Homeland Security plans too broad, Brookings says

Report expresses concern about department's duties

July 14, 2002|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

WASHINGTON - Adding to a growing list of congressional concerns about domestic security, a study released yesterday warns that the president's proposal for a new Department of Homeland Security is too ambitious and could create more problems than it solves.

The report by the Brookings Institution recommends a pared-down department that concentrates on border and transportation security, the analysis of intelligence and threats, and the protection of the country's infrastructure.

The report echoes criticism by lawmakers who have been scrutinizing the proposal.

In a letter to the White House, Democratic Reps. Henry A. Waxman of California and David R. Obey of Wisconsin wrote that, under the president's proposal, the responsibilities of the new department would be too far-flung - such as administering the National Flood Insurance Program, cleaning up oil spills at sea, and eradicating the boll weevil.

That, the lawmakers said, could dilute the department's mission to fight terrorism and "risks bloating the size of the bureaucracy."

For similar reasons, the eight Brookings scholars and former government officials argued in their study that the Federal Emergency Management Agency should remain separate from the new department.

The authors praised FEMA for emerging as one of the most effective arms of the federal government after years of "determined effort" to help victims of major disasters such as floods, fires and hurricanes.

"Fortunately, terrorist attacks are rare, but you can count on national disasters every year - right now there are floods in Texas, fires in Arizona - so why should the Department of Homeland Security be pulled away from its mission and worry constantly about those disasters?" wrote James M. Lindsay, an author of the study, "Assessing the Department of Homeland Security."

The study also recommended that Congress delay deciding whether to include scientific and technological research on chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear countermeasures against terrorist attacks.

"The proposal put on the table is too big; it needs to focus on just those functions directly relationed to homeland security like the Coast Guard, customs, intelligence analysis, and protecting public and private infrastructure that doesn't really exist today," said Ivo H. Daalder, another author of the study and a former member of the National Security Council.

The White House rejected most of the study's recommendations.

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