Report Card: Texas Homeland Security bill writer sees shortcomings
By TRISH CHOATE
Plenty of blame to go around for DHS procurement problems
WASHINGTON — When a West Texas congressman introduced a bill to create a Department of Homeland Security back in March 2001, it was met with yawns and a general lack of disinterest.
Then terrorists attacked Sept. 11, 2001, on American soil. Suddenly lawmakers came out of the woodwork to support U.S. Rep. Mac Thornberry's legislation, because safety at home was suddenly at the forefront.
Rep. William "Mac" Thornberry, R-Texas, holds up a newspaper headline about uncovering a plot to explode a 'dirty bomb,' June 11, 2002, in Washington. (AP Photo/Kenneth Lambert)
In the years since, the Republican from Clarendon has seen mistakes and room for improvement inside the DHS.
"But the fundamental fact is that the country has not been attacked again successfully in seven years, and it's not from lack of effort because they have tried," said Thornberry, who represents the 13th Congressional District.
He originally wrote the bill with the intent of preventing terrorists from using weapons of mass destruction inside the United States, he said. He was responding to findings in February 2001 that weapons of mass destruction were the biggest threat to the United States, and consolidating some federal agencies into a new department would help fend it off.
"If you looked around at what was happening in the world, you saw terrorist groups, and you saw the spread of nuclear, biological and chemical weapons, and it just didn't seem to me likely that we could be exempt from that forever," Thornberry said.
But he hadn't anticipated terrorists would use commercial airplanes as weapons.
His bill caught the notice of Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, then identified as a Democrat and an eventual candidate for vice president. Lieberman wrote identical legislation for the Senate, a crucial step in any bill's approval.
After resistance, the White House came on board, and Thornberry attended regular meetings there. A special committee wrote new DHS legislation, which was significantly different from what Thornberry first introduced. He wasn't a member of the committee but still had input in the bill.
"It was much broader," he said. "But still the essentials were taking these various 22 different agencies that were spread all over the federal government and bringing them under one department that would have as its primary focus … defending the homeland."
After seven years, Thornberry thinks the DHS is doing better in just about every area, but he has a long list of shortcomings, including the following:
The legislation wasn't implemented very well. The DHS is too big a bureaucracy. It's been too slow to create a single culture that works efficiently and effectively. The DHS didn't take advantage of momentum to move cybersecurity to the forefront. Thornberry's Democratic opponent in the Nov. 4 election sees plenty of shortcomings, too.
Roger Waun, a pastor and Wichita Falls businessman, said DHS was "a mess" and added the following in an e-mail:
Putting the Federal Emergency Management Agency under DHS was a mistake. Experienced managers retired, leaving incompetents at the helm during Hurricane Katrina. The intelligence agencies are not successfully integrated. Creating DHS was the biggest growth of government in U.S. history, "created by Thornberry who says he stands for limited government and lower taxes.""Using federal employees to make old ladies take off their shoes in airports is ridiculous and costly - and is the kind of wasteful spending and government intrusion that must change," Waun said.