Organizing for Homeland Security

By Relyea, Harold C. | Presidential Studies Quarterly, September 2003 | Go to article overview

Organizing for Homeland Security


Relyea, Harold C., Presidential Studies Quarterly


During the latter half of 2002, a contest was underway over the organization of the federal government for homeland security. It had begun in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, when homeland security came into popular parlance. For several months, this phrase was a symbol, a goal--preservation of the security of the homeland. Then, as various responses to the terrorist attacks were developed, homeland security began to migrate from its symbolic status to that of a policy concept. When President George W. Bush released his National Strategy for Homeland Security on July 15, 2002, the concept was defined as "a concerted national effort to prevent terrorist attacks within the United States, reduce America's vulnerability to terrorism, and minimize the damage and recover from attacks that do occur" (U.S. Office of Homeland Security 2002, 2). By this time, however, homeland security was seen by some as a substitute for the Cold War-weary national security concept, and possibly prone to the same use as a justification for the exercise of prerogative or implied powers by the president. Certainly President Bush made a strong effort to determine the organization and management arrangements for the executive branch that he perceived to be necessary for homeland security. The contest, in which he was largely successful in obtaining what he wanted from Congress, was the most recent development in a long history of inter-branch rivalry regarding government organization.

Reorganization Rivalry

Because the Constitution vests in Congress the authority to "make all Laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into Execution" the expressed powers of Article I, Section 8, "and all other Powers vested by this Constitution in the Government of the United States, or in any Department or Officer thereof," as well as to establish, by law, all other officers of the United States whose appointments are not otherwise mandated by the Constitution, it was long assumed that the organization of the federal government, including the structuring of the departments and agencies of the executive branch, was an exclusive responsibility of Congress. In the nineteenth century, Abraham Lincoln's actions to save the union constituted, according to one generally accepted assessment, "the highwater mark of the exercise of executive power in the United States." Indeed, continued Wilfred Binkley, "No one can ever know just what Lincoln conceived to be limits of his powers" (Binkley 1947, 126). Nonetheless, during his tenure, he made no attempt to restructure the executive branch unilaterally or modify its component organizations in any way. His ten immediate successors emulated his example in this regard, while Congress, during this period (1865-1913), mandated additional Cabinet-level departments and began experimenting with so-called independent agencies and independent regulatory agencies.

The ninth of Lincoln's successors to the presidency--Theodore Roosevelt--is credited as being the first holder of the office "to perceive and to assert the executive view of reorganization which is concerned with efficiency of operations as well as with their economy" (Emmerich 1971, 38). Roosevelt had come to this view as someone involved in the Progressive Movement and as a result of his executive experience as a member of the U.S. Civil Service Commission, assistant secretary of the Navy, governor of New York, and vice president. It was manifested in the 1903 statute mandating the Department of Commerce and Labor, which authorized the president "by order in writing, to transfer to the new department any unit engaged in statistical or scientific work, together with their duties and authority." (1) It was reflected, as well, in two advisory committees unilaterally created by Roosevelt to advise him on government organization and administration. The first of these, the Committee on Organization of Government Scientific Work, was established in 1903 at the suggestion of Gifford Pinchot, the head of the U. …

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