The Department of Homeland Security’s Creators Promised Efficiency. They Delivered Disaster.
When President George W. Bush was making the case for creating a new Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in mid-2002, his administration assured the public that the new organization “would not ‘grow’ government.”
Rather, by cobbling together 22 separate agencies under one cabinet-level secretary, the federal government would be able to respond more flexibly and efficiently to the threat of terrorism—saving lives and tax dollars.
The administration’s allies in Congress were even more glowing about the prospects of the new department.
“We’re going to run this department better than we run the rest of the government, and we might learn something that could improve the rest of the government,” Sen. Phil Gramm (R–Texas) confidently told The New York Times in November 2002.
This early optimism about DHS, like so many other features of the post-9/11 security state, was misplaced.
Despite promises about its transformative potential, DHS today is everything it was set up to avoid: a bloated, bureaucratic mess controlling some of the most notoriously wasteful and scandal-wracked agencies in the entire government.
In fiscal year 2003, the first year DHS was in business, the department’s budget was a sizable $37.7 billion. Today, Congress appropriates $72 billion a year to the department. Despite promises of not growing government, that amounts to an inflation-adjusted 28 percent increase in homeland security spending.
President Joe Biden, a supporter of creating DHS when he was in the senate, has requested $90 billion for the department for fiscal year 2022.
Neither taxpayers nor the department’s own workers seem to be getting a benefit from this added largess.
DHS gets the lowest marks of all large departments in the “Best Places to Work” survey of federal workers published each year by the Partnership for Public Service. More than half of its workers giving negative ratings for “effective leadership,” “teamwork,” and “innovation”—all things the department was intended to excel at.
Things only get worse when one examines the component parts of DHS, which continually rank as among the most inefficient, wasteful, and just plain evil federal government agencies.
For starters, it’s the home base for the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), perhaps the most visible and annoying legacy of 9/11.
Various news investigations and watchdog reports over the years show that the TSA’s invasive passenger screenings still miss an estimated 80 to 95 percent of contraband. Other agency initiatives, like deploying dogs to sniff passengers in security lines and having Federal Air Marshals follow “suspicious” people around airports, have proven just as ineffective.
The TSA also ranks close to the bottom of all government agencies in terms of
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