Homeland Security serves up baffling alphabet soup
Published: Monday, January 27, 2003 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, January 26, 2003 at 10:41 p.m.
WASHINGTON - The government's plan to protect America is such an alphabetical maze that even the cleverest evildoer might get lost.
For example, the plan calls for the CIAO section of the DOC to join the NCS and the NIPC section of the FBI, minus the CIOS part, to come together in the new DHS. Also being wrapped in: NISAC, EAO and something that sounds like a clearing of the throat: FedCirc.
Initial-happy Washington has always had a lot to chew on and the new Department of Homeland Security is serving up even more, drawing together acronym-laden agencies all related to keeping people safe.
"It's just a hopeless jumble," says Paul Light, a Brookings Institution expert on the bureaucracy. "I do this for a living and I can barely keep up. In fact, I don't keep up."
The department officially came into being Friday. The alphabet soup is just coming to a simmer.
Eventually, the department will bring 22 agencies with some security-related functions and more than 170,000 civil servants together in the biggest government shuffle since the Department of Defense - DOD - opened for business in 1947.
Headed by former Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge, the department will start out in a secure office complex in northwest Washington run by the Navy and located near the U.S. Naval Observatory, the vice president's official residence. It will need several months to become fully operational.
Along the way, it will eliminate a few of the alphabet-soup-nicknamed agencies people have come to love and hate. But, like any government reorganization, it will probably end up adding more than it takes away.
INS, the Immigration and Naturalization Service, is to disappear in March when its functions are transferred and split to create the Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services.
"INS will not exist as INS," said Brian Roehrkasse, spokesman for DHS, as the department is already calling itself. In place of the INS, presumably: BCIS.
Disaster-ready FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency that cleans up after Mother Nature, morphs into the division responsible for "Emergency Preparedness and Response."
Among the names-to-be: the Integrated Hazard Information System in the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is supposed to be renamed "FIRESTAT."
Washington parlance is about saving time - for busy bureaucrats, politicos and lobbyists, even if the resulting language does not make sense to anyone else.
But for insiders, why bother saying Federal Law Enforcement Training Center when FLETC will do?
Some acronyms are well known, even legendary. Almost everyone, for example, knows the FBI and CIA. "Clearly, it's easier to just say these letters than it is to say all those words," said Anthony Roselli, professor of education and languages at Merrimack College in Massachusetts. The CIA and FBI will remain separate agencies.
Less familiar but still recognizable to many outside Washington are HHS, for the Health and Human Services Department; and a crisp DOT, for the Department of Transportation.
In scattered bursts of plain English, the government's reorganization plan says, "Transfer the Coast Guard," and "Transfer the Plum Island Animal Disease Center" of, well, "USDA," for the Agriculture Department.
More common, however, is the maze, perhaps enough one to make the citizen cry, EAO.
CIAO is the Critical Infrastructure Assurance Office of the Department of Commerce. It will be transferred into the new department March 1 along with the National Communications System (NCS), the National Infrastructure Protection Center (NIPC) of the FBI, the National Infrastructure Simulation and Analysis Center (NISAC), the Federal Computer Incident Response Center (FedCirc) and many, many others.
EAO is the Energy Assurance Office. It's going to the new department, too.
But CIOS, the Computer Investigations and Operations Section of the FBI, is staying put - bubbling in its very own alphabet soup.
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