WASHINGTON, June 7 (UPI) -- President George W. Bush chose an unfortunate word in announcing his new Homeland Security Department Thursday, noting that the U.S. is leading the world in a "titanic" struggle against terror, which caused the cynics among us who wondered whether Bush's massive government reorganization was more akin to a re-arrangement of the chairs on the deck of that doomed vessel.
Too cynical? Perhaps. But in the concept for the behemoth of a government agency that Bush has designed, and in the almost frantic way it was planned and announced, one gets a sense of an incredibly large and unwieldy ship on an ill-fated voyage.
The proposed Department of Homeland Security is designed to bring into one agency the functions that protect the United States and close the vast number of holes in the armor of this nation. But whether what Bush revealed Thursday night can do this is another matter.
From the day after the planes hit the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, President Bush won accolades for his cool and measured handling of the crisis. It galvanized his presidency and gave it a sense of mission it had never had.
Flush with public support, Bush was able to wage war on his own terms, serving the attitudes of conservative Republicans while chasing Osama bin Laden. Bush wanted a massive war on terror, but he hoped to carry it out without ending up like a Republican Lyndon Johnson -- leaving a legacy as big as the Great Society with enormous budgets and new government buildings.
So at first he tried to do homeland security on the cheap. First the president tried to resist putting the airport baggage screeners under the federal government because it meant 30,000 new federal employees. That position could not be sustained and Bush accepted an air security bill that ended up creating the Transportation Security Agency, which now has 41,300 employees. Some in Congress believe it will need 70,000 employees in the end to carry out the responsibilities it has been given.
From the moment he appointed former Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge as director of the White House Office of Homeland Security last October, the president was warned that Ridge would have insufficient authority to get anything done. In Washington, power stems from how big an agency you head or your proximity to the president.
Bush relentlessly defended keeping Ridge in the White House. Having him there with a staff of a little over 100 kept homeland on the cheap and gave the president the secrecy of operation that his White House so values at every turn. But in the following nine months, Ridge was subjected to humiliations at almost every turn and very few of his homeland security initiatives have gone smoothly or been fully successful.
By spring it was clear the public was impatient with efforts to create workable homeland security and Bush ordered Ridge, Chief of Staff Andrew Card, Mitch Daniels, head of the Office of Management and Budget, and White House counsel Alberto R. Gonzales to come up with a plan for a new agency.
The drafting was to be top secret with only a handful of aides involved and meetings in the White House basement. It is interesting to note that none of these men has ever headed a large business or government agency. Bush's biggest business experience was with the Texas Rangers, and he had partners with lots experience in management.
With this enormous absence of experience in managing or devising a major operation, civilian or otherwise, the team came up with the 170,000 person Department of Homeland Security, a mammoth proposal that seems to go against every trend for streamlined and effective government from the Grace Commission on. Not only will it be a bear to manage, but coming 10 months after members of Congress suggested a coordinated agency, it means months and perhaps longer before actual operations will start.
The plan will also start a turf battle in Congress about the size of World War II and further delay the securing of the nation. Bush asked Congress to complete its work by the end of the session, relying on the idea that members of the House who are up for reelection will not want to go home without taking action.
But even if Congress approved it in its present form, it is not all clear that this amalgamation of disjointed agencies can do the job.
If Congress approves it, it will bring under its wing, for instance, the Immigration and Naturalization Service, perhaps the most troubled agency in government with 40,000 employees and no clear mission or idea how to change itself. There were already some four plans proposed to reorganize INS and all of them suggested it had two main problems: bad leadership and an inadequate computer system.
Now INS will be several bureaucratic steps down from real leadership at Homeland Security and it still needs a complete revamping. Lumped in with the INS agents, and competing for managerial attention and resources, will be scientists at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and the Plum Island Animal Disease Center and FBI experts from the National Infrastructure Protection Center.
Bush said that "employees of this new agency will come to work every morning knowing their most important job is to protect their fellow citizens," but that isn't quite correct either. The Coast Guard, for instance, will have port and border security but will still be towing in stranded motorboat owners on summer Sundays. The Secret Service will still chase counterfeit money and the Custom's Service will still collect duties on shiploads of lamps.
Perhaps the most troubling aspect of Bush's plan is that it does not really deal with what we now know is the greatest breakdown in security in the months before Sept. 11. The U.S. security apparatus failed to cooperate and coordinate its terrorism leads so that the president and the policy makers could take preventative action.
This is not a new problem. The Central Intelligence Agency was created to "centralize" the intelligence reaching the president in 1947 because before Pearl Harbor warnings of Japanese attack were mishandled. The National Security Council in the White House was created to coordinate intelligence and make sure the president is aware of it.
This apparatus didn't work in the weeks before Sept. 11 and it is unlikely that creating another layer of analysis in the Department of Homeland Security is going to help.
Is the president just re-arranging the agencies or does he really think this plan will bring security?