Homeland Security Office: Issues and Options

President George W. Bush created the Office of Homeland Security (OHS) within the Executive Office of the President after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks as a federal focal point for coordinating domestic efforts against terrorism. Former Governor Tom Ridge of Pennsylvania, a close friend and political ally of the President, was appointed to head the OHS. Such a high-level unit, it was hoped, could bring direction and coherence to federal homeland security-related activities that were spread among more than 40 different departments and agencies. Yet OHS has been controversial almost since its inception. Despite some high-profile results such as highlighting priorities in the President's FY2003 budget and negotiating a border security accord with Canada, OHS remains very much an organizational work in progress--one seeking to carve out a unique identity and mission. Critics have focused on the Office's informal structure and special relationship with the White House, its lack of statutory authority, the essentially domestic focus of its activities, its alleged duplication of coordination mechanisms already in place, and its inability to exert direct control over federal programs and budgets. Proposals have been introduced in Congress, in the Administration and in various think tanks for reorganizing OHS, reshaping its mandate, or replacing it with an entirely new federal agency. Whether the Office will continue to exist in its present form is by no means assured; ultimately, its future character may well be influenced less by its ability to coordinate the federal terrorism response than by its ability to create a new dialogue on anti-terrorism coordination between federal authorities and their state and local counterparts.