CAMBRIDGE, MASS. — Congress and the administration are transfixed by the formation of a department of homeland security a megabureaucracy of 170,000 workers from 22 different agencies.
But even if they succeed, the department would represent only one-third of the necessary institutional response to protecting the homeland. Equal attention must be paid to the hundred or so people in the White House's Office of Homeland Security and to the creation of a new nonprofit institution to support the government work, much as the RAND Corporation and others did during the cold war.
Massive though the new department of homeland security will be, it will still not encompass all relevant agencies. The CIA, FBI, and Department of Defense are properly left out, and thus interagency coordination will be necessary.
Moreover, the secretary of homeland security will have his or her hands full in managing day-to-day operations and so have little time for advanced planning of the entire system.
It is said that more than half of private-sector mergers ultimately fail, and that the productivity of the workforce declines dramatically while different bureaucratic interests and cultures are being reconciled.
Many of the agencies slated for inclusion in the new department, such as the Immigration and Naturalization Service, already have bad reputations. The last big governmental reorganization creation of the Department of Energy a quarter century ago was not a notable success.
Interagency coordination will have to be performed by a strengthened Office of Homeland Security in the White House. Just as the national security adviser plays a crucial role in pulling together foreign and defense policy, so must the homeland security director play a central role.
If the White House homeland job is given less prominence, and all the political attention shifts to the new department, these crucial functions will be lost. Moreover, current director Tom Ridge or his successor must be given more power to approve the programs and relevant budgets of the various agencies involved in homeland security. Otherwise, the current system will continue, and the new $38 billion being spent on homeland security will merely represent agency wish lists.
How can this government-wide coordination happen without building up an oversized staff in the White House?
A report on terrorism by the National Research Council suggested a large part of the answer: creation of a new nonprofit homeland security institute outside the federal pay structure and regulations but devoted to serving the White House office and the new department. The institute would tap into the vast network of expertise in the private and nonprofit sectors.
The homeland security institute would be charged with system-wide planning. It would look for shortcomings, gaps, and overlaps in US systems and infrastructures, such as transportation, energy, and communications. Then it would recommend changes in government policies and the federal budget. It could also conduct studies of specific vulnerabilities as requested by the Office of Homeland Security and the new department.
Among the most important work the homeland security institute would do, according to the National Research Council committee, would be to develop "intelligence with a small i." In addition to the role of the FBI and CIA in collecting clandestine intelligence about specific terrorist plots and perpetrators, the US needs to spend much more effort analyzing the means that terrorists might use and the vulnerabilities they might exploit.
This requires imagination as much as information. The military does it all the time when it assigns "red teams" to play enemies seeking to defeat "blue team" national defenders. Such an exercise before Sept. 11 could have identified the dangers of terrorists using civil aircraft as missiles, and suggested investing in stronger cockpit doors.
President Bush's recent strategy report locates this war-gaming capability in the new department, but it would be wise to reinforce the task by drawing on private and nonprofit talent.
Political attention in Washington follows the money and manpower. The new department will swamp the Office of Homeland Security on both dimensions.
But coordination and planning remain essential, and they should be strengthened by giving Mr. Ridge or his successor budgetary review power.
Equally important will be creation of the nonprofit institute. Otherwise, such functions may get lost in the turmoil of a new bureaucracy's birth.
Joseph S. Nye Jr. is dean of Harvard's Kennedy School of Government and author of 'The Paradox of American Power' (Oxford University Press, 2002).