New Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff seems to be saying all the right things, pledging recently to re-focus the way his department assesses and responds to the terror threat.
That should be a relief even to skeptics who believe its creation was a mistake. But of equal concern is whether Congress will follow Chertoff’s lead and bring more focus to how it spends taxpayers’ money.
“Risk management must guide our decision-making as we examine how we can best organize to prevent, respond and recover from an attack,” Chertoff has declared. “Simply put, old categories, old jurisdictions and old turf will not define our objectives or the measure of our achievements. What should drive our policies and operations and the way we are organized is this strategic matrix of threat, vulnerability and consequence. And so, we will look at everything through that prism, and we will be adjusting structure, operations and policies to execute this strategy.”
Sounds great, but we have two concerns. First, we wonder why a department that’s only a couple of years old already needs a “comprehensive review” and possible redirection. Does this suggest it’s already adrift, through bureaucratic inertia?
Our worry, as indicated, is that Congress won’t also recognize a need to review and re-focus. Too much of what Washington spends on homeland security is distributed based not on a rational, hard-nosed threat assessment, but according to a politicized formula meant to ensure that every state and congressional district gets “its fair share.” It’s homeland security pork, in other words. And like all forms of pork, it leads to a waste of resources on lesser priorities, with little benefit to homeland security.
Congress, too, should undertake a “comprehensive review” of how it is spending homeland security money, as should the states, to which it trickles down in the form of grants. Across the board, too little scrutiny is being applied to how these funds are being spent.