Thompson Advocates For Increased Flexibility In Homeland Security Legislation

Washington, DC ? Senator Fred Thompson, Ranking Member of the Governmental Affairs Committee, opened debate today on S. 2452, the National Homeland Security and Combating Terrorism Act, by outlining his concerns with the lack of management, personnel, and budget flexibility in the proposed legislation.  Thompson also reiterated his opposition to the bill?s creation of a Directorate of Intelligence, which separates the Department?s information analysis functions from the critical infrastructure protection.

?Few need to be reminded why we are here.  While September 11 was not the opening salvo, it was the event that forced us to confront the scope of the threats to our country and to recognize the need to do something significant and meaningful to address those threats,? said Thompson.  ?According to the legislation before us today, the mission of the new Department is to ?promote homeland security,? ?prevent terrorist attacks,? and ?reduce the vulnerability of the United States to terrorism.?  I question how this new Department will possibly be able to fulfill its mission if it is bogged down by the same persistent management problems that face the rest of our government.?

Thompson argued that the current management paradigms are out-of-date for the modern, technological workforce needed by the federal government to meet the challenges of the 21st century, and that the current management structure puts no premium on accountability.  Managers find it difficult to reward good performers, and even more difficult to sanction poor performers, according to Thompson.

?I fear that we are setting ourselves up for failure if we do not provide the new Secretary with the flexibility to manage the Department properly.  We simply must give this new Department and this new Secretary the management tools with which to carry out this new massive and vitally important job,? Thompson said.

The creation of a Department of Homeland Security will consolidate 22 federal agencies composed of almost 70,000 employees, 17 different unions, 77 existing collective bargaining agreements, 7 payroll systems, and 80 different personnel management systems.

                ?Others argue that the Secretary does not need additional managerial tools or flexibility to take on this monumental task.  And I agree with them that flexibility is not needed to set up another federal bureaucracy that resembles the rest of our federal government, or to replicate the problems that pervade our government in terms of federal workforce management, financial management, information technology management, and program overlap and duplication,? Thompson said.  ?Our goal in this new Department must not be to replicate failures, but rather to make improvements. If we can not improve our well known operational shortcomings now, that our nation?s security is at issue, when in the world will we ever be able to do so??

                Authority to exercise limited discretion over the Department?s budget is another managerial authority that Thompson believes is essential for the new Department.  Similar to personnel flexibility, budget flexibility is not revolutionary.  Congress often recognizes that, at times, there may be legitimate reasons to provide funding flexibility to agencies, as circumstances might occur that were not anticipated when an agency submitted its budget over a year or more ago.

                ?By maintaining the status quo, we are prohibiting the Secretary from accessing a single cent of the unexpended funds from agencies that are transferred to the new Department to assist in the transition.  Instead, the Secretary must appeal to Congress to enact enabling legislation each and every time the new Department needs some flexibility to reorganize or to get the Department up and running successfully,? said Thompson.

On a separate issue, Thompson reiterated his opposition to the proposal?s creation of a Directorate of Intelligence.  S. 2452 would separate the Department?s information analysis functions from the critical infrastructure protection by creating a separate directorate for each.  The purpose of such a division was to create a new national-level information fusion center.

                The President proposed that the new Department contain a component to assess the Nation?s vulnerabilities to terrorism, analyze information regarding threats to our homeland, and match the threat assessments to the nation?s vulnerabilities to help prioritize our homeland security efforts.

                ?While a number of agencies conduct a variety of threat assessments, and a few agencies conduct narrowly focused vulnerability assessments, no one in the federal government married the threats with the vulnerabilities to develop national policy,? said Thompson.  ?The Committee substitute differs from the President?s proposal by splitting the intelligence analysis component of the new Department from the infrastructure protection component and creating two distinct organizations within the new Department.  I support the establishment of an intelligence capability in the new Department, but I believe the President?s proposal is more sound than the Committee?s approach.?

                Thompson intends to offer several amendments during the Senate?s deliberations of legislation to create a Department of Homeland Security, many of which will focus on how the Department will be run.
                ?We clearly need innovation and flexibility.  We need to look at things differently.  We should do what is best for the American people,? concluded Thompson.