Even as Congress fusses over how the Bush-proposed Department of Homeland Security will be organized, a more comprehensive plan for domestic defense was unveiled by the White House yesterday.
Now the horse is finally before the cart. Legislators have a more clearly defined framework to help accomplish the goal of better protecting the nation from terrorism.
They had begun to veer away from achieving that goal. Turf fights are under way over who will control which recombined agency in what will be the second-largest federal department.
The new Bush plan will help Congress stop careening toward an artificial, mostly politically motivated Sept. 11 anniversary deadline (just before the midterm elections, too).
Nine months in the making, the plan provides more details for improving homeland security concentrating on real defenses instead of how agencies will be shuffled.
The plan, for instance, emphasizes ways to minimize damage in case of attack and provide rapid post-attack recovery. It includes a heavy dose of technology, such as sensors to detect nuclear devices in containers at ports or along highways.
It also calls for using biometric ID methods, such as retinal scanning, or thumbprints. Tougher standards for driver's licenses are another recommendation, to make it more difficult for would-be terrorists to obtain ID documents.
A few controversial items likely need to be sacrificed to reach the larger goal more quickly. One example is the plan's call to exempt certain documents from the Freedom of Information Act.
The nation also needs a debate on the proposal to use the military in domestic antiterrorist operations. That would break a long tradition of keeping the armed forces out of law enforcement at home. But then this war also is being fought in the US.
While it's up to Congress to perform its oversight role, it must do so with an eye more toward protecting the country than practicing partisan politics defending the home turf, rather than its own.