Civil Liberties

Abolish the Department of Homeland Security

The embattled agency wastes taxpayer dollars and threatens civil liberties.


Editor's Note: This column is reprinted with permission of the Washington Examiner. Click here to read it at that site.

Two years ago this month, the federal government broke ground on what was supposed to be a massive new headquarters for the Department of Homeland Security. Situated on the St. Elizabeths Hospital campus in Southeast Washington, the $3.4 billion project was designed to bring together some 15,000 employees of our newest Cabinet department, which in less than a decade has become notorious for waste, mismanagement, and inflicting pointless humiliation on airline travelers.

Depending on your sense of humor, you may get a mordant chuckle out of the fact that, before the government adopted the St. Elizabeths moniker in 1916, the property was known as the Government Hospital for the Insane.

DHS' headquarters project hit a speed bump recently when the House voted to eliminate funding for the project.

That's a start, but in a new study, my Cato Institute colleague David Rittgers makes a provocative and compelling argument for going much further. He argues that, 10 years after the Sept. 11 attacks, it's time to abolish the Department of Homeland Security.

Rittgers sees particular danger in DHS' grant programs, under which the department has ladled out some $34 billion to states and localities since its inception.

The talismanic properties of the phrase "homeland security" enable politicians "to wrap pork in red, white and blue in a way not possible with defense spending," Rittgers argues. "Not every town can host a military installation or build warships, but every town has a police force that can use counterterrorism funds." As a result of the "gold-rush pathology" encouraged by the grants—to offer just one example—the midsize town of Grand Forks, N.D., now "has more biochemical suits and gas masks than police officers to wear them."

The issue isn't simply waste. DHS largess often threatens civil liberties and privacy in ways that garden-variety pork does not.

Over the past decade, homeland security grants have been used in an apparent attempt to turn Main Street America into a London-style Panopticon, funding security cameras in sleepy hamlets nationwide. And, as investigative journalist Radley Balko notes, DHS handouts also further a burgeoning culture of police paramilitarization, funding armored personnel carriers for such "unlikely terrorist targets" as the towns of Adrian, Mich., and Germantown, Tenn.

All this has done very little to enhance public safety—not that you'd learn that from the agency itself, which is especially resistant to using cost-benefit analysis. In 2006, a senior economist at DHS admitted, "We really don't know a whole lot about the overall costs and benefits of homeland security."

In a new book, Terror, Security, and Money, professors John Mueller and Mark G. Stewart closely examine that question and, using a set of assumptions weighted in favor of the government, conclude that, to justify the increased post-Sept. 11 spending, we "would have to deter, prevent, foil, or protect against 1,667 otherwise successful [attempted Times Square car bomb-type] attacks per year, or more than four per day."

As Rittgers points out, abolishing DHS doesn't mean ending legitimate federal counterterrorism functions—it means undoing a giant, costly government reorganization that left us no safer and considerably less free. Some of the department's component parts would return to their parent agencies. Others would be shuttered or privatized.

Until recently, it seemed as if appropriations labeled "homeland security" would join "defense" as a budgetary sacred cow. The House GOP's "Pledge to America" took DHS dollars out of its proposed freeze on "non-security spending." That may be changing, however, as shown by Congress' willingness to hold up the agency's headquarters expansion.

On the principle of last hired, first fired, if we're going to start downsizing the Cabinet, there's a lot to be said for starting with the most recent addition.

Gene Healy is a vice president at the Cato Institute and author of The Cult of the Presidency: America's Dangerous Devotion to Executive Power (Cato 2008). He is a columnist at the Washington Examiner, where this article originally appeared. Click here to read it at that site.


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  1. Good afternoon reason!

  2. Hell, I’d be happy with abolishing just the TSA and sending them all back to Burger King, from whence they came. And just to show that I’m not completely heartless, I’d let them keep their blue shirts. That, of course, would be their severance package.

    1. Hell, I’d be happy with abolishing just the TSA and sending them all back to Burger King….

      Fuck that! I eat at Burger King sometimes….they can all go back to Wendys and McDonalds!

  3. …the property was known as the Government Hospital for the Insane.

    Which was built on an ancient Indian burial ground.

    I remember one of the first things my local county’s Homeland Security office got with their 9/11 scratch was a Bobcat, because nothing stymies terrorists more effectively than a skid loader.

    1. Best use of DHS funds I’ve heard of so far.

  4. Caption contest!

    “Sloth love Chunk!”

    1. “Aww, did I spend all of your money? This is my sad face.”

    2. “Identify this man.”

    3. “TSA chief confiscates Nick Gillespie’s hair”

      1. I lol’d the piss out of that one

    4. ROCKY…ROAD?

    5. “Who searched for you, girl? go to to find out.”

