DHS can improve, experts say

The Homeland Security Department's overall performance can be improved by restructuring management, more clearly defining roles and responsibilities, developing better strategic plans and analyses, and providing more staff and training, experts said today during a Senate hearing.

The department isn't moving forward as a coherent entity but as a bunch of individual programs, said James Carafano, a senior research fellow at the Heritage Foundation, before the newly renamed Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.

He said DHS officials can't say how they can maximize investments. "If we have $10 to invest tomorrow, explain to me how we can invest [it], and they can't do that right now," he said.

Carafano, along with a who's who of experts from top think tanks in Washington, D.C., said the department — formed by merging 22 disparate agencies and 180,000 employees — has come a long way in its short two-year existence and the nation's security has generally improved. But they also said gaps exist that officials should fix now.

Stephen Flynn, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations said he would give DHS a C-minus for overall performance. He added that department officials need to develop senior executives and provide senior management with more staff. The chief operating officer "has five people and some of the lousiest office space in Washington," he said.

Flynn, a former Coast Guard officer, said some law enforcement officers in DHS, such as Border Patrol agents, need more training. They receive most training on the job.

Carafano, who recently co-authored a study about DHS management with David Heyman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said department officials should create an undersecretary for policy and an undersecretary for preparedness and protection. They should also strengthen the chief information officer's authority, he added, among more than 40 recommendations.

However, Richard Falkenrath, a former deputy homeland security adviser in the White House who helped design DHS, said he didn't think management issues are a top concern. He said the performance of the department's leaders exceeded his own expectations and DHS management is no worse than any other federal department's. And they don't have to deal with reorganization challenges.

That doesn't mean there is nothing sacrosanct in DHS, but statutory changes should not drive internal reorganization. The new DHS secretary should be given a chance to understand the situation, but Congress should probably consider increasing his authority so he can unilaterally reorganize the department, said Falkenrath, a visiting fellow at the Brookings Institution.

However, he pointed out areas that do need improvement, especially in securing hazardous chemicals. He said these chemicals are hauled through cities with low security and since the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, essentially nothing has been done to improve it.

"This needs to be the next big push in critical infrastructure," he said.

He also pointed to improving credentials and identification standards, such as for driver's licenses, and providing a coherent plan to improve rails, trains, trucks and mass transit through access controls, sensors and other technologies.

Another issue was merging the Customs and Border Protection with the Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Flynn said ICE is in "total disarray" and called it "an agency in search of a mission." He favors a merger. However, Michael Wermuth, senior policy analyst at the RAND Corp., said further study is needed. Falkenrath said he was against it.

At the request of chairwoman Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), Richard Skinner, the department's inspector general, said he will look into whether those two agencies should be merged.

Several senators, however, said more funding isn't the answer. Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska), who is chairman of the Appropriations Committee, almost seemed to admonish the panel for suggesting that their suggestions would mean spending more money on the department.

"I don't think there's going to be more money," he said. "In fact, I know there's not going to be any money."

After the hearing, Carafano said he doesn't favor expanding the DHS budget or adding more people, but he favors reorganizing how money and employees would be allocated. He said he is on record for doubling the Coast Guard's modernization budget, money that can come from other parts of the federal government.

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