In the months and years after the 9/11 disaster, federal policymakers did what they usually do after crises: they increased spending and seized more power. At the Bush administration’s urging, Congress created the Department of Homeland Security in 2002 as a complex amalgamation of 22 different federal agencies.
President Bush promised that DHS would “improve efficiency without growing government,” while creating “future savings achieved through the elimination of redundancies inherent in the current structure.” The DHS would promote “operational efficiencies,” “better asset utilization,” “targeted, effective programs,” etc, etc.
It did not turn out that way. Bush’s promise of creating a lean, efficient DHS was just empty rhetoric. DHS’s budget tripled from $18 billion in 2002 to $57 billion by 2013 (Table 4.1). The DHS workforce expanded from a huge 163,000 employees in 2004 to an even larger 193,000 by 2013.
A small bit of good news is that taxpayers may be spared the costs of a planned DHS Taj Mahal. From the Washington Post yesterday:
The construction of a massive new headquarters for the Department of Homeland Security, billed as critical for national security and the revitalization of Southeast Washington, is running more than $1.5 billion over budget, is 11 years behind schedule and may never be completed, according to planning documents and federal officials.
It looks like gridlock was the taxpayers’ benefactor in this case:
…the capital region’s largest planned construction project since the Pentagon — has become a monumental example of Washington inefficiency and drift. Bedeviled by partisan brawling, it has been starved of funds by both Republicans and Democrats.
Bigness and centralization rarely lead to quality and efficiency in government. So let’s hope that this Bush-era project is laid to rest and that policymakers start focusing on those “future savings” that we were promised.
Chris Edwards is the director of tax policy studies at the Cato Institute, and editor of www.DownsizingGovernment.org. Before joining Cato, Edwards was a senior economist on the congressional Joint Economic Committee, a manager with PricewaterhouseCoopers, and an economist with the Tax Foundation.
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