The 9/11 attacks acted as a catalyst for major changes in U.S. security efforts. They altered not only how the nation would identify and prepare for threats, but also how it would prevent them.
Since 9/11, America has done a better job defending itself, thwarting at least 40 Islamist-inspired terrorist plots aimed at the United States. Additionally, America has improved efforts to safeguard its own sovereignty by investing significantly in border security. These measures discourage illegal border crossing and unlawful presence in conjunction with workplace enforcement and programs to prevent illegal employment. Furthermore, lessons learned in the war against terrorism have stopped some practices and programs that contribute little to real security.
Progress in the homeland security enterprise, however, has been inconsistent. The White House continues to press for an “amnesty first” approach to border security, immigration policy, and workplace enforcement while undercutting key tools, including the 287(g) program, which facilitates state and local cooperation on investigating immigration-related crimes. Such a strategy undermines the progress that had been made in fixing broken borders and restoring credibility to U.S. immigration laws.
Meanwhile, the federalization of disaster response continues—overstretching the budget of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and leaving states and localities fundamentally unprepared to manage local disasters—while unworkable mandates, such as the cumbersome requirements for 100 percent scanning and screening of maritime and air cargo remain on the books. At the same time, congressional oversight, the federal homeland security grant process, and the Administration’s approach to cybersecurity remain dysfunctional.
Getting the national homeland security enterprise right remains one of Washington’s most difficult challenges. However, Congress and the Administration have the opportunity to recalibrate the nation’s homeland security priorities to ensure that the United States remains free, safe, and prosperous.
- Reform congressional oversight of homeland security. Getting homeland security right relies heavily on Congress’s ability to exercise oversight in an effective manner. The current structure is too chaotic, and too many committees exercise jurisdiction over American security. With 108 committees, subcommittees, and commissions having oversight of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the process is ruled more by politics than by intelligent security. The congressional leadership should fix this problem by consolidating oversight responsibilities into the jurisdiction of the two standing homeland security committees (separating Senate Governmental Affairs from Homeland Security), the appropriations committees, and the intelligence committees.
- Transform the federal homeland security grant process. The right approach to funding disaster preparedness recognizes the legitimate role that federal funding can play in boosting state and local capabilities while at the same time allowing states and localities to work on a more level playing field with their federal counterparts. The need for such equality downplays the need for the grant structure and invites another approach, such as using cooperative agreements to help target the maximum amount of federal funds at the highest-risk states, cities, and counties where the additional funding could meaningfully increase the security of Americans. This approach should also include permanently limiting the number of cities eligible under the Urban Areas Security Initiative to the 35 highest-risk areas. Aligning grant allocations with risk ensures that jurisdictions that actually need money because they face the most significant threats of terrorism are not shortchanged.
- Scrap unworkable mandates make permanent key provisions of the Patriot Act that are subject to the sunset rule. Congress and the Administration should undertake an honest assessment of which policies are making the nation safer and which are not. For instance, the 100 percent scanning and screening mandates for maritime and air cargo have been found to be wholly unworkable in terms of cost and logistics and would cause tremendous backlogs in the supply chain, yet they remain law. Meanwhile, important provisions of the PATRIOT Act—a vital investigative tool—that are subject to the sunset rule have yet to achieve permanent authorization.
- Modify the Stafford Act to curb the federalization of natural disasters. From the moment the 9/11 attack occurred, the response centered on federal entities. States and localities were viewed as junior partners in this national enterprise. The reality, however, is that states and localities possess the bulk of resources (people, time, and money), as well as experience and geographic positioning, to make the greatest impact. Despite this, the federalization of disasters increases with each Administration. Since 1992, the yearly average of FEMA disaster declarations has tripled from 43 under George H. W. Bush to 130 under George W. Bush to almost 150 under Barack Obama. The Stafford Act simply does not contain strict enough limits on what can qualify for a federal “disaster” declaration. Congress and the Administration should seek to modify the Stafford Act to curb the federalization of natural disasters. Congress should establish clear requirements that limit the types of situations in which declarations can be issued, eliminating some types of disasters entirely from FEMA’s portfolio. Congress also should limit the federal cost-share provision for all FEMA declarations to no more than 25 percent of the costs.
- Prudently determine the tools needed to protect the Internet and critical infrastructure while preserving core American freedoms. Facing increasing attempts to hack government information and threats to critical financial, security, and other infrastructure, Congress should move forward cautiously to provide the executive branch with the tools it needs to protect the Internet and other critical infrastructure that is dependent on the network. This means fostering public–private partnerships and enabling effective government action while avoiding the pitfalls that will erode civil liberties, such as any attempts to regulate Internet security directly or give the President unnecessary emergency powers. Most important, because we can anticipate that the cyber domain will remain highly vulnerable to disruption for the foreseeable future, steps should be taken to incentivize the development of resilient networks.
Facts & Figures
- Today, DHS is subject to oversight by 108 different congressional committees and subcommittees. There are, by comparison, 36 committees and subcommittees with oversight of the Department of Defense, which has a budget 10 times greater than DHS and millions more employees.
- Close to $40 billion in grants have been allocated to states and localities across the U.S. since 9/11, yet DHS is still unable to specify with any degree of certainty which capabilities exist, where those capabilities exist, the level of those capabilities, and remaining capabilities needs.
- Since 1992, the yearly average of Federal Emergency Management Agency disaster declarations has tripled from 43 under President George H. W. Bush to 130 under George W. Bush to approximately 150 under Barack Obama.
- By October 27, 2011, FEMA had reached 228 declarations, surpassing the 15-year record of 157 declarations set in 1996 under the Clinton Administration. The Obama Administration also set the single-year record for major disaster declarations with 89 so far this year.
- Cybersecurity and information warfare represent an increasing security threat to the United States. According to the Office of Management and Budget, 41,776 cyber incidents of malicious intent against federal computer systems were reported in FY 2010, a 39 percent increase from FY 2009.
Selected Additional Resources
James Jay Carafano, “Amnesty Legislation Still the Wrong Answer for Responsible Immigration Reform,” Heritage Foundation WebMemo No. 3327, July 27, 2011.
The Heritage Foundation, “Homeland Security 4.0: Overcoming Centralization, Complacency, and Politics,” Heritage Foundation Fact Sheet No. 90, August 22, 2011.
Jena Baker McNeill and Matt A. Mayer, “Homeland Security Grant Guidelines Make Security and Fiscal Sense,” Heritage Foundation WebMemo No. 3263, May 19, 2011.
Jena Baker McNeill and Matt A. Mayer, “Ten Years After 9/11: Thinking Smarter About Homeland Security," Heritage Foundation America at Risk Memo No. 11-04, May 23, 2011, at .
Paul Rosenzweig, “10 Conservative Principles for Cybersecurity Policy,” Heritage Foundation Backgrounder No. 2513, January 31, 2011.
Paul Rosenzweig, Jena Baker McNeill, and James Jay Carafano, “Stopping the Chaos: A Proposal for Reorganization of Congressional Oversight of the Department of Homeland Security,” Heritage Foundation WebMemo No. 3046, November 4, 2010.
Heritage Experts on Homeland Security