DHS: A wasteful, growing, fear-mongering beast
In a terrific piece of reporting, the Albuquerque Journal’s Michael Coleman dives deep into the morass of fear, waste, and bureaucracy that is the Department of Homeland Security.
Today, in addition to protecting America’s borders and airports, the department is interrogating people suspected of pirating movies at Ohio theaters, seizing counterfeit NBA merchandise in San Antonio and working pickpocket cases alongside police in Albuquerque. Homeland Security agents are visiting elementary schools and senior centers to warn of dangers lurking on the Internet.
Some government watchdogs and civil liberties advocates – and even the nation’s first Department of Homeland Security secretary – question how those actions serve the purpose set forth in the 2002 law.
“They’ve kind of lost their way,” former Secretary Tom Ridge told the Journal in Washington this month. “I was proud to be associated with those men and women, but it just seems to me … the focus – the primary focus – has been substantially diminished.”
Meanwhile, a top Homeland Security official in Albuquerque said the department wants to enlarge its law enforcement presence – at least in New Mexico – even more.
“I really do want to expand the footprint as far as my side of Homeland Security,” said Kevin Abar, assistant special agent in charge of Homeland Security Investigations in New Mexico, in a Journal interview.
“Too many people think we do immigration, and we don’t really do any of that at all.”
Homeland Security Investigations falls under the jurisdiction of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency and focuses “on a wide range of domestic and international activities” including financial and cyber crimes, narcotics, human smuggling and other offenses, according to the DHS website. The investigations unit has 10,000 employees and 6,700 special agents assigned to more than 200 U.S. cities and 47 foreign countries.
There was a time when “defending the homeland” was a function of, well, the Department of Defense. Today, that massive agency is really more about invading and rebuilding other countries. So we got the Department of Homeland Security. Which, inevitably, now includes missions overseas. Welcome to mission creep.
A report by the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service last year found that more than a decade after the Department of Homeland Security’s creation – and despite the specific language in the law that created it – the sprawling agency still didn’t have a clear definition for “homeland security,” or a strategy for integrating the divergent missions that are supposed to achieve it. The report suggested the uncertainty could actually be compromising national security.
“The U.S. government does not have a single definition for ‘homeland security,’ ” the report said. “Multiple definitions, missions and an absence of prioritization results in consequences to the nation’s security.”
If there’s one thing government bureaucracies do really well, it’s find new reasons to justify their existence. So vague definitions will inevitably be interpreted as broadly as possible to create as wide a mission as possible.
Nearly all the post-9/11 literature like The 9-11 Commission Report or Lawrence Wright’s terrific book The Looming Tower pointed to the bureaucratic wrangling and turf wars that prevented the federal government from preventing the 2001 attacks. In response, Congress created the larger bureaucracy the world has ever seen. The results have been predictable.
Joan Johnson-Freese, a professor of national security affairs at the U.S. Naval War College and Harvard Extension School, has called the Department of Homeland Security “a colossal and inefficient boondoggle.” . . .
In a Journal interview, she said cultural problems at DHS are festering because of duplications of missions among agencies within the department, as well as a lack of top-level leadership.
“DHS was put together as one great big organized department, and in fact they’ve became one big disorganized group of stovepipes,” she said . . .
Today, no fewer than 100 congressional committees and subcommittees have some kind of jurisdiction over the Department of Homeland Security. In 2004, that number was 86, according to a report by the 9/11 Commission.
DHS defenders point out that we haven’t had an attack anywhere near the scale of the Sept. 11 attacks since those attacks themselves. That’s true. We also hadn’t had an attack on the scale of the Sept. 11 attacks prior to those attack themselves.
Continue reading at first link above.