Center for American Progress

Not Making the Grade: A New Report on Homeland Security
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Not Making the Grade: A New Report on Homeland Security

To: Progressive Community
From: Center for American Progress
Re: New Homeland Security Report Card

We would like to draw your attention to a new report on homeland security released today by The Century Foundation. The report gives an overall grade of C+ to the Department of Homeland Security based on its first year of operation. Specific grades were given to four of the Department's core missions: aviation security, intelligence gathering and dissemination, immigration, and coordination with state and local government. In some instances, the report finds that areas requiring the most improvement were "worse than before the DHS was created."

The report highlights that significant management problems in the area of personnel, office location, administration, and political oversight continue to hamper DHS's effectiveness. "The longer these issues fester, the worse the problems can become – and the greater the chance that they open the door to terrorists."

Some key points from the report.

  • Aviation Security: Despite limited progress, the air cargo and civil aviation systems remain vulnerable. The report notes, "The Transportation Security Administration estimate there is a 35 percent to 65 percent chance that terrorists are planning to place a bomb in the cargo of a U.S. passenger plane. Yet, only about 5 percent of air cargo is screened, even if it is transported on passenger planes." Furthermore, the measures controlling general civil aviation continue to be voluntary and it remains unclear which ones have been instituted and by whom.
  • Intelligence: Coordination remains one of the largest and most important unresolved problems. While acknowledging the creation of the new Terrorist Threat Integration Center as an important step, "DHS's marginal role in the collection and analysis process has hindered its ability to lead in homeland security policy." While the coordination of intelligence was cited as the strongest argument for creating the department, DHS "has been only one player – the junior partner, at that – in intelligence issues."
  • Immigration: Despite the introduction of the US-VISIT program, more needs to be done to track visitors entering and leaving the country over land borders. The report highlights that "no significant new steps have been taken to prevent or deter the flow of hundreds of thousands of undocumented immigrants across U.S. borders" – exposing security vulnerabilities that could be exploited by terrorists. The backlog of immigration applications has crippled the Department. At the end of October 2003, more than 5.4 million applications have not been processed and resolved. Similarly, the number of naturalization applications remains at more than 600,000, despite the number of filings falling by 25 percent in fiscal year 2003.
  • Coordination with State and Local Governments: Federal promises to improve coordination with state and local governments have gone unmet. According to the report, "promised federal grants have been slow in flowing – and the money has been distributed more on the basis of pork than on the basis of need." Furthermore, "Of the money that has gone to state and local governments, relatively little has found its way to first responders – in part because of cumbersome DHS procedures in getting the money out."

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