There has been a great deal of discussion over defunding The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) recently. The discussion resulted from Republicans threatening to defund DHS in response to Obama's executive action. While defunding DHS would not have the affect Republican lawmakers claim, it would send a stern message. Ultimately DHS funding went through. DHS funding passed because DHS is one of those things in American politics that cannot ever be questioned by anyone intending to remain in office.
Regardless of the absurdity of how the conversation began the conversation regarding DHS funding has begun and it raises some important questions. We should not let these questions fall by the wayside now that the funding battle has ended. Reevaluation of the need for DHS and its effectiveness is long overdue. We need to ask:
Why does DHS exist? Should DHS exist? Why is the US spending so much money on DHS? Is it time to dissolve DHS?
People are reactionary by nature and lawmakers never fail to exploit that to further an agenda. This can be seen in the push for gun control after any high-profile shooting, the sudden concern for border security after the media reports on the wave of unaccompanied minors entering the US, and when people with "peace" bumper stickers in their car demand military action after a threat from a foreign nation. DHS was born from this sort of reactionary fear.
After the September 11, 2001 attacks the American people were justifiably fearful and desperate for their government to do something. Washington, never failing to capitalize on crisis, used the attacks o justify the creation of DHS. DHS was first proposed by the U.S. Commission on National Security in January 2001 and Representative Mac Thornberry (R-TX) proposed its creation in H.R. 1158 three months later. However, after the attacks it was expedited and established on November 25, 2002 and would later take over 22 federal agencies ranging from Immigration and Naturalization Service to the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service in 2003.
Fear-mongering of terrorists who hate American freedoms also provided the justification for DHS' price tag. DHS is the country's most expensive cabinet second only to Defense. The agency was allocated a budget of $18 BILLION for 2002 and by by 2011 the budget had grown to $98.8 BILLION. DHS' budget is so large that they have doled out $31 BILLION to state and local governments since their inception.
After its creation DHS' first act was to create the Homeland Security Advisory System, a color-coded terrorism risk advisory scale. DHS came out of the gate with a real winner of an idea here. Pictured to the right, the system was literally a chart that color coded the terrorism risk for any given day. The new advisory system may not seem like an $18 billion dollar idea but I'm no expert.
In February of 2003 DHS launched Ready.com. This website contained information on how to ready yourself for a terrorist attack. It contained advise such as, in the case of a chemical attack, citizens should use duct tape and plastic sheeting to build a homemade bunker, or "sheltering in place" to protect themselves. The site was promoted with banner ads containing automatic audio components on commercial web sites. The Martin Agency created the website pro bono, once again raising the question of what DHS spent $18 billion on in its first year of existence.
In 2010 when DHS' budget grew substantially to to $55 billion DHS added social media consulting to its resume. DHS launched the Virtual Social Media Working group (VSMWG), an online platform that gives advice to first responders on how to safely and effectively use social media in emergency response operations. DHS' budget has been audited by an independent agency, KPMG. However, KPMG was unable to audit the DHS financial statements for FY 2010 due to material weaknesses. KPMG was also unable to express an audit opinion on the FY 2009, FY 2008, FY 2007, FY 2005, and FY 2003 financial statements. The 'information for citizens' portal returns a 404 error when one clicks on the reports for FY 2006 and FY 2004. So DHS operates with no financial oversight.
DHS is plagued by excessive bureaucracy, waste, ineffectiveness and lack of transparency. A House of Representatives subcommittee estimated that as of September 2008 the department has wasted roughly $15 billion in failed contracts. In 2003, the department came under fire after the media revealed that Laura Callahan, Deputy chief information officer at DHS with responsibilities for sensitive national security databases, had obtained her advanced computer science degrees through a diploma mill in a small town in Wyoming. The department was blamed for up to $2 billion of waste and fraud after audits by the Government Accountability Office revealed widespread misuse of government credit cards by DHS employees, with purchases including beer brewing kits, $70,000 of plastic dog booties that were later deemed unusable, boats purchased at double the retail price (many of which later could not be found), and iPods ostensibly for use in "data storage". In 2009 it was revealed that anonymous Homeland Security employees in Indiana had collaborated on an artwork by Cindy Hinant by cutting out paper hearts while on paid time.
