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Brookings Scholar Issues Caution on Homeland Security Legislative Proposal, Endorses Creation of Office for Combating Terrorism

Paul Light, Vice President and Director of the Governmental Studies program at the Brookings Institution, testified before the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee today that, “the case for a department of homeland security is compelling, and there is a desperate need for coordination, integration, and rationalization across the agencies involved in this endeavor.” Light said that while he is cautious about endorsing the current proposal to create a Department of National Homeland Security, he strongly endorses the creation of a statutory White House office for combating terrorism.

Light advised caution concerning the timing and organization of a Department of National Homeland Security. He expressed the need for an assessment of federal government organization prior to the creation of a cabinet-level department. He recommended that a national commission on executive organization be convened to complete this task.

According to Light, the creation of this commission would be a first step “towards making the tough choices needed to ensure that the new department has all it needs to be successful.” The commission would provide a top-to-bottom analysis of the federal hierarchy, and would be invaluable in assessing the specific organizational needs to be met by the Department of Homeland Security.

“Although its primary goal would be to reorganize towards strength, this commission would have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to recommend the kind of reform that might give the federal government a fresh start in both doing its job and recruiting the next generation of public servants,” Light said.

“The decision to create a new federal entity or reorganize existing agencies involves a balancing test in which one must ask whether the nation would be better served by a new sorting of responsibilities,” Light stated. “I am not convinced that this particular proposal offers the right combination of the right agencies at the right time.”

An expert on government organization and reform, Light began his testimony by praising the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee’s past reform efforts.

“This Committee, and its members, do not legislate lightly when creating a new department or agency, and this has been the resting place for hundreds, if not thousands, of proposals that would have created new federal entities of one kind or another. But for the discipline of this Committee, the federal organization chart would be even more cluttered than it currently is.”

“The fact that we have nearly 70 agencies that spend money battling terrorism is but one indication of the steady diffusion of accountability that has occurred over the past half century,” Light continued.

Light testified before the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee on the National Homeland Security and Combating Terrorism Act of 2002. For interview requests with Paul Light, contact Gina Russo at 202/797-6405 or grusso@brookings.edu.

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