by Lowman S. Henry | November 22, 2002

It is the biggest restructuring of the federal government in over 50 years. The Department of Homeland Security has been created in the wake of the most deadly attack on American soil by a foreign enemy in our nation’s history.

The fact it has taken a year and two months to get the job done speaks volumes about the inefficiency of our federal government. One would think in the wake of a tragedy on the scale of the September 11, 2002 attacks our federal lawmakers would move quickly. They did not.

Fortunately, the executive branch, under the leadership of Commander-in-Chief George W. Bush did move quickly. He unleashed the “lightening swift sword” of the American Military to rout al-Qaida in Afghanistan. Diplomat George W. Bush has also assembled an international coalition to put Saddam Hussein on the defensive. And, he has positioned the United States for decisive military action against that nation’s terror-sponsoring regime.

But, here at home, the response to the attack on America faltered. After a brief ceasefire, Congress again returned to its blatantly partisan ways, bottling up the President’s proposal to combine some 22 agencies and 170,000 federal employees into one Department of Homeland Security.

This isn’t the first time in our nation’s history such an action was needed. Early in the last century the old Department of War proved incapable of providing the type of coordinated national defense effort needed to meet the challenges of the day, so the Department of Defense was formed.

When the history of America’s war on terrorism is written there will be many heroes: starting with the brave firefighters, police officers, and emergency services workers at the three terrorist attack sites, and continuing with the brave men and women of our military who are fighting the battle overseas. But, history will also record that the U.S. Congress, specifically the Democrat-controlled Senate, was not up to meeting the challenge at home.

Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott had it right when he said: “The terrorists are not going to wait for a process that goes on days, weeks, or months. We need to get this done, and we need to get it done now.”

President Bush’s move to create the Department of Homeland Security was held hostage to labor interests in Congress until the American public, fed up with the inaction and political jockeying, handed Bush an almost unprecedented mid-term Congressional election victory. Congress finally got the message, and within two weeks the job was done.

Creation of the new department, hailed by President Bush as “an historic and bold step forward to protect the American people” is, however, only the beginning of a massive restructuring effort. Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge has been working for months on a plan to guide creation of the new agency, and he should be given wide latitude to do so.

In addition to the good news that Congress has finally acted on homeland security comes the additional welcome word that Ridge is President Bush’s choice to head the new department. The former Pennsylvania Governor, initially dismissed by Washington wags as not up to the task, has proven himself capable. He applied the same talents for organization and leadership in the nation’s capital that he displayed during his successful tenure in Harrisburg.

It is an honor for the Keystone State to have one of our own elevated to the President’s cabinet. Given the serious nature of his task, we all have a vested interest in his success.

Ridge’s confirmation to the cabinet, along with budget and turf battles lie ahead. But a major step toward ensuring the security of Americans at home has been taken in Washington. Let us hope the new Congress, the Senate in particular, fares better than the old at putting aside partisan interest and concentrates on doing the urgent business of the people.