Capitol Hill (CNSNews.com) - Some members of Congress, Democrats and Republicans alike, were surprised by President Bush's proposed consolidation of federal law enforcement and civil defense capabilities under a new cabinet level Department of Homeland Security.
But some are even more surprised to learn the plan has much in common with a nine-year-old idea hatched in the Clinton-Gore administration, which proposed a significant expansion of domestic police powers.
Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) told CNSNews.com he believes Bush is doing what he believes is best. "But I think building a bigger bureaucracy is not going to help," Paul said. "We already have a bureaucracy that's so big and out of control that they can't communicate. Adding on to this and giving them more money is not going to help."
Although much work needs to be done to implement Bush's proposal, the initial proposal includes many aspects similar to those put forth by his predecessors.
Reinventing the Reinvention of Government?
Numerous components of President Bush's proposal, which were sketched out in a televised address last Thursday, are strikingly similar to a plan proposed by former Vice President Al Gore as part of the Clinton-Gore "Partnership for Reinventing Government" in 1993.
The Clinton administration recommendation in question was listed as 312 on a list of 1,498 suggestions, bearing the summary "The DLE should reinvent federal law enforcement to ensure activities are coordinated and critical resources are shared."
DLE was the Clinton administration acronym for Directorate of Central Law Enforcement.
The Scripps-Howard News Service reported August 11, 1993, that Gore had "drafted a proposal to transfer all federal law enforcement activities to the Justice Department. The new 'Directorate of Central Law Enforcement,' headed by the Attorney General, would oversee the FBI, the DEA, Secret Service, Customs Service, Internal Revenue Service, Postal Service and BATF.'"
Paul wrote about the Clinton-Gore proposal in his September 15, 1993, "Survival Report," arguing it would "create a national police force that is one of the building blocks of totalitarianism."
"The result will have the Soviet-sounding name "Directorate of Central Law Enforcement," he wrote.
Bush's proposal includes the Customs Service and Secret Service. It also incorporates the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Immigration and Naturalization Service, Transportation Security Administration, the U.S. Coast Guard, and parts of more than a dozen other federal agencies under the yet to be created Department of Homeland Defense.
Today, Paul says regardless of who is proposing a consolidation of federal police power, it has potentially ominous consequences.
"We already had, before 9/11, over 80,000 federal agents carrying guns. Now that we have federalized security at airports a lot of them will have guns. And then, with this new program," he warned, "I think we're probably going to double or triple the number of federal agents who will be carrying guns."
Erich Pratt, communications director for Gun Owners of America, points out that the Constitution authorizes federal "law enforcement" to address only counterfeiting, piracy and other "felonies committed on the high seas," and treason.
"Everything else should belong to the states," Pratt said. "But over the years, more and more power has been flowing to Washington and now you have more than 350 agencies at the federal level that are armed and can act like real cops. That is not the vision that George Washington and James Madison had."
Paul and Pratt agree that federal "law enforcement" agencies should limit their activities primarily to providing intelligence gathering, evidence analysis, and other support services to state, county/parish, and municipal agencies.
"Law enforcement should be carried out locally," Paul added, noting that federal agents were not armed and had no arrest powers until the early 1900s when prohibition and the federal income tax were imposed.
A Threat To Constitutional Rights and Freedoms?
Both men fear the Bush plan could lead to abuses of citizens' constitutional rights.
"For a good many years now, I've been warning people that we were already moving toward a police state," Paul recalled. "We're going in exactly the wrong direction."
Pratt points out that with a consolidation of management and resources, comes a consolidation of the information various federal agencies have gathered on law-abiding citizens.
"That's why we don't want all the law enforcement functions to be centralized in Washington, DC," he said. "There is a tremendously increased risk, centralizing all that information in one place."
Paul says the disrespect of the federal law enforcement bureaucracy for basic freedoms, such as self-defense and property rights, is easily seen in the decision to deny commercial airline pilots the option to carry guns when they fly.
"Only government can regulate and provide the weapons for self-defense," he said, describing the philosophy. "So we deny the weapons going to the airline pilots at the same time we should recognize that four well-placed guns could have taken care of [the Sept. 11 hijackings]."
Tricky Business Opposing The Bush Plan
Paul says he doesn't know how other lawmakers who privately oppose the consolidation proposal might be affected if they publicly expressed their objections.
"I have no idea about them. I know I have to do my best to say what I believe and do what I think is right and then explain it to the people in my district," he said. "I have that obligation and, so far, I've been able to explain my positions."
Paul has supported President Bush's authority and decisions to pursue the 9/11 terrorists, but he was one of only five members of the House and Senate to vote against the USA PATRIOT Act, which gave federal agencies broad new law enforcement and intelligence gathering powers following the attacks.
Other members of Congress have voiced criticism of Bush's new plan, if not for its substance at least in the way in which it was presented.
"I don't want, every time somebody raises questions about past mistakes, the White House is going to announce some kind of new reorganization," Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) said upon learning of the plan last week.
"What I want to do is fight terrorism. I don't want to just be moving organizational charts around," he said.
Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), also a member of the Judiciary Committee, was caught off guard by the announcement, as well. "It was a big surprise," Sessions told Fox News. "Everybody knew that this had been discussed to some degree, but no one expected such an announcement."
Sessions says he's "not sold yet" on the idea.
"I think this is ridiculous," said Sen. Joseph Biden (D-Del.) when FBI Director Robert Mueller refused to verify Biden's speculation about the plan prior to the announcement. "This is one of the reasons why there is this pale that, sort of hangs over the office, and this whole question about what we do about homeland defense."
Most Republicans, however, rallied around Bush's plan quickly, sending out a flurry of press releases pledging bipartisan backing.
"I support President Bush's decision," stated one such release from the office of House Judiciary Committee Chairman James Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.), noting the current dispersal of homeland security responsibilities "among dozens of federal agencies."
Sensenbrenner believes the "clout of a cabinet officer" is needed to organize and manage the various law enforcement and intelligence functions currently spread throughout those agencies.
"Of course, the details regarding the organization and responsibilities of the new Homeland Security department are critical," he added.
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