Spurred by the catastrophic events of Sept. 11 and the organizational aftershocks that followed, President George W. Bush and Congress recently established the Department of Homeland Security. The Cabinet-level department was signed into law last week, and represents the largest reorganization of government since the Department of Defense was created in 1947. President Bush nominated former Pennsylvania Governor Tom Ridge to lead the department.
Bush believes the department, with 170,000 employees drawn from 22 government agencies, can be funded entirely by eliminating redundant spending in the country's current security structure. The department's critics say that it will create organizational overlap and actually weaken organizations that simply needed to be bolstered. Others, such as Sen. Jim Jeffords, I-Vt., are more pointed in their criticism, saying that it "gives the American people a false, false sense of security."
Is America Safer?
Findings from a recent CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll* on the subject indicate that Americans may not have such a false sense of security after all. The poll asked the public to evaluate the merit of the Department of Homeland Security in a personal way -- is America safer as a result of its creation? The results show restrained optimism for the newly formed department. Just 13% say the country will be "a lot safer" as a result of the department being created, while 47% say "a little safer." Nearly 4 in 10 Americans (39%) say the Department of Homeland Security will not make the country any safer.
Does Big Equal Effective?
The American public does not seem to be overly convinced that the new department will be all that effective, either. Specifically, just 11% say the Department of Homeland Security will be "very effective" in protecting the United States, down from 20% who gave that response in July of this year.
The public's belief in the department's potential effectiveness has lost some momentum since July. While a majority (65%) currently believes the newly formed department will be very or somewhat effective, this is down from three-quarters of the public (75%) who felt this way in July (when Gallup asked about the department hypothetically). Most of the erosion in optimism about the department has most notably reduced the number of responses in the "very effective" category, with a similar increase in the percentage saying the department will not be too effective, from 13% in July to 22% now.
Republicans are more likely than Democrats to express optimism about the newly formed department. Three-quarters of Republican respondents say they think it will be very or somewhat effective, compared to a little more than half of Democrats. One in 10 Democrats believes the department will "not be effective at all."
Current public opinion about the Department of Homeland Security is obviously not based on any tangible performance results because the massive new department may not be fully operational for several years. Given the current controversy over the department's necessity and potential, public opinion on its effectiveness in the long-term may have powerful political consequences.
*Results based on telephone interviews with 535 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted Nov. 22-24, 2002. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±5%.
**Results based on telephone interviews with 482 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted Nov. 22-24, 2002. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±5%.