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DHS as a Model for the new Federal Government

During my brief 10 week term as an intern in the House of Representatives I saw many interesting things. A law was passed that made any accidental death resulting from a computer hack punishable by life imprisonment (even though vehicular manslaughter is only 20 years), the fourth House member since the civil war was expelled from the chamber, and the Homeland Security Department was formed. Some may remember that the biggest worry of Congress was turf war issues. Many congressional committees were having their jurisdiction shrunk at the expense of the new department.

The Senate Democrats raised a bit of a fuss over personnel issues, claiming that the President’s proposed merit system was hurting unions. Unfortunately their arguments rang hollow. It was my opinion then, as it is today, that Democrats have shifted so far from the enlightened progressives of the New Deal they simply cannot reliable make the real argument for civil service protection. The issue is not one of unions or workers rights, but patronage. When the system allows political appointees to make decisions about who “is” and “is not” doing a good job, then the system is asking for corruption. Oh sure, Congress could monitor all hiring, firing, and promotion activities… but something tells me those issues are quite sexy enough to warrant a committee hearing. Instead, the behavior slips under the radar and now one is the wiser.

Well, it turns out there is an even greater fear with DHS than I had originally thought. The Washington Post reports massive procurement mismanagement and poor accountability ever since DHS, and its most infamous agency the Transportation Security Agency, were formed. The article details a series of damning reports issued by the Department’s Inspector General (an interesting job, by the way, and one I think would be neat to hold). Things like one division who spent more than a third of its budget under the line item “other.”

The only official response so from DHS so far has been to blame the decisions on congressional deadlines. Apparently Congress put a pretty impossible deadline on securing the airports after September 11th. The claim, as I understand it, is that now we have secured the the homeland so future decisions can be made with more deliberation. But is that really accurate? It strikes me that if there is some kind of security measure not in place right now, then the urgency to get it installed can’t be any less than it was after 9/11. Its not like the airports were unsecured prior to the terrorist attacks… we had policies and procedures in place. The problem was the preception that those were simply not good enough. How is it that this situation isn’t going to rise again, resulting in billions of misspent taxpayer money?

Ultimately I fear DHS is going to be like the DoD. When the mission is viewed as so critical, so important to get right, that any expense is justified, then you can pretty much kiss any kind of real oversight out the window. Couple spending mismanagement with the patronage problems and you begin to understand why the Republican rhetoric on smaller government is so hollow. Its not that they want a smaller Federal Government, its that they want the government subsidies previously given to Democrate interest groups to be funneled to Republican interest groups.

My concern goes one step further, because I don’t hold the Democratic party to be any less prone to government mismanagement then the Republicans. My concern is how do you even being to structure a government such that these sorts of abuses don’t take place? Arguably the civil service protections were the first step in that process, but apparently those can’t withstand the threat of international terrorism. So what possible chance does a robust oversight mechanism have?

probonogeek Uncategorized

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