AMHERST, N.H. – Republican presidential contender Mitt Romney on Wednesday complained that the Bush administration had established an inefficient Homeland Security Department and had presided over a bungled response to Hurricane Katrina.
Amid a tour of southern New Hampshire, Romney contrasted the private-based universal health care system he created as governor in Massachusetts with government health expansions advocated by some Democrats, saying to laughter, "The last thing I want is the guys managing the Katrina cleanup managing my health care system."
He also said one of President Bush's signature domestic security achievements — the formation of the Department of Homeland Security — created "one big bureaucracy" rife with inefficiency and in need of major restructuring.
Romney was a member of a Bush administration homeland security advisory panel while Massachusetts governor from 2003 to 2007.
"There is such duplication in Washington that you'd really like to take the place apart and put it back together, just smaller and simpler and smarter," Romney told about 100 people attending a coffee-and-doughnuts gathering at a cinema in Pelham.
The former management consultant said if he is elected president, the department would survive but "it probably needs to be streamlined."
Romney said he would shift homeland security dollars from equipment grants for first responders to prevention through intelligence, in particular supporting and expanding the FBI's intelligence-gathering capabilities.
"When we talk about homeland security, we hear about money coming from Washington, which is fine, coming to the states and localities — and most of it goes to buy interoperable radios, mobile command centers, fire trucks — and that's fine, but all that's going to be used after the bomb goes off," Romney said. "What I want to do is make sure we're spending money to keep the bomb from going off."
Bush pushed for the creation of the Homeland Security Department — an idea initially championed by congressional Democrats in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks — saying it would reduce the nation's vulnerabilities and help the country respond better to any future terrorist attacks.
Signed into law in November 2002, it amounted to the largest reorganization of the federal government in more than half a century. The department now contains once-disparate government entities, from the Secret Service to the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
During a stop at a country market in Amherst, Romney reprised his "Katrina-health care" line, prompting one woman in the crowd to note his fellow Republicans had managed the federal response to Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
Romney complained about "insufficient management and oversight" of the recovery effort, and said he would have appointed a "czar" to oversee the $70 billion in federal spending since then. He also appeared to take a poke at the Democrats who led New Orleans and Louisiana at the time of the disaster.
Noting his fellow Republican, Gov. Haley Barbour, led Mississippi, Romney said recovery efforts he recently witnessed in Pascagoula were being "very effectively managed."
By contrast, he said, "I was also in New Orleans and I was disappointed in the degree of progress there. And I wonder why: Is it the mayor? Is it the governor? Is it FEMA? Is it the federal guys? I don't know where the problem lies, but $70 billion is an awful lot of money, and I'd hope to have seen a lot more progress."
Nonetheless, Romney pledged continued federal support for the Gulf Coast recovery should he be elected president.