Government's Hobbled Giant
One example: the FBI's cybersecurity office. The administration said 795 people in that FBI unit were joining Homeland Security. But that office had only 92 people to begin with, and most decided to stay with the more reliably funded, higher-status FBI. In the end, only 22 joined the new department when the FBI cybersecurity office changed hands. Officials acknowledge the discrepancy, saying the larger number reflected confusion about how many employees were intended for transfer.
Competing for Power
As soon as Ridge left the White House to inaugurate the department, several administration officials said, White House officials began distancing themselves from the new creation. They offered little help, for example, in recruiting prospects for its top spots, said Rand Beers, a former White House counterterrorism official who now works on the presidential campaign of Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.).
White House officials have made limited efforts to persuade administration figures to cooperate with Homeland Security, officials said. Some White House staff members, including members of Bush's newly formed Homeland Security Council, have openly criticized what they view as disorganization in the department's top ranks. The 50-person council, a coordinating body akin to the National Security Council, now competes for power with Ridge, officials said.
Asked about this, a White House spokesman said, "this is a huge government reorganization, and everyone's not going to agree all the time.''
Officials said a small number of Defense Department officials dismiss Ridge's operation and at times fail to send representatives to interagency meetings on homeland security.
Paul McHale, assistant secretary of defense for homeland defense, denied that charge, saying the Pentagon has sent people to almost all such meetings, and is preparing to dispatch 50 military officials to work full time at the department.
Aside from a cadre of top aides working for Lawlor, the staff around Ridge is exceedingly spare. Some people view that as a mistake, saying the department needs something like the policy office within the Office of the Secretary of Defense, a thousands-strong unit that considers the largest strategic issues facing the military.
"It's a very thin operation," said Paul C. Light, a scholar of government at New York University. Compared to the departments of Education and Energy in the first year of their operation, "this one has a much less sophisticated hierarchy. . . . I'm surprised there isn't a political infrastructure at the top of the department."
One ranking department official said that in part because of staffing shortages, "it's impossible for this department to do anything but manage by the in-box. . . . There's not a lot of brainpower asking, 'What's our agenda? What are the threats of the 21st century?' "
Meanwhile, department leaders spend huge amounts of time appearing before Congress. Because dozens of committees and subcommittees have oversight claims on the department through their old ties to the legacy agencies, Congress has sent thousands of requests for Homeland Security officials to appear on the Hill and thousands more letters demanding answers or action.
Despite a budget that exceeds $36 billion, money is scarce and a constant preoccupation for department managers. Federal budget experts drastically underestimated the overtime costs of the tens of thousands of airport screeners, and Congress and the White House have largely refused to increase spending. The result is cascading budget crises that have led officials to make emergency cuts in crucial programs such as port security and air marshals, which Congress has then overruled.
Homeland Security officials say the department's problems often receive more attention than its successes.
"Not only do we do our day jobs of guarding the borders, securing the ports and scanning passengers entering the airports, we also are reorganizing the entire department," Johndroe said. "The department's roles and missions are still being defined."
"We're learning what works," he said.
© 2003 The Washington Post Company