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'Ineffectual behemoth'.

Byline: The Register-Guard

The Department of Homeland Security has become a self-fulfilling prophecy of failure, crippled by turf wars, political back-stabbing and paralyzing indecision on priorities.

Nearly three years after its birth in the largest government reorganization since the creation of the Department of Defense, fundamental questions remain about the agency's ability to respond to disasters and protect the nation from terrorist attacks.

An independent audit released Wednesday by Homeland Security Inspector General Richard Skinner found the sprawling Cabinet department plagued by severe management and financial problems that contributed to the inept response to Hurricane Katrina. Skinner's report also faulted the department for poor coordination between the border patrol and immigration investigators and said the department faces "formidable challenges in securing the nation's borders."

A day earlier, an assessment by 13 Democrats on the House Homeland Security Committee noted that huge gaps remain in the effort to secure the nation's ports, borders and chemical plants. The report criticized the agency for failing to compile a list of priorities for protecting critical and potentially vulnerable buildings, transportation systems and other infrastructure.

The report cited 33 unfulfilled promises by the Homeland Security Department, including failure to:

Install surveillance cameras at all high-risk chemical plants.

Install monitors at borders and every international seaport and airport to screen for radioactive material entering the country.

Create one effective network to share security-related intelligence and alerts with state, local and private industry officials.

These criticisms closely mirror a recent "report card" by the bipartisan Sept. 11 commission, which gave the department grades of D or F in critical aspects of homeland secur- ity.

In many respects, the collected reports confirm what experts - including high-level leaders within the Homeland Security Department - said from the start: The agency was set up to fail.

It made sense in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks to better integrate the nation's competing intelligence, border protection and disaster response organizations. But the Bush administration initially rejected a big-government solution to homeland security.

Only after Republicans complained that Democratic Sen. Joe Lieberman's bill to create a Cabinet-level department would give Democrats the upper hand on homeland security did a reluctant White House reverse course. Suddenly, the Bush administration saw the wisdom in consolidating resources to defend the homeland. But not all resources.

Not the vast investigative, intelligence and military resources of the FBI, CIA and the Pentagon, for example. There weren't even enough financial resources allocated to pay for necessary staff. Washington Post reporters Susan Glasser and Mi- chael Grunwald revealed in a two-part series last week that the Homeland Security Department's intelligence office opened without an undersecretary or assistant secretary and just 10 aides out of the 300 the office was supposed to hire.

Conceived in airtight secrecy in the White House basement, the Department of Homeland Security was given an almost impossible charter by a small group of administration officials. It was a hodgepodge of 22 agencies responsible for everything from livestock inspections to floodplain mapping to the national registry for missing pets.

The Washington Post report chronicled a pattern of bureaucratic sabotage and White House indifference that contributed directly to deficiencies that persist in key homeland security areas. One of the most egregious involved former Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge's modest proposal to require high-risk chemical plants - especially the 123 factories where a toxic release could endanger at least 1 million people - to enhance security. But after industry groups complained to Bush political adviser Karl Rove about giving any new regulatory power to the Environmental Protection Agency, the White House killed the plan.

The core problem was summarized by a source within the Cabinet who was quoted anonymously by the Post reporters:

"It was never clear there was a vision of what homeland security ought to mean," the aide said. "We all expected an ineffectual behemoth, and that's what we got."
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:Editorials; Homeland Security Department set up to fail
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Article Type:Editorial
Date:Dec 31, 2005
Previous Article:A calm, reasoned voice.

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