As Senate and House committees prepare to draft their versions of legislation creating a Cabinet-level Department of Homeland Security, a new report from the Brookings Institution recommends that Congress "modify key elements" of President Bush's proposal, primarily by including fewer functions in the new department than the White House requested.
"The administration's proposal merges too many different activities into a single department, including many that have little day-to-day connection with one another," the Brookings report finds. "Congress should proceed cautiously, merging only those functions for which a clear case has been made."
Specifically, the report recommends consolidating border, transportation, and infrastructure security in the new department, along with a major new intelligence assessment and analysis unit. It proposes that, at least for now, Congress exclude the Federal Emergency Management Agency, as well as agencies dealing with chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear countermeasures, from the new department. Even this more focused department would contain more than 90 percent of the personnel and account for over two-thirds of the budget of the reorganization proposed by President Bush.
The report was prepared by eight Brookings experts on homeland security issues: Ivo Daalder, I. M. Destler of the University of Maryland, Paul Light, James Lindsay, Robert Litan, Michael O'Hanlon, Peter Orszag, and James Steinberg. The new report builds on an earlier study by many of the current authors, Protecting the American Homeland, which Brookings published last May.
The authors were critical of the Bush administration for proposing a major reorganization before having provided a "clear and coherent statement" of its strategic priorities. "The administration should complete and distribute its homeland security strategy, which is fundamental to the broader effort to improve the nation's security against terrorist attack as well as to the specific effort to reorganize the federal government in pursuit of that goal," write the authors.
The report declared that the Bush administration is correct to seek "substantial flexibility" in managing the new Homeland Security Department. But, the experts write, "wherever possible, management flexibility should be provided through general legislation affecting the executive branch as a whole rather than for the new department on an exceptional basis."
Additionally, the report recommends that to better provide for homeland security, reorganization should extend outside the executive branch.
"Congress should establish standing committees and appropriations committees specializing in homeland security," the Brookings experts proposed. "And the federal government should lead in establishing federal-state-local-private sector task forces in every state and major urban area."
The full report will be distributed and discussed at a forum at the Brookings Institution, beginning at 9:00 a.m. Monday, July 15. At that time, it will also be available on-line at www.brookings.edu/homelandsecurity