28 years ago this past week, back in June 1974, I was a mere stripling 18-year-old of a lad about to vote in my first election- the New Jersey Primary; from that day to this (with me having voted yet again in a New Jersey Primary only this past week!), I have always judged the merits- or lack thereof- of a policy undertaken by a political executive (whether the President, a Governor or a Mayor- or any of those working in a given Administration, whether Federal, State or Local) or a vote cast by a legislator (whether in Congress, a State Legislature or some Board or Council or other equivalent body at the local level) by a very simple concept: Would I- or would I- not have done the same?
And when it comes time for me to cast a ballot in an election, especially when an incumbent is running for re-election, that concept of "did he/she do in office what I would have done?" is just as important to me as whether or not the person seeking the office represents the Party or an ideology to which I generally subscribe. If I am, indeed, the notorious "ticket splitter" that I have been ever since I first got to choose between Parties and ideologies in the General Election of November 1974 (my very first General Election vote, in fact, was cast for a candidate of OTHER than the Party with which I had registered [New Jersey then, as now, had a Closed Primary, so I had to- obviously- vote solely within my own Party back in June]), it is almost always because an incumbent representing MY Party- where not also MY ideology- on the ballot did NOT do that which I would have done had I, instead, held that person's office.
The late Gil Hodges, one-time Manager of the New York Mets, in his book The Game of Baseball, opined that it was more fun- while watching a game- to take the "first guess" rather than second-guess, even though one might be wrong a little more often as a result. If the reader has ever read the "Mission Statement" of this website, the reader will know that I observe Politics as I do Sports and, in the spirit of this attitude, I have well tried to always take that "first guess" in my Commentaries for The Green Papers. Thus, I have never been afraid to put forth my own proposals (though I myself be a mere American citizen, far removed from the political wars of public office) within my Commentaries as if I were, in fact, a public officeholder: I honestly feel that doing so gives me a little more authority to then weigh in on the policies of others.
So, since President Bush has now proposed something along the lines of what I myself had proposed back in my Commentary of 18 May (in which I criticized the Bush Administration for not supporting a Cabinet-level Department dealing with issues of Homeland Security), I now feel compelled to comment further on the President's latest proposals. After all, I took the "first guess" and, therefore, I trust that what I am write herein will not be seen as mere second-guessing!
First, the Good News...
The good news is that President Bush is (finally!) in favor of a Cabinet Department of Homeland Security which will have its own budget and will be more accountable to Congressional oversight. More importantly, it will give the Secretary of the new Department REAL power to coordinate the agencies under his Department's control as well as an equal seat on the Cabinet with the heads of other Departments who oversee offices and agencies not part of the new Department but with which the new Secretary of Homeland Security will have to deal if he is to carry out his mission and mandate. Should Tom Ridge, in fact, soon be the first Secretary of Homeland Security, he will now have clout that he currently does not have as Director of the Office of Homeland Security.
It appears that there will be- under the President's proposal- a statutory requirement that such agencies and offices outside the new Department- most notably, both the FBI and CIA- must share any information and data relevant to Homeland Security with the new Department. In addition, the new Department itself will analyze- on its own- all intelligence data it gathers, whether from within the Department itself or from outside the new Department, in order to be able to present the President with a daily domestic threat assessment. This is a vast improvement in and of itself and a clear stage above the mere "coordination" with which Mr. Ridge was originally charged upon his appointment as Director of Homeland Security last Fall.
So, to borrow the imagery I used my 18 May Commentary, Tom Ridge- or whomever ultimately first fills this new Cabinet office- will, in such a new Department of Homeland Security, no longer be just "the man behind the curtain" merely pretending to be "the Great and Powerful Oz".
Now, the Bad News...
Having said that, I still have some real problems with the President's proposal for the new Department. First of all, I am still- as I was when I wrote my most recent Commentary on 30 May about the latest proposals for the "new" FBI- quite concerned about the protection of essential Civil Rights and Liberties while waging the War on Terrorism at home as well as abroad. I do NOT see, in the President's proposal, that necessary separation of the analysis/preventative functions of Counterterrorism from the investigatory/prosecutorial functions engendered by the same (this is, to me, especially glaring in light of the fact that the very agency I used- in my 30 May Commentary- as a prime example of a preventative agency that is, in fact, well separated from the prosecutorial one- the Secret Service- is itself now to be moved into this new Department of Homeland Security!).
Instead, it yet appears that the FBI's Counterterrorism unit is still going to be charged, by Attorney General Ashcroft and FBI Director Mueller, with being the primary proactive preventer of terrorist acts while, at the same time, also remaining the reactive investigator of the criminal cases which the Department of Justice will have to eventually bring against suspected terrorists as a result of that very proactive function! Again, this is TOO much power to put solely into the hands of the Department of Justice. It would make much more sense to move the Counterterrorism operation currently within the FBI into the new Department, thus well separating this preventative/analytical function from a prosecutorial and investigative one; instead, only Anti-Cyberterrorism and Infrastructure Protection is, evidently, being removed from the FBI's bailiwick! If you are going to have the Secret Service within the new Department, why is also having the Counterterrorism unit included therein such a problem?
