Security challenges

November 23, 2005

The Department of Homeland Security is having serious performance problems and a report released this month by its inspector general blames that on the lack of coordination and communication between two of the department's key agencies: Customs and Border Protection, and Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Another report by the inspector general issued in September said the department was having "minimal impact" reducing the number of foreigners who overstay their visitor visas and become illegal immigrants here. The report said the department missed dozens of deadlines for shoring up security on the nation's airplanes, ships, and railroads.

These shortcomings, the latest outlined in a series of negative reports about the department, undermine national security measures already in place and illustrate that the DHS, with 22 agencies and 170,000 employees to manage, is overwhelmed. At a time when the threat of another domestic terrorist attack is very real, the reports raise questions about whether Congress should consider streamlining the DHS, or moving some of the agencies only tangentially related to homeland security - such as the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Secret Service - to other federal departments.

The November report recommends that the Customs and Border Protection agency, which guards the nation's borders, be merged with Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the department's largest investigative arm responsible for identifying and shutting down vulnerabilities in the nation's border, economic, transportation and infrastructure security. But it's doubtful that merging two inconsistently effective agencies will make for one highly effective one.

Congressional lawmakers have not helped matters by requiring the DHS to write some 256 reports each year and submit them to various oversight committees. At the very least, Congress should streamline that process, saving the DHS precious time and scarce money that could better be used shoring up the nation's security.

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