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Homeland Security belongs in D.C.

(Published December 16, 2002)

All Americans - and, especially, those who live in the District of Columbia - should take note of a major inconsistency in federal policy toward our nation's capital that has been revealed in the current debate over where to headquarter the new Department of Homeland Security.

Security has long been cited as a primary reason for maintaining federal control over the District, thereby denying more than half a million Americans their full citizenship rights to self-government.

Now comes the suggestion that the security of our nation is no longer dependent on locating the federal government's premier security functions within the District of Columbia. In fact, D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton recently noted that the Bush administration is focusing its siting efforts on finding space to lease in Northern Virginia.

That's a bad idea for a number of reasons - foremost, our nation's security.

Certainly, the institutional memory within the administration is deep enough to recall the technological chaos that confronted the Washington region when a single airliner crashed into the Pentagon on Sept. 11 of last year.

Perhaps the memory of how another airline industry disaster - the Air Florida crash into the 14th Street bridge - crippled traffic throughout the region in the 1980s has been forgotten by some of our federal leaders who weren't here to experience it firsthand.

Together, those two incidents alone should throw red flags in the path of any serious thoughts that high technology can dependably bridge the distance across the Potomac River, which is far too deep for wading.

Norton, to her credit, has sounded the alarm consistently to her congressional colleagues about the "crippling economic domino effects" that would occur if as many as 18,000 federal jobs were moved out of the District as part of the biggest Cabinet-level reorganization of the federal government in 50 years. The fact that President Bush would even consider locating Homeland Security, which largely combines the functions of existing federal agencies, outside the District bespeaks the lack of influence Mayor Anthony A. Williams has as co-chairman of the president's Homeland Security Advisory Council.

The National Capital Planning Commission recently urged the president to base Homeland Security in the District, citing the need to "demonstrate to Americans at home and to the world at large the country's fearless resolve to conduct the war on terrorism from the very seat of its national government." The commission also cited a 1947 law requiring that "all offices attached to the seat of government be exercised in the District of Columbia and not elsewhere, except as otherwise expressly provided by law." According to Norton, the Homeland Security Act passed by Congress does not expressly authorize the department's location outside the nation's capital.

There should be no debate over which jurisdiction will become the home of Homeland Security.

Copyright 2002, The Common Denominator