NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Where Would Health and Other Functions Fit Into Homeland Security?

July 1, 2002

The Bush administration's plans for a homeland security office could actually splinter the nation's public-health system, some officials worry. The General Accounting Office describes the dilemma in a new report, saying the Bush proposal "is not clear on how the public-health and homeland-security objectives would be balanced."

At present, public health is a province of the Department of Health and Human Services. What remains to be determined is which duties would be placed under the cabinet-level Homeland Security office and whether reassigning them would be good for the country.

Public health is not the only function at stake. Among other questions:

  • Should processing visa applications abroad remain a State Department responsibility or move to the new agency?
  • Will the Coast Guard's search-and-rescue and fisheries-protection missions be eroded by securities duties?
  • Will folding the Federal Emergency Management Administration dilute its ability to respond to natural disasters?
  • Should the FBI and the CIA be folded into the new agency?

Regarding public health, Homeland Security director Tom Ridge has promised a distinct "tear line. " For example, HHS would hold onto such functions as maternal health and childhood immunization, but would lost the Office of Public Health Emergency Preparedness and workers at the National Centers for Disease Control who oversee the National Pharmaceutical Stockpile and a laboratory registration program for dangerous biological and chemical agents.

Resolving the many organizational questions will make it difficult for Congress to act on the Homeland Security plan by the Sept. 11 target date set as the goal, critics believe.

Source: Sarah Lueck, "Health System Faces Hurdle," Wall Street Journal, July 1, 2002.


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