Sunday, February 06, 2005

Bush Calls Homeland Security Top Priority, But Officials Say Department is Dysfunctional

Think you're safe?

Current and former officials of the Department of Homeland Security, while acknowledging some goals have been met, say that the department has not succeeded overall because of "personality conflicts" and "bureaucratic bottlenecks" among its 22 agencies.

The 22-month-old department, which employs 180,000 people, lacks clout and remains second-tier within President Bush's cabinet, officials say.

Much of the blame apparently goes to former department secretary Tom Ridge, criticized for trying to please politicans rather than lead the department. The result? A department that remains "dysfunctional," understaffed at the highest levels and underfunded. Critics hope Ridge's successor, Michael Chertoff, will take a greater leadership role as the department moves forward.

***

According to a Feb. 2 story in The Washington Post:

-- The department has made little progress protecting infrastructure because officials bickered over whether they were prohibited by law from spending money on such efforts. Only recently was the legal language been reworded.

--Two arms of the department gridlocked over efforts to secure hazardous chemicals on trains -- one of Congress's most feared terrorist-attack scenarios.

-- The department couldn't decide which of its agencies would take the lead tracking people and cargo at U.S. ports of entry. Efforts to develop tamper-proof shipping containers were stalled because of internal debates.

--The department's investigative arm, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), has operated under severe financial crisis for more than a year -- to the point that use of agency vehicles and photocopying were at times banned. The problem stems from funding disputes with other department agencies.

Richard A. Falkenrath, who until last May was Bush's deputy homeland security adviser, told the Post that many officials at the department were so inexperienced in grasping the levers of power in Washington, and so bashful about trying, that they failed to make progress on some fronts.

"This department is immensely powerful in society, given its central role in foreign trade, immigration and transportation," he told the Post. "But it is far less powerful in interagency meetings and the White House situation room."

"DHS is still a compilation of 22 agencies that aren't integrated into a cohesive whole," said its recently departed inspector general, Clark Kent Ervin, who released many critical reports and was not reappointed after a falling-out with Ridge.

Asked for examples of ineffectiveness, Ervin cited a report from his office last month that Homeland Security immigration inspectors had continued to let dozens of people using stolen foreign passports enter the United States -- even after other governments had notified the agency of the passport numbers. Using stolen passports is a well-known tactic of al Qaeda operatives. Even when immigration officials realized someone had entered the United States on a stolen passport, they did not routinely notify sister agencies that track illegal immigrants, the report said. When officials made missteps such as this, Ridge rarely intervened, Ervin said.

"Nobody's kicking anybody to do things" at Homeland Security, Seth Stodder, former policy and planning director at the department's Customs and Border Protection agency, told the Post. "There's a reluctance to make decisions that will be unpopular with the loser, so things just drift."

Stodder and other government officials said the department's main problem is that, under pressure from the White House to keep staffing lean, it lacks a policy staff to study its largest strategic challenges. The Pentagon, by contrast, has 2,000 people doing that, he said. "It's very thinly staffed at the top of DHS, and there's no policy vision . . . thinking through the main threats," Stodder said.

According to officials interviewed by the Post, the department has also has been hobbled by turf fights. Another Homeland Security agency -- the Transportation Security Agency (TSA), with 45,000 airport screeners -- said that a sentence in a budget law established it as overseer of security on trains, including ones moving dangerous chemicals. Hassles between TSA and infrastructure officials slowed progress, including efforts to secure chemicals that travel on tracks near the U.S. Capitol, for a year, officials told the Post.

"I'm sorry to say, since 9/11 we have essentially done nothing" to secure chemical plants and trains carrying chemicals, Falkenrath told Congress last month. "This [issue] stands out as an enormous vulnerability we had the authority to address."

The TSA's claims that it supervises all transportation security also led to fights with department agencies that handle immigration and customs. The struggles delayed progress for a year on developing anti-tampering technology for shipping containers and deciding which databases to use to track foreigners and cargo entering the country, officials told the Post.



10 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

An anonymous former employee has the audacity to say that, in a bureacracy, there is bureacracy. Oh, the horror. Somehow, I am sure that this is Chimpy McBushCo's fault. I am shocked, shocked I tell you, to find out that the governement does not always operate at peak efficiency.

