homeland security, a sum that includes the budgets of several agencies, will total about $49.1 billion this fiscal year.Next year, the administration has proposed a 1.2 percent increase in this amount. But the Homeland Security Department itself would get about $500 million less than it gets this year, largely because of technical adjustments in the way public health money is spent.Heyman warned that emergency preparedness needs more funding."The balance of the focus has been on terrorism, and that's not a bad thing, because we were so far behind we needed to play catch-up," he said. "But we shouldn't be doing that at the expense of other hazards."The key to the department's future, said Kayyem, will be Chertoff and whether he can successfully fight for funding, make sure it's spent efficiently and get competent people into key management positions."The future of the department is a Chertoff legacy question," Kayyem said. "Can he continue his reforms, or has Katrina sort of ended any hope that [the Department of Homeland Security] can become more efficient?"

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