Civilize Homeland Security

The Department of Homeland Security should not exist. Its rushed, bipartisan creation in 2002 reflected the political imperative to do something in response to disaster, whether or not that something made sense. (See also: case for the Iraq War.)

Since then, it has failed basic tests of bureaucratic effectiveness. One of the supposed benefits of amalgamation was to remove wasteful overlap so America could spend more money where it mattered and cut back everywhere else. In fact, as Cindy Williams of MIT has demonstrated, the shares of the DHS budget now devoted to the department’s individual parts—the Coast Guard, Border Patrol, etc.—are the same as they were when they were first lumped together. The DHS has also failed to develop a sustainable long-term antiterrorism strategy. Such a strategy would involve: focusing on the truly catastrophic threats (above all, loose nukes); building the best recovery and emergency systems, for resilience in case Plan A fails; and otherwise encouraging free people to live brave lives. Instead, the open-ended “Threat Level Orange” approach promotes vague background anxiety, making the public too complacent and too fearful. As for resilience: the DHS component known as FEMA showed its stuff during Katrina.

Yet sometimes undoing a mistake is more disruptive than helpful. We probably can’t get rid of the department. So, two ways to mitigate the damage: change the offensive, antirepublican, Teutono-Soviet name Homeland to Civil, as in Department of Civil Security. And make civil-security spending what national-security spending was in the Eisenhower era, when interstate-highway-building and language-teaching were all part of “national defense”: an umbrella for investments in new energy and water supplies, public health, basic research, and other efforts that will actually make us more secure.