11:16 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just a shame. Just proves that the government never is efficient, period. Thank G-d for capitalism and free markets. Saddest aspect of this is that it was set up to create efficiencies where innefficiences existed between the various security related govt agencies.

1:56 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Bush and Co. only care about homeland security as far as it is politically expedient. It only was an issue in the campaign only because Kerry made it one. Bush gets much more mileage from the mainstream media gnomes diverting attention to how the War in Iraq is protecting us against terrorism.
Meanwhile, someone please call in The Keystone Cops. They could do a better job with homeland security.

2:22 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The people mentioned in the story are hardly anonymous shmoes.

I know that doesn't mesh with the above blogger's disparaging comments. But I doubt he's ever let the truth get in the way of a good sarcastic comment.

4:16 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Bush doesnt care about homeland security. Then he may as well be working with the terrorists. I suppose you already think her is.

4:20 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Bush clearly cares about homeland security -- it helped get him re-elected, and might help Jeb come 2008.

But in the reality-based world, if the GOP (following Bush's lead) cares so mcuh about homeland security, why cut the funding for first responders? Why vote down numerous bills on funding for ports, borders, chemical and nuclear plants, and train stations and other public transportation sites -- as mentioned on JABBS at some point? Why let the chemical industry write its own policy on homeland security -- much weaker than what the 9/11 commission suggested -- and then not even enforce that weakened policy?

If Bush cares so much about Homeland Security, why is he not spending sufficient money to secure the borders -- considered a top way for Al Qaeda and other terrorists to enter the country?

Oh yes, Bush cares about homeland security. It makes for a great stump speech. Too bad his actions don't match his words.

4:37 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Maybe his cutting of all social services will help pay for these improvements to defense. I am all for suring up our defense but i just love how certain people yell and scream about how Bush borrows money as if it grows on trees and then yells when not enough money is spent.

Truth be told, we have absolutely no idea what really goes on behind closed doors within government agencies and we never have or will. A vote is a referendum on results. That is the only way too judge. If we arent attacked in america, homeland security will get credit, even if undeserved. If we do get attacked, they will take partial blame. No way around it.

We have had security issues forever in this country. And even when we want to fix certain problems, there will always be vocal groups throughout the country indicating it is an unjust infringement on rights, whether minorities or otherwise.

6:10 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don' think it's fair to assume (as above) we should not be critical of Homeland Security because whatever we do, people will complain about rights infringement or something else, there will never be enough funding anyway, we will never know what the hell they're doing anyway...etc.
Let's just throw our arms up and let the terrorists onto the next flight to Newark!
You want homeland security?
Look at Bush's recent budget for the year beginning Oct. 1 to quickly decipher the extremely pithy increases for Homeland Security.
According to Bloomberg news, "Bush requested a slight increase in spending for Homeland Security Department, raising spending to $33.28 billion from this year's $33.26 billion...This year's budget would increase spending authority for border and transportation security to $16.1 billion from $14.6 billion...Bush urged Congress to approve spending custs for information analysis and infrastructure protection and the office of state and local government coordination. Bush proposed cutting Justice Department assistance to state and local law enforcement nearly in half to $1.5 billion from $2.8 billion."
How can Bush ever live up to his bullshit campaign spin that he would do more to protect the nation from terrorists at home?
The only reason Bush even acknowledged the subject in the first place was in response to justified criticism from Kerry. But the budget reveals the president is filled with hot air.
Why am I not surprised when a savvy reporter fails to address Bush on how he expects to make his promised improvements to homeland security when he will not raise the budget necessary for those efforts?
Maybe Kerry needs to speak up again to remind us how lacking the country is in protecting the borders, monitoring shipping containers and etc.
Now, if only another savvy reporter would address Bush on whether the U.S. would have the military resources necessary to carry-out a U.S. attack on Iran over their nuclear weapons programs -- and still be able to continue on business in Iraq. Again only in my dreams...

8:26 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Put the lack of funding on top of the political dysfunctionality of the Homeland Security department, as David discussed. Out of the fog arises a revealation that Bush really does not care all that much about Homeland Security.

8:41 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I love it ! One's level of concern/care/compassion is directly proportional to the amount of money one requests in a budget PROPOSAL.

8:53 AM  

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