I have a love/hate relationship with the Cato Institute. Most of their analysis I strongly disagree with, but some of it I equally strongly agree with. Last September 11—the tenth anniversary of 9/11—Cato’s David Rittgers published “Abolish the Department of Homeland Security“:
DHS has too many subdivisions in too many disparate fields to operate effectively. Agencies with responsibilities for counterfeiting investigations, border security, disaster preparedness, federal law enforcement training, biological warfare defense, and computer incident response find themselves under the same cabinet official. This arrangement has not enhanced the government’s competence. Americans are not safer because the head of DHS is simultaneously responsible for airport security and governmental efforts to counter potential flu epidemics.
National defense is a key governmental responsibility, but focusing too many resources on trying to defend every potential terrorist target is a recipe for wasteful spending. Our limited resources are better spent on investigating and arresting aspiring terrorists. DHS responsibilities for aviation security, domestic surveillance, and port security have made it too easy for politicians to disguise pork barrel spending in red, white, and blue. Politicians want to bring money home to their districts, and as a result, DHS appropriations too often differ from what ought to be DHS priorities.
I agree with that. In fact, in 2003, when the country was debating a single organization that would be responsible for most (not all, since the Justice Department, the State Department, and the Department of Defense were too powerful to lose any pieces of themselves) of the country’s counterterrorism efforts, I wrote:
Our nation may actually be less secure if the Department of Homeland Security eventually takes over the responsibilities of existing agencies. The last thing we want is for the Department of Energy, the Department of Commerce, and the Department of State to say: “Security; that’s the responsibility of the DHS.”
Security is the responsibility of everyone in government. We won’t defeat terrorism by finding a single thing that works all the time. We’ll defeat terrorism when every little thing works in its own way, and together provides an immune system for our society. Unless the DHS distributes security responsibility even as it centralizes coordination, it won’t improve our nation’s security.
Back to the Cato report:
The Department of Homeland Security should be abolished and its components reorganized into more practical groupings. The agencies tasked with immigration, border security, and customs enforcement belong under the same oversight agency, which could appropriately be called the Border Security Administration. The Transportation Security Administration and Federal Air Marshals Service should be abolished, and the federal government should end support for fusion centers. The remaining DHS organizations should return to their former parent agencies.
Hard to argue with most of that, although abolishing the TSA isn’t a good idea. Airport security should be rolled back to pre-9/11 levels, but someone is going to have to be in charge of it. Putting the airlines in charge of it doesn’t make sense; their incentives are going to be passenger service rather than security. Some government agency either has to hire the screeners and staff the checkpoints, or make and enforce rules for contractor-staffed checkpoints to follow.
Last November, the U.S. Congressional Republicans published a report very critical of the TSA: “A Decade Later: A Call for TSA Reform.”
This report is an examination and critical analysis of the development, evolution, and current status and performance of TSA ten years after its creation. Since its inception, TSA has lost its focus on transportation security. Instead, it has grown into an enormous, inflexible and distracted bureaucracy, more concerned with human resource management and consolidating power, and acting reactively instead of proactively. As discussed more fully in the Recommendations section on page 18, TSA must realign its responsibilities as a federal regulator and focus on analyzing intelligence, setting screening and security standards based on risk, auditing passenger and baggage screening operations, and ensuring compliance with national screening standards.
In a related link, there’s a response to a petition to abolish the TSA. The response is by TSA administrator John Pistole, so it’s not the most objective piece of writing on the topic, and doesn’t actually respond to the petition:
Why TSA Exists.
TSA was created two months after the September 11 terrorist attacks, when Congress passed the Aviation and Transportation Security Act (ATSA) [.pdf] to keep the millions of Americans who travel each day safe and secure across numerous modes of transportation.
Over the past 10 years, TSA has strengthened security by creating successful programs and deploying technologies that were not in place prior to September 11, while also taking steps whenever possible to enhance the passenger experience. Here are just a few of the many steps TSA has taken to strengthen our multi-layered approach to security….
Our Nation is safer and better prepared today because of these and other efforts of the Department of Homeland Security, TSA, and our federal, state, local and international partners. TSA is constantly identifying ways to continue to strengthen security and improve the passenger experience and appreciates the feedback of the public.
Pistole just assumes that what his organization is doing is important, and never even mentions how much it costs or whether it’s worth it.
Posted on January 12, 2012 at 3:04 PM •