THE MAGAZINE

Porn, Toys, and Homeland Security

By Sherry L. Harowitz

A 53-year-old man was arrested earlier this year in San Juan, Puerto Rico, on charges of possession of child pornography. The arrest was part of a U.S. Homeland Security Department initiative called Operation Predator. That’s a laudable program, but you may be asking yourself what homeland security has to do with child pornography, and the answer would be: About as much as it has to do with making sure that counterfeit toys don’t end up on store shelves. But these are both among the duties of the Homeland Security Department. Yet none of the 22 agencies brought together under DHS are those primarily involved in intelligence collection, a vital element in the fight against terrorists. Is that logical?

The failure of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to respond adequately to Hurricane Katrina has led many to question whether it belongs under DHS. But a larger question is whether DHS includes and excludes the right agencies so that it can adequately focus on its core missions—such as securing critical infrastructure and tracking terrorists to thwart the next attack.

Speaking at a recent conference, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist’s director of budget and appropriations, G. William Hoagland, noted that fully 40 percent of DHS’s budget is for programs unrelated to homeland security.

Meanwhile, as we move further away from 9-11, the fervor for homeland security spending—not to be confused with the furor over homeland security issues, such as whether a foreign nation should supervise a port—is waning. Thus, as Hoagland noted, while the average annual rate of growth for DHS was 20 percent in prior years, it was 7 percent for 2006 and is expected to be about 6 percent for 2007. That puts it on a par with the growth level for the rest of the government agencies.

The result will be more pressure on the competing claims for that money. Grants are likely to be harder to come by, and that means that state and local entities, such as firefighters and other first responders, are likely to feel the pinch from the tightening of the funding, according to Hoagland. There will be other losers. The House Committee on Science issued a statement that it was concerned about the President’s 2007 DHS budget request that cuts funding for the Science and Technology Directorate by 33 percent. The committee said that it was “particularly concerned about the significant reduction proposed for work on standards for homeland-security related equipment.”

The tighter budget makes the appropriate setting of priorities within DHS all the more important. Stripping away the parts of the agency that have nothing to do with homeland security would probably help it set those priorities. Unfortunately, that’s not likely to happen.

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