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The timing of George W. Bush's proposal for a Cabinet-level Department of Homeland Security--hastily unveiled when revelations about FBI lapses were hitting the front pages--smacks of high-level damage control. And it was followed by the announcement of the arrest in May of a Brooklyn-born Al Qaeda plotter who allegedly intended to set off a "dirty" bomb. This convenient coup was touted as an example of cooperation between the FBI and the CIA and used to bolster support for the Bush plan. Nevertheless, consolidating agencies that deal with the issues of domestic security and reducing bureaucratic rivalry and lack of direction make sense, if done right.

To be sure, reorganizing twenty-two agencies with 169,000 employees by Bush's deadline of January 1, 2003, seems a staggering task. Eighty-eight Congressional committees and subcommittees oversee the components of the new department, and the turf wars will be fierce. And Bush's legislative timetable nicely serves his political one: He'd love to see the subject monopolize the Congressional agenda in the run-up to the fall election, eclipsing the Democrats' potent issues.

Politics aside, many questions occur at the outset of the debate on the new department. How, for example, will it solve the shortcomings of intelligence gathering and dissemination and the endemic rivalry between the FBI and the CIA? Will it be charged with coordinating intelligence collection by other agencies or will it be merely a "consumer" of their work?

And what of the non-national security functions of some of the agencies slated to be aggrandized into the new DHS, like FEMA, first responder to natural disasters? …

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