Homeland Security: Not Ready, Too Big

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The non-partisan Government Accountability Office just released its report about our Department of Homeland Security and the findings aren’t encouraging.

From Wash Post:

The GAO states that after the largest government merger in more than half a century, the DHS met fewer than half of its performance objectives, or 78 of 171 directives identified by President Bush, Congress and the department’s own strategic plans. The department strongly disputed the report.

In one of its harshest conclusions, the 320-page document states that the DHS has made the least progress toward some of the fundamental goals identified after the 2001 attacks and again after Hurricane Katrina in August 2005: improving emergency preparedness; capitalizing on the nation’s wealth and scientific prowess through “Manhattan project”-style research initiatives; and eliminating bureaucratic and technical barriers to information-sharing.

Yesterday, Senate Homeland Security Committee Chairman Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.) said that although the DHS “has made important progress,” it requires more focused attention and money. “Clearly, we have a long way to go before the department achieves the goals we set out for it four and a half years ago,” said Lieberman, who will chair a hearing on the matter this afternoon.

I believe this department, whether its formation was wise or not, is of paramount importance because our borders still aren’t secure and our ports are still wide open. And it’s also a tragic irony that this report finds that the most important thing it was created to do is being prevented because, well, it was created in the first place. What do I mean? Read more…

GAO analysts acknowledged that DHS’s enormous size and complexity — spanning 220,000 employees and 22 component agencies — make the challenge “especially daunting and important.” They also said they do not intend to suggest that the DHS should have already met all expectations. “Successful transformations of large organizations, even those faced with less strenuous reorganizations than DHS, can take at least 5 to 7 years to achieve,” the GAO stated.

Still, although prior studies focused on the DHS’s many organizational problems — leading Chertoff to direct the department to sharpen its focus after he took office in February 2005 — the report indicates that it still has difficulty carrying out policy decisions and setting priorities.

In other words, we created it so we could have a more nimble response to national security threats, but its WAY too big to be nimble in response to national security threats. Or even threats from Mother Nature, as Katrina showed us.

Should a re-org of the DHS be a top priority for the next President? I think so.