Sunday, March 5

CHERTOFF'S A LIABILITY, PRESIDENT BUSH

Former FEMA director Michael Brown has been reinventing himself of late politically (and doing a good job of it, it would appear), making the rounds of the talking heads' shows and positioning himself as more the victim of his former boss', DHS secretary Michael Chertoff, buck-passing, than the Katrina disaster, for which he received the bulk of the blame for the federal government's inept response. Brown's case is gaining traction within the MSM and the unhalting criticism of him appears to be in remission. Indeed, he may bounce back faster than the Tylenol brand name did in 1982.

Now it's Chertoff's well-deserved turn in the barrel.

But poor marks for the Department of Homeland Security (of which FEMA is a part) and its chief should not be confined to its lackluster response time and patent inefficiency in coping with a major natural disaster that struck the Gulf Coast and put most of New Orleans under water. There's much, much more to the story of DHS. One can start with its bloated budget, its reckless, unfocused spending, and its overreach beyond its principal mission. Then one can move on to the more substantive failures: our nation's long-standing porous borders and poorly-secured ports, which have not received the kind of focus from the Bush-created boondoggle that they merit. Indeed, citizen outrage vis-a-vis the borders -- best eptomized in the formation of The Minuteman Project -- and citizen outrage over the Dubai Ports World deal -- ineleuctably forged by the basic common sense of everyday Americans -- have politicians scrambling and the Bush administration on the ropes.

This piece, by Veronique de Rugy of the American Enterprise Institute, captures a flavor of what DHS is all about and what it has become:

Since September 11, Congress has appropriated nearly $180 billion to protect Americans from terrorism. Total spending on homeland security in 2006 will be at least $50 billion—roughly $450 per American household. But far from making us more secure, the money is being allocated like so much pork. States and cities are spending federal homeland security grants on pet projects that have nothing to do with homeland security; state and local officials fight over who will get the biggest share of the money, regardless of whether they have a legitimate claim to it. And when Congress isn’t doling out cash indiscriminately, it’s overreacting to yesterday’s attacks instead of concentrating on cost-effective defenses against the most likely current threats. The result is an edifice that, far from preventing terrorist assaults, actually makes us more vulnerable by diverting resources from worthier projects.

The president needs Rudolf Giuliani or someone of his stature, experience, and credibility in DHS, and sooner rather than later. There are other personnel changes he needs to make, including at the cabinet level, but surely this is the most pressing. Michael Chertoff may well be a litmus test of whether or not this president is going to do something about national security here at home, rather than just overseas.