A legislative logjam between the Democrats and the Republicans finally has been broken that will likely lead to the enactment of a bill that would merge 22 agencies--including the Coast Guard, Secret Service, Customs Service, Immigration and Naturalization Service, and Transportation Security Administration--into a new Department of Homeland Security. But the long debate in Washington over the bill has reflected well on neither party. The partisan dispute over civil service protection for government bureaucrats left a much larger question unexamined: Will a new super bureaucracy really make the United States more secure? Regrettably, the answer is a resounding “no.”

Responding to the embarrassing revelations that the CIA and FBI possessed information that foreshadowed the terrorist attacks on September 11, President Bush--in a flip-flop--endorsed the Democratic proposal for a Department of Homeland Security. But the taxpayer might be mystified about the absence of the CIA and FBI in this “reform” initiative--since the main problem surrounding September 11 seemed to be the lack of information sharing within and between the two agencies. Omitting those two agencies should arouse suspicion that the reorganization initiative is primarily designed to pretend that the administration is doing something about homeland security rather than administering much needed “tough love” to existing security bureaucracies.

Even before September 11, the U.S. government had sufficient organizational machinery to deal with terrorist attacks on the homeland without adding a new department. Terrorism had always been a national security issue under the purview of the president’s National Security Council and National Security Advisor. In Washington, the typical response to any crisis is to rearrange organizational charts and add bureaucracies. The real problem revealed by the terrorist attacks is too much bureaucracy--causing too many communication and coordination problems-to fight agile terrorists, not too little.

But what about the president’s claim that bringing all these disparate agencies under one roof will end duplication? First, intelligence is the key to homeland defense. Within the new department, a center for assessing threats to the homeland will be created. Yet the Director for Central Intelligence is currently supposed to be synthesizing intelligence data from the already too numerous agencies of the intelligence community to create a composite assessment of threat. To perform an identical task for threats specific to the homeland, the new assessment center will also have to rely on data and cooperation from the turf conscious information producers--including the FBI and CIA. Proliferation of organizations that assess intelligence will only exacerbate the coordination problems in the intelligence community.

Also, bringing agencies under one cabinet secretary does not guarantee that overhead will be reduced-history shows that the opposite is more probable. Actually improving homeland security would require abolishing agencies (including some of the many agencies not being consolidated under the new cabinet department), slashing layers of bureaucracy, and laying off bureaucrats. Rare in Washington is the department head who would undertake such a purge. If the president wanted to perform such badly needed surgery, he had to do so before merging the agencies under the new secretary. The president should have cut before pasting rather than vice versa. Any new secretary will quickly begin to act as an advocate for his new “pasted together” super agency rather than making the needed cuts.

For an illustration of bureaucratic expansion on the heels of agency consolidation, one need look no farther President Truman’s post-World War II merger of the War and Navy Departments into the Department of Defense. More than 50 years later, the Office of the Secretary of Defense--created to rein in and oversee the military services--has become a massive organization that cannot control the still dominant services, whose duplication of effort and lack of coordination are legion. Consolidating even more numerous, disparate and sometimes dysfunctional (for example, the Immigration and Naturalization Service) agencies into the new Department of Homeland Security is likely to result in even greater problems and a burgeoning secretarial bureaucracy to attempt to control the whole unwieldy and officious cacophony.