Strengthen nation’s security with improvements to DHS

With each natural disaster or thwarted terror plot, Americans are reminded of how exposed we are to threats against our way of life. Over the course of the 113th Congress, the United States will face unprecedented national security challenges, and while we have made great progress in protecting our nation since 9/11, there still is much work to be done.

My most solemn duty as chairman of the Homeland Security Committee is to strengthen our defenses against international and homegrown terrorism. Additionally, we must ensure we are equipped to deal with crises on our soil, such as an attack or natural disaster. To do so, we must improve the Department of Homeland Security to ensure all DHS operations are effective at deterring and responding to disasters, and that tax dollars are not wasted.

DHS was created in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks by merging 22 government agencies into one. While the department has had some success integrating its components, offices, programs or initiatives in 16 Homeland Security areas have similar or overlapping objectives. This has produced a poor management structure, resulting in misspent funds, lack of accountability and poor morale for DHS employees.

We have targeted areas where DHS can and must improve — starting with one of its core functions. After years of failing to do so, the department must create a comprehensive national strategy to secure America’s borders that includes metrics to make measuring progress possible. We must ensure that border security is a prerequisite to immigration reform. Without secure borders, our nation will continue to be vulnerable to terrorists and criminals who enter undetected or are released on our soil.

Included in this strategy must be management reforms. Unfortunately corruption has infiltrated our Border Patrol. In fiscal 2011, 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 and filing fraudulent travel documents. As a former counterterrorism official with the Justice Department, I know it takes only one hole in our border patrol system to jeopardize our national security.

Additionally, flawed border projects such as the failed Secure Border Initiative (SBI-net) are among the most costly examples of mismanagement and waste. Until DHS can execute simple, core functions such as acquisition, procurement and data consolidation, all of which determine the success or failure of individual security projects, the mission of protecting the homeland will be compromised.

Our agenda will also tackle reforming the Transportation Security Administration to take a threat-based, passenger-friendly approach to protect travelers.

We know that our enemies use our transportation systems to infiltrate our country. Yet also in fiscal 2011, the security personnel checking our luggage and identification had 612 allegations of misconduct. They allowed thousands of pieces of luggage onto flights without proper screening and took bribes to allow passengers expedited security checks.

In addition to physical threats, cyber warfare is no longer science fiction; it is reality. Our critical infrastructure and sensitive computer networks in both the public and private sector remain vulnerable to cyberattacks. America’s greatest financial institutions and leading newspapers, including The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal, are among the most recent victims of Iranian and Chinese hackers, which disrupted commerce, cost millions of dollars and put sensitive information at risk.

Hardening our networks against espionage has been a top priority of mine, and I will work to foster consensus on cybersecurity legislation by building a partnership with stakeholders and industry. It is the responsibility of the Congress, not the executive branch, to facilitate safe information-sharing that allows industry to thwart attacks to critical infrastructure without subjecting them to unnecessary regulations and liability risks.

While the department is full of dedicated individuals, it must decrease the bureaucracy that has prevented it from streamlining clear initiatives and measuring progress. In order to improve effectiveness, the department needs an independent, top-to-bottom examination of deficiencies in its leadership and management structure. Such a review by a panel with private-sector credentials has bipartisan support and will lead to decreasing government glut and to better results for DHS initiatives.

We all can agree that our security is paramount, and we must efficiently use our resources and manpower. I hope the president echoes my concerns in his State of the Union address, and I look forward to working with my colleagues to ensure the department is capable of carrying out its core mission of protecting this great country.

McCaul (R-Texas) is the chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security.