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Department of Homeland Security: Pros, Cons and Opportunities

January 31, 2003

The Department of Homeland Security bill, signed into law by President George W. Bush on 25 November 2002, outlines an ambitious plan for a large-scale federal reorganization, unseen since the National Security Act of 1947 made sweeping changes in establishing the Department of Defense (DoD) and standardizing its operational provisions. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) was created to eliminate redundant operations between federal agencies, propel intelligence sharing and establish standard operational procedures for training and crisis response at all levels of government.

While the new department will streamline America’s domestic protection measures to prevent and mitigate terrorist attacks, the public must be cautious not to expect a quick-fix, foolproof defense against future incidents within the United States. With assistance from DoD, in particular a sensible reevaluation of the National Guard’s role, American security could take a radically new and effective course.

Discussions and debates, such as the reports of the Hart-Rudman and Gilmore1 commissions, examined domestic protection against terrorism and mass-casualty mitigation years before the attacks of 11 September 2001. The events that day exposed America’s glaring vulnerability and prioritized the need for a sound national defense and emergency response system. However, it took more than a year and several delays to establish a separate department devoted to homeland security.

The authority granted to DHS sets in motion a radically reorganized structure affecting federal, state and local agencies and designed to protect the lives of American citizens at home. Yet it must be understood that the nature of the terrorist threat prevents any guarantee of safety. The danger of an attack still exists. While prevention of terrorist incidents requires constant vigilance and readiness, terrorists, it has been said, must be lucky only once.2 Even with the DHS now officially chartered, it may be up to a year before the department is fully missioncapable and potentially longer before organizational obstacles are overcome—just as it took more than ten years after the passage of the 1947 National Security Act to perfect the national security arrangements in place today.