In his column for the D.C. Examiner this week, Reason contributor Gene Healy says the Ridge terror alert revelations shouldn't be surprising, because the entire agency is driven by politics:
Since its creation in 2003, the department has done little to provide genuine security and much to encourage a pernicious politics of fear. We'd be better off without it…
The Homeland Security Advisory System is a case in point. Even before Ridge's revelation, two separate studies showed that Bush received a boost to his approval ratings with each escalation of the terror threat level. The warning has been raised above yellow ("elevated") 16 times, but it's never been lowered to blue or green, the bottom rungs on DHS's Ladder of Fear. Yet, with Spinal Tap logic ("this goes to 11!") the department insists on keeping all five levels.
And no politician wants to be the one who has to explain why there was a terror attack after he lowered the threat level to green (signal to terrorists: guard's down, attack now!).
The department itself is a dog's breakfast of 22 federal agencies brought together in the hope of providing better coordination on a common mission. But turf battles left key antiterror agencies like the FBI out of the reorganization, and DHS finished last or next to last on every measure of employee morale in a 2006 Office of Personnel Management study.
The truth, as analyst Jeffrey Rosen points out, is that DHS is 'an institutional money pit that has more to do with symbols than substance." Indeed, a congressional investigation in 2008 documented some $15 billion in failed contracts that have run wildly over budget or been cancelled before completion.
This will never happen, of course. Proposing new cabinet-level agencies is bold and visionary. Suggesting we do away with useless and wasteful agencies is typically dismissed as fringe craziness.