The Homeland Security Department has “unequivocally” made the country safer since it was created in 2003, but DHS is still a “work-in-progress” with unfinished business, said Tom Ridge, the first Homeland Security secretary, in an interview with In Depth with Francis Rose.
Ridge outlined three goals DHS should — and could — achieve in the short-term:
Set up an emergency broadband network
The 9/11 Commission recommended the creation of a nationwide broadband network for emergency responders, allocating radio space known as the D-block spectrum. Proposals to set aside the D-block and create a communications network have been introduced in both the House and the Senate this year but none have passed so far.
Increase Coast Guard funding
The Coast Guard is “woefully and grossly underfunded,” Ridge said. He added, “If admirals or generals in any other branch had to put up with the paucity of resources and strain on their budgets like the Coast Guard, and the inferior facilities, they’d march en masse to the Hill. The Coast Guard does what it needs to do with the duct tape or whatever it needs to put things together.”
This week, the Senate Appropriations Committee passed a $41 billion funding bill for DHS that provides $8.9 billion in discretionary spending for the Coast Guard in fiscal year 2012, beginning Oct. 1. That’s $63 million above fiscal year 2011 and $271 million above the House bill.
Complete visa entry/exit system
DHS has set up a secure biometric screening system for visa holders. The entry portion of the program is accomplished but not the exit portion.
The biggest obstacle for DHS today is information sharing, Ridge said.
“The technology is there to share it. I’m just not sure the will is there,” he said. “There’s still a mindset, there’s still an inertia, there’s still a Cold War mentality.”
Ridge made the distinction that DHS does not generate intelligence; rather, it consumes intelligence.
“Unless and until all of the federal agencies are willing to provide in a timely way information with the (homeland security) secretary and his or her team, we’ll never be able to as effectively as we want to involve the state, local and private sector,” he said.
Another challenge to the agency is the level of oversight. DHS must answer to more than 100 Congressional committees and subcommittees. Ridge said oversight should be performed by a small group of people with broad knowledge.