My second criticism is that there appears to be no provision whatsoever for placing federalized National Guard units operating on U.S. home soil (and, again, a reminder: National Guard units- normally under the command of a State's Governor- can only be federalized by direct order of the President in his capacity as Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces; the new Secretary of Homeland Security would not have the authority to do this on his own in any event [just as the Secretary of Defense does not have the authority to call up Reserves or National Guard units for overseas deployment on his own]) under this new Department of Homeland Security. After all, law enforcement is basically of two types: "on the ground" and in the courts; if, indeed, the new Department is to be preventative in nature (as is suggested by the offices and agencies being placed within it under the President's own plan)- though, again, I see Counterterrorism largely remaining within the FBI as running counter to this concept- wouldn't it make more sense to have the deployment of National Guard units to, say, secure a threatened nuclear power plant or other like facility being coordinated directly under the very Secretary whose Department would be developing the intelligence leading directly to such deployment?
I also, as of this writing, haven't yet seen (though it might- indeed- be well buried in the details of the President's proposal) any reference to the new Secretary of Homeland Security also being an ex-officio member of the National Security Council (I am assuming this will be necessary, given the mission for the new Department as outlined by President Bush in his televised speech of 6 June), something I have already opined (in my 18 May Commentary) as being essential to the ability of the head of the new Department to have the same ear of the President that the Secretaries of State and Defense, for example, themselves have. It is probably impossible- and certainly so since September 11th- to completely separate issues of domestic security from those of foreign policy and assuring the new Secretary of Homeland Security a seat on the NSC would go a long way toward achieving the coordination within the White House necessary to truly fight terrorism here at home.
The Devil is always in the Details
There are also many problems with the rather varied functions of the agencies and offices to now be brought into the new Department (I myself proposed- on 18 May- that the intelligence gathering/analyzing functions [keep in mind that I was writing before the announcement of the "new" FBI's proactive role re: Counterterrorism by Messrs. Ashcroft and Mueller] of just such a new Department [which I called "Homeland Defense"; recall that I would have also changed the name of the current Department of Defense to that of "Military Operations"] be its original paramount function and then, after a period of the new Department's functioning, make the decisions [based on real experience] as to which offices and agencies would then be best to bring into the new Department; obviously, this is not going to be done!). To take one obvious example, there is the Secret Service: it makes perfect sense for the Secret Service- in its role re: the protection of the President and his family, other high-ranking officers of the Federal Government, visiting foreign dignitaries, etc.- to be placed within the new Department; but does that mean that the Secret Service's original role of protecting the integrity of the Nation's money supply should also be brought into the new Department? or wouldn't it make more sense to leave this particular (older, albeit traditional) function of the Secret Service within the Department of the Treasury? Obviously, this would mean then splitting the current Secret Service into two separate agencies and, yes, there would be much balking at this within the Secret Service itself. Yet, why should the new Department of Homeland Security have to now also be concerned about counterfeiting per se? Questions such as those I just outlined re: the Secret Service are issues that well need to be addressed re: many of the other offices and agencies being lumped into the new Department in the President's proposal.
For the same problem that I outlined re: the Secret Service can also be seen in the throwing of the Customs Service and the Federal Emergency Management Agency into the Homeland Security mix as well, for these agencies clearly have many functions that have little- if anything- to do with Homeland Security. Only in the cases of the Border Patrol, the Coast Guard and the Immigration and Naturalization Service can I see bringing an agency whole hog into the new Department as making any real sense. Thus, Congress would have to, in my opinion, seriously consider siphoning off functions currently within the other agencies being considered as constituent parts of the new Department and creating new entities- whether independent or within other Cabinet departments- to absorb those functions of the Customs Service, FEMA, the Secret Service, etc. that have no direct bearing on Homeland Security per se.
So, in conclusion: I praise President Bush for proposing this new Cabinet Department- for it largely does what I myself would have such a Cabinet department do, as I originally stated in my 18 May Commentary. Yet I am still concerned that the new Department is not being given all the tools (most notably the Counterterrorism agents) it needs to do its job as outlined by the President and that, by leaving Counterterrorism within the FBI, we not only potentially compromise the functioning of the new Department in its cradle, we are also not all that well protecting Rights and Liberties afforded by the U.S. Constitution (something that, in my opinion, those responsible for September 11th would want us to not do so well!); meanwhile, I am also quite concerned that the new Department is going to get too bogged down by taking on functions that have not all that much to do with Homeland Security through gobbling up too many offices and agencies in one gulp!
Nevertheless, this new Department of Homeland Security is a step in the right direction... but it is only a step. The kinks have yet to be all worked out!
But, yes, we ARE finally getting serious!!