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The superagency

August 1, 2002 By    

Propane industry veterans are watching nervously as lawmakers debate President Bush’s sweeping plan to merge nearly two dozen agencies into a new Homeland Security department.

In theory, the Cabinet-level department would unite essential agencies that must work closely together to make the nation safe from terrorists. The list includes: the Coast Guard, the Border Patrol, the Customs Service, Immigration & Naturalization Service, the Transportation Security Administration and the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Would this new Superagency, complete with 170,000 employees and unprecedented powers grounded in the controversial Patriot Act, be more likely to aggravate or remedy the industry’s long-standing frustrations with overly invasive federal bureaucracy?

Only NPGA President Rick Roldan knows for sure the number of federal entities who think up and police the rules, regulations and laws covering all aspects of our business: Department of Transportation, Occupational Safety and Health Administration, Environmental Protection Agency, National Fire Protection Association, American National Standards Institute, American Society of Mechanical Engineers, etc. This alphabet soup of regulation continues to throttle industry efforts for an effective, proactive nationwide agenda. There is legitimate concern that the Bush plan, rather than streamlining the scattered law enforcement and intelligence agencies, will promote bureaucratic chaos and inaction.

I can accept the premise of a new department to improve coordination of the nation’s defenses against a terrorist attack. As a hazardous material, we are clearly in the cross hairs of the type of diabolical schemes we have witnessed since last September.

But it seems to me that a complete retooling is unnecessary. What’s needed is better coordination between Cabinet departments involved in anti-terrorism efforts. Then again, that would require the agencies at the root of the problem – the FBI and CIA – to communicate and collaborate. Good luck.

Despite the nonsensical claims by Bush that his plan eventually will be “budget neutral,” the private sector is justifiably wary of its price tag. An analysis by the Congressional Budget Office estimates the cost of setting up the new department at $3 billion. Call me cynical, but I sense a whole new array of “user fees” for propane marketers – and others – if the plan succeeds.

Certainly, no one would argue with improving anti-terrorism efforts, particularly after weeks of revelations of pre-Sept. 11 intelligence failures.

But I can’t help thinking we’d be better off using this money at the front lines of fighting terrorism, rather than paying for a new bureaucracy.

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