Tuesday, December 1, 2015

$100 Billion Game

The Department of Homeland Security grew from nothing, spurred by the 9/11/01 tragedy, to the government’s third largest Cabinet-level agency, behind the Department of Defense and the Department of Veterans Affairs. While the Department of Defense is charged with protecting our nation overseas, DHS has the internal mission of protecting us from internal threats, ranging from natural disasters (FEMA is now part of DHS), border enforcement and terrorism.
On March 1, 2003, DHS absorbed the Immigration and Naturalization Service and assumed its duties. In doing so, it divided the enforcement and services functions into two separate and new agencies: Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Citizenship and Immigration Services. The investigative divisions and intelligence gathering units of the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) and Customs Service were merged forming Homeland Security Investigations. Additionally, the border enforcement functions of the INS, including the U.S. Border Patrol, the U.S. Customs Service, and the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service were consolidated into a new agency under DHS: U.S. Customs and Border Protection. The Federal Protective Service falls under the National Protection and Programs Directorate.” Wikipedia. It even supervises a branch of the military: the Coast Guard.
With a massive budget (approximately $100 billion allocated annually) and a huge staff (roughly a quarter of a million employees), it was created to coordinate our squabbling internal security agencies, but trust me, those turf wars continue in spades, even within the DHS. It has to “coordinate” its internal security mandate with the Departments of Health and Human Services, Justice (which houses the FBI, for example), Treasury and Energy while managing an information gathering function that grapples with the various spy agencies scattered within various other governmental agencies (NSA, CIA, etc.). It is charged with everything from domestic cyber security (yeah, that works?!), to the lovely TSA folks (approaching a labor force of 60,000) who man the checkpoints at airports, harbors, etc. (take your shoes off and feel safe?) to detecting terrorists with releasing weapons of mass destruction on their minds.
But the harsh reality is that this new vast bureaucracy, some of which simply moved other agencies within this new structure although it is massively larger than what it absorbed, is a wildly inefficient behemoth, unwieldy and overstaffed such that operatives are constantly stepping all over each other. Do you really think that a terrorist with mayhem on her/his mind cannot get around the TSA checkpoints? Are American gun smugglers going south and cartel drug carriers moving north deterred by ICE border enforcement? Build a wall? Drug prices will soar, but between tunnels, submarines, trucking/shipping and corrupt officials, what the market craves will still get through. And if you have terrorism on your mind, might I suggest you penetrate our “white border” to the north?
Aside from the billions of dollars of measurable waste (Congress’ own findings), some of DHS’ critical missions simply are not getting done. The greatest concern for DHS has to be the deployment of weapons of mass destruction by terrorists against domestic targets. Lone wolves are scary, but their threat pales by comparison to what would happen if chemical, biological or nuclear agents were released within large urban settings, precisely the threat that ISIS likes to make on their Website. Bio-warfare is the most immediate and terrifying possibility, a threat for which the United States is woefully underprepared.
More than a decade after the Department of Homeland Security began a program to fight biological terrorism, ‘considerable uncertainty’ remains over whether the system can reliably detect biological threats, a new federal audit says.
“The report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office is the latest blow to DHS’s BioWatch system, the agency’s marquee post-Sept. 11, 2001, effort to detect pathogens that could signal a devastating biological attack. After scientific studies and media reports raised concern about BioWatch’s effectiveness, DHS last year canceled the system’s planned next generation of sensors.
“Now, GAO says the government still lacks reliable information about the current generation, first deployed in 2005, to determine if it is capable of detecting a biological attack. DHS’s testing of the current system — known as Generation-2, or Gen-2 — has been flawed, leaving the department unable to properly determine how to improve it, GAO found.
“‘DHS lacks reliable information about BioWatch Gen-2’s technical capabilities to detect a biological attack and therefore lacks the basis for informed cost-benefit decisions about possible upgrades or enhancements to the system,’ the report said. ‘The nation’s ability to detect threats against its security requires judicious use of resources directed toward systems whose capabilities can be demonstrated.’
“DHS officials defended BioWatch program, which consists of aerosol collectors deployed in more than 30 cities nationwide that draw in air through filters. The filters are collected and taken to laboratories for analysis to check for the presence of anthrax and other pathogens. The system was first deployed in 2003, in response to Sept. 11 and the anthrax attacks that followed…
“‘The Department of Homeland Security’s BioWatch program is the only federally-managed, locally-operated nationwide bio-surveillance system designed to detect select aerosolized biological agents and remains a critical part of our nation’s defense against biological threats,’ said S.Y. Lee, a DHS spokesman. While the department ‘does not agree with all of GAO’s characterizations of our BioWatch efforts,’ Lee said, it concurred with all of the recommendations in the report.” Washington Post, November 25th. Despite the President’s November 25th press conference reassuring Americans about the lack of credible threats over the holiday season and the actions already taken to protect our country, DHS is still broken and filled with bloat and mission-directed short-comings.
DHS’ abysmal track record speaks legions for the government’s proclivity to solve problems by adding bureaucracy, often creating complications that further hinders the obvious mission. We had enough bureaucracy prior to 9/11 to handle the terrorism threat. What was lacking was coordination and supervision at the top, perhaps meriting enhanced travel security. Adding 100,000 employees and a new cabinet post to the government maze was not the answer. That this agency was created at the behest of a president (George W. Bush) from a party that rails at an ungovernable federal bureaucracy is the ultimate irony, but it reflects an underlying philosophy of “government by slogans and optics” as opposed to a result-oriented approach. And remember, government civil servants don’t compete for the mega-high pay available for comparable positions of responsibility in the private sector; their boasts of power and status are based on how many people work under them!
I’m Peter Dekom, and as long as we create self-defeating systems of government, we are increasingly vulnerable to the assaults of our growing list of enemies.

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