    6. “Now let’s just see what else that IP address of yours has been up to…”

  5. Although PBS’ Frontline typically leans to the absurdly nannyist left (i.e. we need to prevent kids from playing football in high school ‘cuz dey might INJURE demselves ohnoWTFBBQeleventy!!!11!!!11), they did run a great show during 9/11 week called Are We Safer?

    One of the points I was glad to hear them make during the segment is that vigilant and even courageous PRIVATE CITIZENS are 100% responsible for preventing the few real terror threats we’ve had since 9/11. It was private citizens who took on their hijackers and brought down UA Flight 93 to prevent it from hitting a more destructive target; it was private citizens who repeatedly tried to get cops to do something about the weird-ass Islamofascists trying to blow up Times Square; it was private citizens who observed some fecktard trying to blow people up in the middle of a public Christmas tree lighting in Portland last year; and it was the seatmate of the Underwear Bomber who alerted authorities to the fact that he had a nutter for a neighbor.

    At no time has any of this pork, any of these billions spent on tanks for hayseed towns and proprietary/ineffective software, any of these high-tech war-room facilities paid off in detection of real and imminent threats. Never. Not once in ten years. Shit-can it, AFAIC.

    1. This is true. The only upside to the aftermath of 9/11 is that Americans will probably no longer sit passively in their seats and let hijackers have their way.

      1. no worries like flight 93

    2. The piece before the Parker/Stone interview on 60 Mins (who watches anymore?) heaped praise on the NYPD for keeping New Yorkers safe through a robust 24/7 surveillance system, NYPD agents deployed worldwide, significaltly increased police presence on air/land/sea, and the wildly popular NYPD cricket league that caters to the immigrant (read Muslim) population.

      The cost to taxpayers? That fact was conveniently left unmentioned.

  6. That’s Dr. Evil’s jacket isn’t it?

    1. Yes! And it only cost one million dollars!

  7. It says a lot about this country that a eunuch can rise to a position of such power.

  8. the property was known as the Government Hospital for the Insane.


    I was expecting the punchline to be, “Unfortunately, DHS has outgrown the facility before it could be completed.”

  9. a giant, costly government reorganization that left us no safer and considerably less free.

    “Considerably less free,” huh? That does it, you’re on the list!

    1. Lighten up Francis….err….Janet!

  10. How about a wonderful trio of eliminations? The Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Education, and the Department of Health and Human Services? That would be fantastic

  11. We could replace everybody in the TSA with cardboard cutouts.

    1. Cardboard is made out of dead trees.

      1. A tree is an organism, and as such, it does two things relevant to your point. One of these things is dying. Trees die. The other thing is reproduction. Reproduction generates more trees.

        Total forestation has been stable since 1900. In some areas, it has increased.

        So, replacing TSA employees with cardboard cut-outs would not present any danger to national forestry.

  12. homeland security what happened to protecting our borders. just as easy to a VISA today,no mechanism for removing people who stay once there visa has expired. where is homeland security investigation into fast and furious? atf and dept of justice needs to be investigated. the insane are running the asylum

  13. I expect that a large fraction of “stimulus” spending has ended up in the DHS, too.

    1. Indeed it has! Our town now has a couple of new cops from “stimulus money”. and a nice new boat with some fancy side-scan sonar (or something) in case someone happens to try to sneak up on the ferry or something. Dipcheese!

  14. And just what federal department would gift all the good little fascists with bundles of our confiscated wealth to purchase new toys with?

    Our (so-called) Conservative politicians love to pander to “homeland insecurity” by doling out confiscated taxpayer dollars without a thought as to how money is purposed. It can be done without the stigma defending the Defense budget brings; after all the loot is used for “our security” meaning the average Taxpaying Citizen, not an Empire Building Exercise like the Iraqui War.

    Such largesse benefits the more intellegent defense contractors who have branched out in to providing the products of population control, the stuff that causes dictators to drool. This keeps them viable for the next foreign adventureism our “leaders” choose to engage in. For our benefit, of course.

    The Department of Homeland Insecurity has become an agency that can “legitimatley” be used by the Ruling Class to further the control of the population. Making it go away would cause the political class to suffer serious (and welcome) personality disorders.

  15. Before we shitcan DHS, can we have them investigate this?…..r_embedded

  16. Break it into little pieces! Then considering charges of Treason against the perpetrators!

  17. “The embattled agency wastes taxpayer dollars and threatens civil liberties.”

    And is the cause of more deaths than it saves.

  18. Golly, this is such a hard choice to make. There is much at stake. We should consider carefully.

    Lemme think…

    Can it.

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  20. 9 years late, aren’t you gene?

  21. I can’t understand why Reason is so ignorant of the actual science, of the problems with the IPCC, and of the level of corruption in the climate field.

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