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News & Politics

Insecurity Complex

How the Coast Guard and INS are being massively pumped up to fit into the Department of Homeland Security.
Leave it to Sen. Robert Byrd, the last of the old-school senatorial orators, to put it best. In a tirade that won him an arched eyebrow from the New York Times -- a sure sign that he was onto something -- the senator from West Virginia, now serving his 50th year in Congress, uncorked all the ire he'd been saving up since the latest sumo-sized version of the homeland security bill had hit his desk with a crash two days earlier, leaving scarcely any time to examine it in detail before the scheduled vote.

"How is it that the Bush administration's No. 1 priority has evolved into a plan to create a giant, huge bureaucracy?" he demanded on the Senate floor on Nov. 19, just before 90 of his colleagues gave the nod to the bill. "How is it that the Congress bought into the belief that to take a plethora of federal agencies and departments and shuffle them around would make us safer from future terrorist attacks?"

Everything about the bill offended Byrd's sensibilities--its size (484 pages), its haste ("Our poor staffs were up most of the night studying it. They know some of the things that are in there, but they don't know all of them"), and its last-minute inclusion of provisions benefiting private corporations in general and a presidential alma mater in particular.

Most of all, Byrd took umbrage at the bill's subject: the creation of an enormous cabinet-level bureaucracy gathering under its awkward roofline 22 wildly divergent agencies, 170,000 civil servants and $37 billion worth of goods and services, making it the third-largest department in the government; only the Department of Defense and the Department of Veterans' Affairs are bigger.

"Never have I seen such a monstrous piece of legislation sent to this body... this is a hoax. This is a hoax. To tell the American people they are going to be safer when we pass this is to hoax," Byrd fumed. "We ought to tell people the truth."

The truth is that no one expects the Department of Homeland Security to be very good at securing anything, except funding, for quite some time.

In July the General Accounting Office, the government's internal watchdog, cautioned that "the potential exists for an uncoordinated approach to homeland security that may lead to duplication of efforts or gaps in coverage, misallocation of resources, and inadequate monitoring of expenditures."

Tom Ridge, the president's nominee for secretary of the new department, has acknowledged that launching it will be a nightmare. And anyone nervously hoping that Homeland Security gets it together in time to prevent terrorist attacks in the event of a messy war in the Middle East need only read about the difficulties of getting the agencies' computers linked up to know that won't happen.

But the Department of Homeland Security is so far pretty good at one thing: transforming the character of the agencies under its roof by funding massive increases for military and security operations, while other services remain in a holding pattern. It's a hawk's dream project -- a blank slate, generous funding for intelligence and defense, and an ever-present threat to ensure a long life.

Nowhere is that more obvious than in the case of the new department's two largest bodies, the Immigration and Naturalization Service and the Coast Guard.

Enforcement Mentality INS

The second-biggest agency to be folded into the new Department of Homeland Security is the Immigration and Naturalization Service. Currently the INS resides within the Department of Justice, where its two branches -- enforcement and services -- coexist somewhat unhappily, one charged with barring entry to the U.S., the other with facilitating it. On March 1, these two branches will escape their troubled marriage and move into separate quarters in the Homeland Security building.

Once the INS is dissolved, the Bush administration will be left to reshape the way in which the nation deals with immigrants. It already seems clear that the two branches are not going to be treated as "equally important," as the Homeland Security bill's text states they should be. The enforcement branch, its $4 billion-plus budget in tow, is destined for the Bureau of Border and Transportation Security.

Not only will it be a heavy hitter within that bureau, but it will be one of the heaviest on a team of heavy hitters; the Bureau of Border and Transportation Security far outguns all the other six major divisions within Homeland Security when it comes to money ($16 billion) and employees (105,000). This is an outfit that will have Secretary Tom Ridge's rapt attention.

The services branch of the INS, on the other hand, will take its relatively puny $1.5 billion budget and set up shop as the Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services. It will be competing with the mammoth Border and Transportation Security division for funding and attention, and it's hard not to think that the Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services will be at a disadvantage in this game. On the organizational chart, it hovers off to the side, a vestigial tail of a government office by comparison to the other robust divisions. It doesn't even get its own undersecretary.

