News

Bush Plan Draws Kudos, Caveats
June 17, 2002

By Staff
Appeared in Engineering News-Record

President Bush's proposal to create a Cabinet-level Dept. of Homeland Security that would bring together parts or all of 11 current federal agencies is garnering a generally favorable reception from construction executives.

"Reorganization is a needed first step," says John F. Hennessy, CEO of the New York City-based Syska Hennessy Group. But "the people that will be staffing the combined agency...will be the same people who were in the individual agencies in the past. They will bring with them the same biases and mode of operation they had in their previous positions."

A single federal department might "get funds out to cities faster," says Keith B. Mills, director of planning and development for Atlantic City, N.J. The creation of "a central place to coordinate the dissemination of information" on security matters is good, he says, but the needs behind the department's proposed funding levels are still "a little vague....It's a lot of money."

The components of the proposed department, which Bush outlined in a June 6 televised address, include the Transportation Dept.'s Coast Guard and newly established Transportation Security Administration, as well as the Treasury Dept.'s Customs Service and Secret Service and the independent Federal Emergency Management Agency.

On top of that, a surge of private sector spending will augment state and local government outlays and push the overall security sector in FY2003 to between $93 billion and $138 billion, according to a research report by Deloitte Consulting and Aviation Week (see chart below). The report was made public at the Homeland Security Conference, held June 6-7 in Washington, D.C., and sponsored by units of The McGraw-Hill Cos. that include Aviation Week and ENR.

"The new department will be helpful if it is able to effectively match the myriad niche solutions to the appropriate needs," said C.H. "Stretch" Dunn, director of federal programs for BE&K, Birmingham, Ala., to the conference. "It's our best hope for allowing solutions to bubble up and meet the appropriate requirements coming down–whether from the public or private sectors."

It will be a challenge to satisfy both. The public sector believes the biggest threats will come from weapons of mass destruction or attacks on public health infrastructure. The private sector sees more likely targets in the realms of transportation or information technology and communication, according to the Deloitte/Aviation Week report .

The Sept. 11 attacks simultaneously created a new market for security and changed the design equation, according to Frank DeMartino, president of Pasadena-based Parsons Corp. "Until 9/11, we designed structures against natural events. Now we're designing for terrorist events," he said.

Just as a major department goal will be to craft a coordinated approach to fighting terror, it is equally important to understand infrastructure interdependencies, said Paula L. Scalingi, president of Vienna, Va.-based infrastructure security consultants The Scalingi Group (see chart, top). Loss of one key infrastructure segment often can cascade into other failures, she said.

MUM ON CZAR. The new department would have four divisions: border and transportation security; emergency preparedness and response; chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear countermeasures; and information analysis and infrastructure protection. But Bush has not said whom he will nominate to head the agency. Asked whether it would be Tom Ridge, director of the White House Office of Homeland Security, presidential press secretary Ari Fleischer said, "Gov. Ridge is going to be the face and the voice of the person fighting for the creation of this department." Ridge, the then-governor of Pennsyl-vania, was appointed Homeland Security Ad-visor on Sept. 20 and sworn in on Oct. 8.

The plan needs congressional approval. "All indications seem to be that it's being well received," says William D. Toohey, American Road & Transportation Builders Association senior vice president.

Even as airports scramble to meet federally imposed security deadlines, emphasis is shifting elsewhere. "There are 11 million containers coming into the U.S. each year," said Sen. Joseph Biden (D-Del.). "Less than 1% are inspected." Among other steps, he wants to fit cranes with sensors to measure cargo density and radiation.

Toohey says one concern is budgeting for the proposed department. "We believe it would be a mistake to essentially have security expenditures competing with the core [transportation] capital investment programs," including highways, airports and transit, he said.

Key lawmakers' initial reactions were favorable, but with reservations. "The threat...is real and will be there for a long time," said House Appropriations Committee Chairman C.W (Bill) Young (R-Fla.). "I look forward to reviewing the President's proposal."

Biden said the President's instincts are good but the proposed department's $34-billion budget would require congressional approval. Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Robert C. Byrd Jr. (D-W.Va.) supports making the Office of Homeland Security a Cabinet-level department. But he says, "I hope that this new status for the Office of Homeland Security amounts to more than just reshuffling the deck chairs on the Titanic."

On May 2, Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.) introduced a bill to set up a Dept. of National Homeland Security that would include the Federal Emergency Management Agency, U.S. Customs Service, Border Patrol and Immigration and Naturalization Service enforcement and Coast Guard. There is a companion bill in the House.

Transportation Secretary Norman Y. Mineta, who would lose a sizable piece of his organization under the plan, says he fully supports Bush's proposal. If Congress does approve the plan, observers believe it will come only after a long debate.

In the interim, "We still have our job to do....We still have to stand up the [TSA]," Mineta said. "So we have to stay focused on our job no matter what's going on, on the Hill or in other parts of the administration as they try to sell this program."