Brookings Study: Bush Homeland Security "Not Sufficient," Improve Prevention and Information Sharing, Give Ridge Greater Powers

A team of seven Brookings Institution scholars today proposed a comprehensive strategy to address the challenges of homeland defense. The scholars noted that while Governor Tom Ridge's Office of Homeland Security has produced a broad range of new programs in response to last year's airplane and anthrax attacks, it has not yet produced a full strategic plan for protecting the American homeland from terrorism.

In their lengthy study, the Brookings scholars identify a number of key shortfalls in the Bush Administration's approach. Their recommendations range from more effective prevention through increased law enforcement efforts and more effective information sharing among government agencies and between the government and the private sector, to ways to stop bioterrorism attacks via the air circulation systems of major buildings and more effective monitoring of cargo entering the United States on container ships.

The Brookings scholars make two major criticisms of the Bush Administration's homeland security measures announced so far. First, that they focus too much on preventing recurrences of last year's terrorist attacks, thus "concentrating on the last war rather than the possible next one." And second, that the administration's plans emphasize protecting targets in the U.S. from terrorist attack rather than "taking domestic steps to prevent those attacks in the first place."

Among the Brookings study's other specific recommendations are:

  • Increase defenses against terrorist penetration along America's borders and in U.S. airspace
  • Tighten surveillance, information gathering, and visa and immigration procedures, while remaining sensitive to civil liberties concerns
  • Substantially increase the personnel at the FBI involved in counterr-terorism, adding 1,000 additional agents, analysts and translators annually for five years
  • Improve security at the nation's nuclear power plants and toxic chemical plants

The study noted that the Bush administration recognizes that its current homeland security plan is incomplete, and is continuing to work on a strategic plan that "would tie together the now rather disjointed set of individual initiatives and would presumably include a number of new initiatives" not included in President's Bush's $38 billion homeland security budget request.

"A large, free, and open country cannot make itself invulnerable to terrorism," the study states. "Nonetheless, an effective homeland security strategy can substantially complicate the efforts of any terrorist group attempting to strike at the country, thereby making the most deadly and costly types of terrorist attack less likely to succeed. Hence, good homeland security is far from hopeless, though efforts to date have not been sufficient."

In one of its most innovative recommendations, the study suggests that while the federal, state, and local governments should pay for anti-terrorism protection for public facilities, the users and owners of private property "should generally pay for the costs associated with the additional security" of their facilities. The government should encourage such anti-terrorism protection for private property through "performance-oriented mandates on the private sector, perhaps coupled with insurance requirements or incentives, rather than direct subsidies or tax incentives," the study recommends.

"Ultimate success in protecting the American homeland against terrorist attack will depend to a significant extent on how the U.S. government is organized to meet this threat," the study states. It notes that nearly 70 agencies spend money on counter-terrorism activities, and that a organizational chart shows 130 federal agencies that have some responsibility for homeland security.

While declaring that creation of an Office of Homeland Security under Gov. Tom Ridge was the best organizational choice, the study calls for a number of additional steps:

  • The office should be made a statutory agency in the Executive Office of the President, with its director given Cabinet rank and subject to Senate confirmation
  • A cadre of agency officials should be created that could be deployed to the scene of a terrorist incident to work with state and local officials and to coordinate the federal government's response
  • A federal Border Agency should be established comprising the Coast Guard, the Customs Service, the enforcement arm of the Immigration and Naturalization Service (including the Border Patrol), the Agriculture Quarantine Inspection program, and probably the new Transportation Security Agency
  • In addition to the Pentagon's recent creation of the Northern Command to protect the homeland, a new post of undersecretary of defense for homeland security should be established
  • Congress should establish appropriations subcommittees on homeland security, and a joint Senate-House committee to exercise broad oversight in this area

The study will be released at a Brookings forum today. The findings will be available at the same time on the Brookings website at www.Brookings.edu. The scholars who conducted the study are:

James Steinberg, vice president and director of the Foreign Policy Studies program at Brookings
Robert Litan, vice president and director of the Economic Studies Program at Brookings
Michael O'Hanlon, senior fellow, Foreign Policy Studies, Brookings Institution
Ivo Daalder, senior fellow, Foreign Policy Studies, Brookings Institution
Peter Orszag, senior fellow, Economic Studies, Brookings Institution
I.M. (Mac) Destler, professor and director, Program on International Security and Economic Studies, School of Public Affairs, University of Maryland
David Gunter, research assistant, Economic Studies, Brookings Institution