One of the things that came to light in the wake of the September 11 disaster is the need for many areas of our government to do a better job of working together and coordinating activities. Another need that arose is the need to provide the resources to protect our own land in this new world of terrorist attacks.
It’s because of those needs I co-sponsored legislation earlier this year to create a Department of Homeland Security, and I was pleased when President Bush unveiled his proposal last month to create such a department. I believe it will go a long way in protecting our country from within.
As a member of the Intelligence Committee in the U.S. House, I can say for the three years I had been on the committee there were warnings from our intelligence community about the threat of terrorist acts against the United States, but no one could have imagined the magnitude of the attacks that occurred. Conventional wisdom was any attack would most likely occur against a U.S. interest overseas.
In hindsight, we discovered some clues that might have given us a tip about the terrorists’ actions. Do I think we would have prevented September 11? I doubt it. But we need to do everything we can to prevent terrorists from carrying out another attack.
This new department will help coordinate the patchwork of federal departments and agencies with the responsibility to protect our country within our borders. We currently have separate agencies that handle defense and intelligence, transportation and immigration, food safety, and nuclear safety, but there is no one agency with the sole mission to protect the well being of citizens within our borders.
The proposed department will combine the resources from various existing agencies to bring about one agency with the responsibility to ensure we have a secure homeland. The Department of Homeland Security will have four main functions: border and transportation security; emergency preparedness and response; biological, radiological and nuclear countermeasures; and information analysis and infrastructure protection.
The President summed up the new department well when he sent his proposal to Congress last month. “Our goal is not to expand Government, but to create an agile organization that takes advantage of modern technology and management techniques to meet a new and constantly evolving threat. We can improve our homeland security by minimizing the duplication of efforts, improving coordination, and combining functions that are currently fragmented and inefficient. The new Department would allow us to have more security officers in the field working to stop terrorists and fewer resources in Washington managing duplicative activities that drain critical homeland security resources.”
Current agencies such as the Immigration and Naturalization Service, Coast Guard, Federal Emergency Management Agency, and Transportation Security Administration will all fall under the same roof, with a directive to work together to protect the homeland.
The new department’s division of Information Analysis and Infrastructure Protection will build upon the intelligence-gathering reforms already underway. The FBI, CIA, and other agencies will share information with Homeland Security to better analyze data and intelligence. The new division also will assess threats to facilities and assets in our country and act upon those assessments.
The new department also will serve as the central information source for state and local governments with respect to homeland security. It will contain an intergovernmental affairs office to coordinate activities with all levels of government to more fully protect the American people.
It’s the hope of Congressional leaders the President will sign legislation for the new agency by September 11. While I believe that might be a quick time frame to get this department and the requisite legislation through Congress, I am confident the Department of Homeland Security will be on the job by the end of the year, protecting our country’s citizens. IBI