Charles Kenny in Bloomberg Businessweek:
On Friday, Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano resigned to take up a post running California’s university system. With her departure, there are now 15 vacant positions at the top of the department. That suggests it would be a particularly humane moment to shut the whole thing down. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security was a panicked reaction to the Sept. 11 attacks. It owes its continued existence to a vastly exaggerated assessment of the threat of terrorism. The department is also responsible for some of the least cost-effective spending in the U.S. government. It’s time to admit that creating it was a mistake.
In 2002 the George W. Bush administration presented a budget request for massively increased spending on homeland security, at that point coordinated out of the Office of Homeland Security. “A new wave of terrorism, involving new weapons, looms in America’s future,” the White House said. “It is a challenge unlike any ever faced by our nation.” In proposing a new cabinet-level agency, Bush said, “The changing nature of the threats facing America requires a new government structure to protect against invisible enemies that can strike with a wide variety of weapons.” Because of “experience gained since Sept. 11 and new information we have learned about our enemies while fighting a war,” the president concluded that “our nation needs a more unified homeland security structure.”
More than a decade later, it’s increasingly clear that the danger to Americans posed by terrorism remains smaller than that of myriad other threats, from infectious disease to gun violence to drunk driving.