Don't Panic November 27 2002

What effect will the Homeland Security legislation that just passed Congress have on our lives?</

In the recent post-election congressional session (thoughtfully dedicated to a crippled mallard), the Senate passed sweeping Homeland Security legislation intended to make us all safer from terrorist threats. Teams of government agents are currently patrolling the perimeter of the country to make sure that all our doors are locked. Light fixtures around the country are being fitted with timers so they turn on and off even when we're not home. And to improve our homeland security over the holidays and when we're on vacation, Canada and Mexico have agreed to collect our mail and newspapers, and to generally "just keep an eye on the place."

But seriously, the legislation's biggest provision is for the creation of the Department of Homeland Security. It's being touted as the largest reorganization of the federal government since the Department of Defense came about just after World War II. (Boy, we sure could've used one of those before World War II).

The Department of Homeland Security (I'm campaigning for the abbreviation to be pronounced with a Homer Simpson-like DOH! followed by a hissy "S" sound) will employ about 170,000 and have a budget of almost $40 billion. The department's new head will have control over several agencies currently controlled by other departments, so the government's response to the threat of terrorism is more consistent and coordinated. The Secret Service, Coast Guard, Immigration and Nationalization Service, Federal Emergency Management Agency, Mulder, Scully and the Jodie Foster character from Silence of the Lambs will all be part of the new agency.

So what effect will all of this have on you? Well, that depends on who you are.


Obviously, the main goal of this legislation is to make us safer. The hope is that, by unifying disparate agencies whose jobs include heading off and reacting to security threats such as terrorist attacks or natural disasters, we will prevent some of the lapses in communication between agencies that contributed to the catastrophe of 9-11.

But just because government agencies report to the same chief doesn't mean they'll communicate any better. Studies of security screw-ups pre-9-11 show that FBI field agents reported useful information about the plots to their immediate superiors, only to have it pretty much ignored.

There's also a legitimate concern over civil liberties. A massive domestic law enforcement agency with the resources to track the lives of each and every citizen is bound to breed some sort of abuse. Homeland Security will include an office of information awareness (translation: the office of keeping track of all your movements and purchases) in addition to T.I.A., a database system that can track all your purchases. I have a nagging suspicion that all this new domestic security is gonna put a serious dent in the pornographic video rental business.

Government Employees

Government employees are citizens also, so see above. Some employees at the new department will not have full civil-service job protection, meaning they can be more easily fired, perhaps for political reasons. But did you know that your managers and department heads have already begun fighting over what your new uniforms are going to look like? This reorganization is also gonna screw up your intramural softball league lineups.


Not much effect really. When you fly into the U.S. illegally, the people who stamp your passport and let you into the U.S. will be wearing different uniforms than they used to. The process will otherwise be the same.


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