This intrinsic inequality worries Jeanne Butterfield, executive director for the American Immigrant Lawyers Association.

"We have advocated for a long time for the separation of services and enforcement functions of INS, but we always wanted them to be in the same agency so the nuances and interpretations of policy would be consistent," she says.

"What I fear will happen is that the enforcement mentality to keep everyone out will predominate, and the little citizenship bureau is going to be subject to whatever legal interpretations and policy come out of the enforcement side."

Every indication points to the favored status of the enforcement branch. Since September 2001 the INS's budget has grown from $4.8 billion to $6.3 billion, a 31 percent increase. Virtually all the extra money has gone to border enforcement and inspections. Through the ensuing two budget cycles, funding for immigration services has remained stagnant at about $1.4 billion, while enforcement programs gained more than $1 billion to land at $3.9 billion this year. In addition, most of a third category of new programs falling under the heading "support and administration" -- which total nearly $200 million for 2003 -- are aimed at increasing security.

In 2003, enforcement will receive a $790 million increase over 2002. Services will receive $50 million. And of the 2,200 new positions approved for the INS next year, not one will be in the citizenship bureau -- despite a two-year-old mandate to speed up the naturalization process.

All of this adds up to a fundamental shift in philosophy: The policing half of the agency, pumped full of money and employees, is bulking up like a football player in training, while the clerkish services division is shunted aside and told to make do with what it already has. It's a case of enlargement of the enforcement gland.

Though it will easily escape detection by most American citizens, this shift will be very obvious to those trying to enter the country for legitimate purposes. The process of getting approved to work or study in the United States is about to become not just a wearying bureaucratic exercise but a vaguely hostile one. Though the State Department will still be responsible for issuing visas through its consular offices abroad, it's the Department of Homeland Security that will formulate policy on who gets those visas. And Homeland Security officers will be stationed at the major visa-issuing posts to oversee the process (in Saudi Arabia, they will be reviewing the actual visa applications). As if that's not intimidating enough, the government will track students' course of study throughout their stay.

Here's a taste of the new flavor of immigration policy: Starting Jan. 10, 2003, men of a certain age from a select group of 12 nations, most of them Gulf states, will have to be fingerprinted, photographed and questioned before they are allowed to enter the US. Even those who are already here must go to an INS office by that date to submit to the terms of "special registration."

This posture is anathema to the country's founding principles, says Katherine Newell Biernan, staff attorney for immigrants' rights at the National Asian Pacific-American Legal Consortium.

"Our position when this debate first began was that it would be a bad idea to put INS in Homeland Security because all immigration would be viewed through the lens of terrorism," she says. "That's neither good for our national security nor true to our heritage as a nation of immigrants."

A Different Coast Guard

In her statement about the Homeland Security bill, Sen. Barbara Boxer announced that she would support it, then proceeded to recite all the things she didn't like about it. Among them was the future of the Coast Guard.

"The Department of Homeland Security is largely about protection and enforcement," Boxer said. "When vital services for the people of this country -- such as FEMA disaster assistance and the Coast Guard's search and rescue role -- are thrown into an agency whose mission and purpose is primarily enforcement, I fear that these much-needed services will suffer."

The Coast Guard says they won't.

"As far as changes going into the Department of Homeland Security, there shouldn't be many changes," says Lt. Commander Jeff Carter of the Coast Guard. "The same job we're doing today we'll be doing tomorrow. The president has committed to taking us intact."

But a GAO report issued last week notes that in the immediate aftermath of September 11, non-homeland security Coast Guard functions have already seen a precipitous decline in man-hours. At first, law enforcement relating to drug interdiction, migrant interdiction and fisheries protection took the biggest hit, with man-hours dropping by nearly half as vessels and crews were used to patrol harbors instead.

Since then, law enforcement has generally rebounded; "However," the GAO authors write, "during our visits at individual Coast Guard sites, we were provided many examples showing that as of mid-2002, expanded security responsibilities were still affecting levels of effort for [non-security] missions."