A recent Senate report documented DHS employees using grant funds to pay a $1,000 fee for a conference at the Paradise Point Resort & Spa, where they participated in zombie apocalypse training. Other examples exist of DHS spending money on children’s mascots, overpriced law enforcement training materials and even bagpipes for Customs and Border Protection. Your tax dollars were used to pay for a zombie apocalypse training complete with special effects and all!
CBP built 21 small homes for border agents in Ajo, Arizona, at a cost of $680,000 each, but this is a town where the average home price is just $86,500. A 2014 DHS Inspector General review of the project concluded, “this is a classic example of inadequate planning and management leading to wasteful spending. CBP spent $1 BILLION on the SBInet virtual fence project for a 53-mile portion of the Arizona-Mexico border. The project, which involved video cameras, radar, sensors, and other technologies, that began in 2006 and was cancelled in 2011 as a failure.
Making matters worse, almost every congressman wants to be part of DHS for political reasons. There are 90 congressional committees and subcommittees that oversee some aspect of DHS. The involvement of Congress of course leads to increases in spending.
Even DHS employees are unsatisfied with DHS. The Washington Post reviewed an October 2014 survey of 40,000 DHS employees. It found that only 42 percent of those employees are satisfied with the department, 25 percent have a positive view of their boss’s ability to “generate high levels of motivation and commitment in the workforce,” and 39 percent believe department leaders “maintain high standards of honesty and integrity.”
A separate Washington Post investigation found that many DHS employees say they have “a dysfunctional work environment” with “abysmal morale.” Not surprisingly, DHS has a high employee turnover rate. Current and former DHS officials told the Post that “the department can be an infuriating, exhausting place to work” with “stifling bureaucracy.”
National Security is of course an important government function (arguably the most important). So budget issues and wasteful spending aside, DHS still serves a very important function in protecting our country right?
Actually, from a security standpoint DHS is not making us safer. The agencies primarily responsible for counter-terrorism, such as the FBI, CIA, and NSA, are not part of the DHS. DHS does not have its own counter-terrorism infrastructure. one of the primary intelligence gaps leading up to the September 11 attacks was the failure of agencies to share information. DHS is creating more duplication and fragmentation that only makes this problem worse.
Moreover, DHS is not very good at fighting terrorism. a report from the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs looked at more than 70 “fusion centers” operated by the DHS to collate information and found that they had produced virtually no useful intelligence to support federal counter-terrorism efforts. According to the committee, the intelligence forwarded by the centers was often inaccurate and untimely. They also found that DHS sometimes encroached on citizens’ civil liberties and Privacy Act protections. Sometimes DHS forwarded information taken from already-published public sources. The majority of the information gathered was completely unrelated to terrorism.
Despite their incompetence DHS has continued to ramp up their efforts at the expense of civil liberties. The TSA, which operates under DHS, is now partnering with local law enforcement to set up checkpoints and random auto stops to check for drugs and other contraband. Investigative reporting by the Albuquerque Journal’s Michael Coleman has found the DHS involved in investigating everything from movie piracy at theaters in Ohio to counterfeit NBA jerseys in San Antonio to pickpocket cases in Albuquerque. Why on earth is DHS involved in the investigation of pickpockets? More importantly, why are the taxpayers footing the bill for it?
Wasting government resources and money is making us all less safe. At a Homeland Security Committee’s Subcommittee on Oversight and Management Efficiency meeting, former Virginia Gov. Jim Gilmore pointed out, “Al Qaeda has said in their public statements that their goal is to collapse the economy of the United States. … If we waste money or carry out an ineffective program, … then we carry out the mission of Al Qaeda.”
So why does DHS exist? Isn't it about time we dissolve this wasteful and ineffective bureaucracy?