WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Forget the 10 Americans killed and injured
in the crash of an Air Force Special Operations MC-130H in Afghanistan this
week. Ignore the more than 200 other military and CIA fatalities and wounded
suffered in the fight against al Qaeda thus far. The real victims of the War
on Terrorism aren't soldiers, sailors, airmen or Marines. Nope, the people
who are really suffering -- the real casualties -- are in Congress. And
George W. Bush doesn't even feel their pain.
Think about it. On 9-11, when 19 terrorists hijacked four
airliners and turned them into flaming kamikazes, the president, the vice
president and a whole bunch of Cabinet officers were whisked away to "safe"
locations to ensure that our government couldn't be decapitated. How many
congressional members were evacuated? Only 10.
All nonessential federal employees were told to evacuate the
nation's capital that fateful morning. How many congressmen were deemed
Worse yet, as the nonessential members of Congress sought to
flee, they were stymied by the lack of limousines, and the police escorts
and hoards of mere citizens jamming the highways, byways and bridges. Then,
to add insult to indignity, the Bush administration closed every member's
favorite airport -- Reagan National -- and had the temerity to keep it
closed for nearly a month.
To top things off, some nutcase started mailing anthrax spores,
and 50 senators and nearly 5,000 Senate staffers had to evacuate the Hart
Senate Office Building and work out of undignified "temporary
accommodations" for nearly four months.
Now, this heartless administration has delivered the final
insult. The president wants to take 169,000 federal employees from 105
executive branch agencies and entities, and re-organize them into four
functional divisions under one Cabinet officer in a new Department of
Homeland Security. To hear the hysterical howling coming from Congress, you
would think President Bush wanted them to give up their "Members Only"
elevators in the Capitol.
Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich, calls the reorganization plan a
"damage control document" to "divert attention" from intelligence failures
prior to Sept. 11. David Obey, D-Wisc., the ranking member of the House
Appropriations Committee, parrots, "These kinds of slapdash plans are often
diversions." Sen. Robert Torricelli, D-N.J., who authored restrictions
barring CIA officers from talking to unseemly characters, thought the Bush
proposal was not "the result of a thoughtful process." Sen. Richard Shelby,
R-Ala., claims the proposal "does not address the intelligence problems we
have." And Massachusetts Sen. Ted Kennedy says he has "concern that Congress
was not consulted."
Most of that is just baloney. The Bush reorganization plan is
anything but "slapdash" and has nothing to do with "diverting attention"
from anything. Reps. Conyers and Obey have George Bush confused with their
crony, William the Warrior, who tried to distract people from his grand jury
testimony about a dalliance with a White House intern by firing off 75
cruise missiles. And if Sens. Torricelli and Shelby believe a more
"thoughtful" or more far-reaching reorganization plan is needed, where is
Unusual as it may seem, the only critical comment that makes any
sense at all is Ted Kennedy's. He's right. Congress wasn't consulted -- for
the very same reasons Harry Truman didn't waste a lot of time "consulting"
with Congress before he submitted his proposal to reorganize America's
defense establishment. Truman knew then what President Bush knows now -- the
Congress has its own mess to clean up.
On Feb. 26, 1947, when President Truman submitted his draft of a
bill to unify the U.S. defense establishment, the 79th Congress had 41
standing committees in the House and 33 in the Senate, most of which claimed
some jurisdiction over the armed forces of the United States. Indeed, two
days before the legislation was sent to the Hill, a New York Times headline
blared, "Receipt of Bill From Truman Will Put Senate Committees in
Jurisdictional Clash." Yet, despite the tremendous controversies he created
(and lost) over the fate of the Marine Corps and naval aviation, Truman's
plan -- essentially intact -- became the law of the land just five months
later on July 26, 1947, as the National Security Act.
Equally important, by the end of the following year, the 80th
Congress had reorganized the legislative branch of our government into 15
standing committees in the Senate and just 17 in the House. And perhaps not
coincidentally, Truman asked Congress that year to approve a federal budget
of $37.5 billion -- almost to the dollar the amount President Bush wants for
Now, 56 years later, Congress has divided the responsibilities
for oversight of every aspect of Homeland Defense among 88 committees and
sub-committees. The question isn't whether consolidating the functions of
Homeland Defense into one department is a good idea. Anyone who has ever
"task organized" a military unit to accomplish a mission or formed a
"business unit" to achieve a particular commercial objective knows that what
we have now is a disaster. The real issue is whether the 107th Congress is
politically mature enough to set aside petty partisan differences and
personal ambitions to serve the common good. We can only hope.