THE U.S. Department of Homeland Security is a perfect example of best intentions gone awry — and of why many conservatives in Congress like Sen. Tom Coburn are focused on trying to rein in government sprawl and spending.
The agency was formed in 2002, not long after 9/11, at the request of President George W. Bush. Twenty-two federal agencies and departments were placed under one umbrella, including those dealing with border security and natural disaster relief. The idea was to improve communication and operations among those that have overlapping missions.
But 11 years later, “Mission creep has expanded DHS from its original focus on counterterrorism to become an ‘all-hazards' preparedness agency,” says the senator from Muskogee, a fiscal hawk and the lead Republican on the committee that handles DHS oversight.
We've heard some of this before. Coburn has regularly used reports by the inspector general's office to highlight the fact that all too often, the left hand doesn't know what the right hand is doing at DHS. Not much has changed, sad to say.
The DHS oversight committee has begun its review of the agency. To kick things off, Coburn put together a list of 10 challenges facing the agency. Among them:
The agency can't measure whether the country is safer from terrorist attacks, despite having spent in excess of $35 billion on homeland security grants. A report from the department's inspector general, Coburn noted, said DHS “has struggled to assess and measure risk, and that many grant dollars instead subsidize state and local public safety.”
It's not clear that DHS's original mission is being carried out. “Recent years have seen the department provide local police with equipment to protect the Keene Pumpkin Festival in New Hampshire, sno-cone machines in Michigan and drones in Seattle,” Coburn says.