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Brookings Scholar Endorses Strengthening and Simplifying the Office of Homeland Security

Paul Light, vice president and director of the Governmental Studies program at the Brookings Institution, told Congress today that the Office of Homeland Security “should be fully empowered to make sure that the federal government has the information it needs.”

Naming the Immigration and Naturalization Service as an organization that suffers from a dearth of high-quality information on potential threats to national security, and has serious vulnerabilities in making sure that high-quality information reaches the right people at the right time, Light states, “Even if the agency were to discover a potential threat, it is not clear that the information would make it to key law enforcement and security officials.”

In testimony before the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Administrative Oversight and the Courts, Light cautioned that additional authority vested in the Office of Homeland Security would be wasted if it is permitted to acquire additional, bureaucratic layers. “For whatever reason, the current Office of Homeland Security has already become one of the thickest units in the White House,” Light stated. “That not only weakens communications within the office, it adds to the extraordinary thickening of other units of government.”

An expert in government organization and reform, Light applauded the subcommittee’s focus on this issue. “I believe this subcommittee is right on target in asking how, and whether, the office might improve the flow of information to and from key decision makers.”

Light characterized information-producing and sharing capabilities as critical to the success of a federal government agency. “We see the same problems over and over again as information gets lost, distorted, mishandled, improperly classified, or mis-interpreted up and down the ponderous federal hierarchy,” Light stated.

Without the necessary staff and authority, Light predicted that the Office of Homeland Security would become similarly over-layered and ineffective. He described the current office as “lacking authority” to implement an aggressive information collection, analysis, and dissemination strategy. The office’s inability to produce, purchase and declassify information, coupled with its multiple layers of bureaucracy, serve to weaken its effectiveness, Light said.

“The Office of Homeland Security has a special obligation to examine information through a very broad lens, and from a vantage point that no other agency of government has,” stated Light.

“Much as one can credit Governor Ridge with substantial success in shaping the budgets of the agencies involved in homeland security, his office does not provide the levers that are essential for coordinating, let alone assuring, the flow of high-quality information in real time. He should be congratulated for having made the best of a very difficult situation, but should be fully empowered to make sure that the federal government has the information it needs.”

Light testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee Subcommittee on Administrative Oversight and the Courts on strengthening the Office of Homeland Security. For interview requests with Paul Light, contact Gina Russo at 202/797-6405.

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