Studying recent Congressional debates over the Department of Homeland Security reminds us why we much prefer covering activists and social issues rather than policymakers and policy. But clearly, activism meets policy somewhere. And the better we understand where policy is coming from, the better activists we can be. So we work through the eye burn.
As a basic set of working hypotheses, we first like what the Kelleher report says about Homeland Security leadership -- that the department is run by a cadre of Bush appointees who will soon find themselves out of power.
Next we add the survey showing DHS employees to be the most demoralized workers in federal employ -- telling us that the cadre of Bush appointees won't find their doors hitting them fast enough on the way out, insofar as the rank and file are concerned.
On top of these happy hypotheses we note that the agency of 200,000 employees exceeds the recent ability of Congress to comprehend it. The authorization bill for 2006 never passed the Senate, while the 2007 bill never even passed the House.
Without authorization bills, Congress has funded the agency by a process that Rep. Farr of California calls a "hold your nose and vote" approach. Which has only, we assume, increased the demoralizing power of Bush appointees to issue orders as they please.
As a big-picture assumption, therefore, we shall say that the Department of Homeland Security deserves as much respect as one would give to any cadre of Bush appointees who have broken free of civil service and Congressional traditions.
In recent Congressional debates over the 2008 program at DHS, we see that at least the House has passed an authorization bill, and that minimally, House leadership has attempted to restore the checks and balances of civil service and Congressional oversight, to some degree.
We are not distracted, therefore, by Republican denunciations regarding "earmarks". Yes, we would like to see more transparency, but on balance the current trend of Democratic leadership appears to be perforating a cuticle that was only thickening under Republican rule.
Republicans complain that Democratic leadership is acting like the new machine in town, as if that old cadre of Bush appointees weren't trying to rumble like the old one.
Republicans also complain (with some apparent Democrat collaboration) that the xenophobic border barriers are being bogged down in committee. To which we say, oh, no kidding?
And so, on the basis of these very general and hasty hypotheses, we have a few hopes to share.
With respect to the workings of DHS during their wholesale sweeps against immigrants, we would like to see Congressional powers and civil service forces stiffen their civil resistance against the demoralizing effects of Bush appointees, boldly treating them like the lame ducks they are.
But what about Homeland Security, is it not a national concern?
Here we find the Congressional debates helpful. If we think of Homeland Security as hometown security, as suggested by California Congressman Sam Farr, then it becomes obvious to observers of the Texas scene -- especially lately in Dallas -- that the effective priorities of the Bush cadre appear to have little to do with making our neighborhoods more comfortable places for people to live.