Corporate America and Washington are squabbling over homeland security, and scant progress is being made in safeguarding the nation's nuclear, chemical, and financial infrastructure from terrorists. The Bush Administration is waiting for the establishment of the Homeland Security Dept. before coming up with a plan. Congress is trying to pass legislation telling companies how to protect their facilities. And corporations are pushing back, afraid that more regulation and higher costs will hurt business. It's time to end this anarchy. Congress should stop micromanaging national security and simply pass the Homeland Security Act. The Bush Administration should immediately set up business-government groups that together develop plans to protect the nation's infrastructure without undermining economic productivity.
So far, no one is even talking about who will pay the billions of dollars needed to safeguard nuclear power and chemical plants. Corporations are desperately trying to return to profitability. Asking them to take on a huge public financial responsibility now is unfair and unwise. The truth is that in the war against terrorism, the government is going to have to spend big sums, either directly or through tax breaks, to secure privately owned infrastructure.
Corporations also need legal protection. In battling terrorism, Washington is pressing financial institutions and Internet providers to hand over sensitive data about some customers. This opens them to potential lawsuits. So it's reasonable to give them some kind of protection.
Most of all, companies should have a voice in security planning. Right now, they simply react to the proposals of congressional committees. Bringing them inside the process, involving them in assessing threats and suggesting solutions, would be far more effective. Government and Corporate America should work together to ensure that new safeguards dovetail with the workings of a high-productivity economy.