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On the Record

Refining What a Homeland Security Department Should Look Like

FREDRICKA WHITFIELD: This week on Capitol Hill, refining what a Homeland Security Department should look like. The Bush administration wants to bring together 22 agencies under one department. Is that the right approach to making this country safer? The Brookings Institute says no. Ivo Daalder is a senior fellow in foreign policy studies at the Brookings Institute, and he joins us from Washington.

Well, what’s the problem with putting all 22 agencies in one powerful department?

IVO DAALDER: It’s basically putting 22 agencies in a powerful department. The real problem is there are too many who are doing too many different things and being put on into one single place. Doing so is going to take months, years probably, of getting the cultures that are very different reorganized, getting the personnel systems and payment systems and the retirement systems and the pensions systems all lined up.

In the meantime, the real threat is still out there, and nobody is going to be paying much attention to that as this department gets organized.

WHITFIELD: Well, the White House proposes by putting everyone together, that will encourage better communication. Communication problems have obviously been the problem, particularly of the CIA and FBI, at least that’s the criticism as of late. So the White House is contending this really is the solution to bring everyone on board with the same plan?

DAALDER: Well, right, there is a wide dispersal of authority within the federal government on people who have a task—have some aspect of the homeland security task under their belt. And we need to bring these people together.

Bringing them into a single building is one way. Increasing their communication system so that they can talk to each other and their computers can talk to each other is a different way. Even under the president’s own proposal, only about 20 to 25 percent of all the agencies involved in this effort would actually be brought into this department.

Author

We believe that we need to focus this effort more importantly on three areas—on border and transportation security, which is part of the president’s plan, on securing the critical infrastructure, the food system, the banking and finance system, the communication and information system on which much of what we do in a daily life depends. And thirdly, exactly as you said, bringing the data that’s being collected by the CIA and the intelligence communities abroad, and the FBI and the local law enforcement communities here at home, bringing that data together and having some single place—we would put it in this department, analyze and assess the data to find out what the threat is and how we can best respond to it.

WHITFIELD: So is it your concern that this one group as well that’s being proposed by the Bush administration is really more a reactionary response as opposed to a department of prevention?

DAALDER: There’s the concern that we have that what the president has laid out is a massive reorganization, where the common thread is that anybody who has something to do with homeland security ought to be brought into a single department, and that really substitutes for a well thought out strategy of how we should secure our homeland. Indeed, the president had promised the nation a strategy for homeland security some time ago. We still don’t have that strategy.

And how do we really want to think about reorganization when we don’t know what the strategic priorities of our defensive strategy are? We think that, in fact, what we ought to look at is prevention measures, by keeping terrorists outside of the borders, making sure the bad materials that should cross the borders do not come in or do not fall in the wrong hands. Do a lot of tracking of potential terrorists who are already inside, as well as the materials that are here, and that we ought to organize this department by having those capabilities all within a single department—having the Customs Service, the Immigration & Naturalization Service and people like that all sitting together in a same department and focusing the effort in that strategic way in which, quite frankly, the administration’s program lacks.

WHITFIELD: If it comes down to it and this becomes one department being the third largest cabinet, is it your opinion that home security leader Tom Ridge would be the man to head that department if it became a cabinet?

DAALDER: I actually doubt it. You know, nobody has asked my opinion, but the fact is, that if Tom Ridge was going to be heading this department, then presumably the president would have announced it at the time that he made this proposal back early last month, or at least in the intermediate time.

But I may be proven wrong. Maybe Tom Ridge will be appointed. I would look to somebody who has managerial experience in bringing large numbers of people together, either somebody who comes out of the military, a general who has been able to pull lots of different people together—think of Colin Powell as one person—or, perhaps better still, somebody out of business, who has the experience of both supervising mergers of companies and therefore different systems that is very similar to what is being proposed here, but also being able to motivate his employees to do the thing that is necessary—in this case, to protect the country.

WHITFIELD: All right. Ivo Daalder from the Brookings Institute, thanks again for joining us from Washington.

DAALDER: My pleasure.

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