The Coast Guard, though considered a branch of the military, has been part of the Department of Transportation since 1967. It fell under the Treasury Department for 177 years before that. Thanks to its civilian-friendly duties -- search and rescue, marine life protection, ice-breaking -- it has always been more lovable than the other branches of the military.

Come March 1, it will leave the Department of Transportation behind and become the largest single agency (43,000 employees and a $7.2 billion budget) within the Department of Homeland Security. And it will be a different Coast Guard.

The change in priorities over the last two budget cycles is marked. The 2001 Budget in Brief (released in September 2000 for the coming year) identifies seven main threats to American's maritime safety and security. The first is depletion of fish and other resources. The second is violations of laws that protect the environment. Terrorism is last on the list.

The Coast Guard is fond of reminding the public that homeland security has been one of its missions all along. That's true. But until the fall of 2001, homeland security fell under the rubric of the Marine Safety and Security program, along with managing vessel traffic and enforcing the rules of navigation. In 2001, Marine Safety and Security's operating expenses were $440 million.

Following September 11, however, the homeland security element was extracted from the Marine Safety program, put on steroids and rechristened Ports, Waterways and Coastal Security. This year, that department alone will account for $1 billion, or 22 percent of the Coast Guard's operating expenses budget.

The Coast Guard has used its post-September 11 windfall to assemble four of six planned "maritime SWAT teams," as a spokesman described them -- 100-person rapid-deployment teams of high-speed boats that fit into the belly of a C-130, in case they're needed overseas. And with passage two weeks ago of a seaport security bill, the Coast Guard's jurisdiction just quadrupled -- from three miles offshore to 12.

At the same time, the Coast Guard's environmental missions are getting smaller pieces of the pie than before.

Marine Environmental Protection (which deals with oil spills and other pollution hazards) got 11 percent of the Coast Guard's resources in 2001. This year it receives 8 percent. Living Marine Resources, the law enforcement program that protects against overfishing of dwindling fish species, made up 18 percent of the 2001 budget; this year it's 11 percent, $20 million less than two years ago.

Because the Coast Guard's total budget has leaped from $5 billion in 2001 to $7.2 billion in 2003, the dollar figures for non-homeland security programs have remained more or less constant. But the Coast Guard is currently in the eye of a public that doesn't want to lose its search and rescue services. The question is: What will funding for search and rescue, fisheries enforcement and marine environmental patrols be in five years, after the scrutiny has subsided and the Department of Homeland Security is just another bureaucracy?

Super Secret Service

Critics have leveled their protests at the Department of Homeland Security for a number of reasons: It duplicates the intelligence analysis that currently takes place at the CIA and the FBI, and in so doing wastes money and lays the ground for turf battles with those agencies; it severely undercuts employees' rights to collective bargaining, not just during emergencies but at all times; and it strictly limits the press's right to information pertaining to private companies, such as telecommunications corporations, that run parts of the "critical infrastructure."

As Byrd's speech attests, even the process of passing the bill was odious to many. After the Senate Governmental Affairs committee fashioned its own proposal, then reached a compromise with President Bush's version in the summer -- a lengthy bipartisan process -- various amendments began cropping up. The version that passed, called the Thompson amendment, differs from the bipartisan version in that it contained all of the controversial matters detailed above. Produced a scant two days before the scheduled vote, it was not subject to committee hearings.

Most of the commentary and outrage have swirled around particulars of the bill or how it came to be. More difficult to ascertain, though -- and maybe more important -- is how the government entities in the new Department of Homeland Security will mutate under its aegis.

The department draws a bewildering array of agencies together: INS, Customs, the Secret Service, the Coast Guard, the Transportation Security Administration, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Department of Agriculture's Animal and Plant Inspections division, two FBI offices, Health and Human Services' chem/bio/nuclear response team, part of the Department of Energy's Lawrence Livermore Laboratory, and a smattering of other intelligence, research and emergency preparedness offices. Though it will probably be years hence, their cultures and missions will eventually blend into a new creature, with its own trademark culture and mission: to be ever-vigilant to threat. In the end, that inexorable process may be the most insidious of all.

Traci Rae Hukill is associate editor of the Monterey County Coast Weekly.
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