Does the United States now have a cohesive strategy for homeland security? Governor Tom Ridge’s Office of Homeland Security has produced a broad range of new programs, and a greatly increased budget, in response to last fall’s airplane and anthrax terrorism attacks. But Ridge has not yet produced a full strategic plan for protecting the American homeland from terrorism. His reluctance to appear before Congress also makes it difficult for the legislative branch and the public to assess progress to date.
A team of seven Brookings Institution scholars is releasing their proposal for a comprehensive strategy to address the challenges of homeland security. They identify a number of key shortfalls in the Bush administration’s approach which would add $5 billion to $10 billion annually to the budget increase for homeland defense requested by the White House. These recommendations range from more effective prevention through beefed up law enforcement efforts and more effective information sharing among government agencies and between government and the private sector, to ways to stop biological attacks via the air circulation systems of major buildings and more effective monitoring of cargo entering the country 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 narrowly on preventing recurrences of the terrorist airliner crashes and anthrax mailings of the last year, as well as other previous types of terrorist attacks—in other words, concentrating somewhat too much on the “last war.” 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.”
In perhaps the most innovative parts of the Brookings study, the authors address two other issues involved in better protecting the homeland. First, who should pay for the necessary measures—the federal government, state and local bodies, the private sector, or users of services requiring protection? Second, should the government be reorganized to face the new challenges of terrorism? And, if so, how?