The Washington Post is reporting that the new Department of Homeland Security is not yet up to its mission of protecting the U.S. from terrorism. The Department has only been in existence for six months. But its budget already exceeds $36 billion and it now has more employees than any other government agency. However, Post Reporter John Mintz charges that the Department is having money troubles, is too disorganized, and lacks consistent support from the White House.
The Department was supposed to be the central clearinghouse within the government for all intelligence information concerning terrorism. But that mission has been severely hampered by inadequate resources and the Department’s inability to fill senior intelligence positions. According to Mintz, at least 15 people have declined administration requests to even apply for the top intelligence job.
As Accuracy in Media has reported, one senior intelligence official at the Department was forced to retire after he admitted that his unit was understaffed and underfunded. He also said that his unit lacked secure communications, which prevented effective information sharing with other U.S. intelligence agencies. Early on, CIA Director George Tenet said he would not permit CIA to share any raw intelligence data with the new department. That leaves the new department wholly dependent on other agencies for finished intelligence. The unwillingness to rely on the CIA, given its track record on preventing surprise, is a key reason the Department has been unable to attract top talent for this mission.
And Mintz reports that many department operations have been hampered by funding shortfalls. Earlier this summer, for example, the media reported that air marshals on high-risk domestic airline flights were being cut back to save money. The timing of the proposed cuts was particularly unfortunate, since the department was simultaneously warning of increased terrorist threats to the airlines. The budget cuts were later rescinded.
Meanwhile, at a recent hearing, Senators heard that the department has seriously underfunded the nation’s first responders. Firemen, policemen, and emergency medical personnel still lack operable communications, sufficient protective gear and other equipment, according to testimony at the hearing. Although a recent study projected a $100 billion shortfall over the next five years for first responder support, most witnesses said that no one really knows how much this support will cost.
Representative Chris Cox, who runs the House committee on homeland security, said that more than $14 billion have gone to first responders since 9/11. But he said that the government has yet to develop a methodology to ensure that this funding goes where it is needed most. Cox said that future monies would be allocated only after a “hard-nosed threat assessment” identified the most significant risks. But without a robust intelligence capability, its not clear how the department could make such assessments.