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McCaul: Fix the Department to Protect the Homeland

The stakes for getting it right are high — our economic security and American lives are at risk

The Department of Homeland Security doesn’t need a top cop. Ten years after it was created, the DHS needs a chief executive with business experience to do what has yet to be accomplished: merge 22 agencies into an efficient organization that is able to carry out its mission of protecting the homeland.

Short of wholesale changes, the department needs oversight. As the incoming chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, it is my job to provide that oversight, to ensure the DHS accomplishes its mission.

Our country is situated in the cross hairs of international and domestic terrorist plots, our borders are far from secure and we are continuously attacked through cyberspace. I intend to prioritize these threats through committee hearings and investigations.

In addition to these challenges, we face a threat from the department itself. Rampant mismanagement hinders its ability to protect our country. Until the DHS can manage simple core functions such as acquisition, procurement, financial systems and data consolidation, all of which contribute to the success or failure of individual security projects, the mission of protecting the homeland will be compromised.

Numerous subcommittee hearings I’ve chaired, along with government audits on DHS management, identified a culture of corruption, waste, duplication and systemic management problems with little in the way of answers.

In fiscal 2011 alone, Customs and Border Protection and Immigration and Customs Enforcement had 9,073 allegations of employee misconduct, including 893 for corruption such as personnel collaborating with drug smugglers. The Transportation Security Administration had 612 allegations of misconduct, including allowing thousands of pieces of luggage onto flights without proper screening and taking bribes allowing passengers expedited security checks. The list goes on.

After squandering close to $1 billion on the failed SBI-net border security project, a smaller project on the Arizona border appears to be in trouble. The department is unable to justify the rationale for specific technologies, how much is needed or even where to put it. Offices, programs or initiatives in 16 homeland security areas have similar or overlapping objectives.

It is in this environment that the DHS rank and file, the men and women on the front lines of our homeland security, are attempting to detect and thwart terrorist plots before they are carried out. Those threats are as serious today as they were a decade ago.

Al-Qaida continues to plot against us using many of its traditional tactics, including chemical explosives and targeting aircraft. As the Arab Spring turns to an Arab winter, we see the Muslim Brotherhood achieve political prominence in the Middle East.

Until our borders are secure, we are not. They are a gateway for terrorists attempting to enter the United States. Iran and Hezbollah have increased their presence and influence in Latin America and are strengthening their relationships with drug cartels, which control smuggling routes across the Southwest border.

As Iran gets closer to developing a nuclear bomb and the tension with Israel increases, so too does the threat from Hezbollah, not only in the Middle East but in this hemisphere as well. Hezbollah’s finance cells in Latin America have the potential to turn operational. Such a scenario played out last year when a Quds force operative attempted to work with what he thought was a drug cartel to assassinate the Saudi ambassador in Washington and blow up the Israeli and Saudi embassies in Argentina.

I have devoted much of my time in Congress to finding solutions to these problems. In delegation visits to Latin America, we discussed the use of Colombian Special Forces to work with the Mexican military. In Afghanistan and Iraq, as our presence diminishes, we discussed redeploying sensor surveillance equipment to the Southwest border. This is not only good policy, but in tough budgetary times it makes good sense.

Cyberattacks occur regularly. Iran’s recent denial-of-service attacks on Aramco in the Persian Gulf and on major banks in the United States were a coordinated effort to shut down our energy and financial sectors. At the same time, China and Russia continue to steal our intellectual property and military secrets, including blueprints for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.

Protecting our networks and critical infrastructure will be the greatest legislative priority for our committee in the next Congress. To achieve this, it is essential to get the requisite buy-in from the private sector to incentivize two-way threat information sharing with federal investigators.

The stakes for getting it right have never been higher. No less than our economic security and American lives are at risk. Unless we fix the DHS by rooting out corruption, instilling efficiency and boosting the morale of its 200,000 employees who go to work each day to defend our homeland, our ability to thwart the major threats against us will continue to be in jeopardy.

Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, will chair the Homeland Security Committee in the 113th Congress.

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