Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

October 4, 2007

Dems Put Brakes on National Applications Office

Filed under: Intelligence and Info-Sharing,Organizational Issues — by Jonah Czerwinski on October 4, 2007

DHS is back to the drawing board with its National Applications Office. In hindsight, it was impressive that this new Office should come together so quickly and in final format with a Fact Sheet and all more than a month ahead of its roll-out. The interagency negotiations and burdens of transforming the legacy aspects of the Civil Applications Office must have quite a challenge. But not as challenging as the Congress would prove to be.

Bennie Thompson, Chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee released a statement this week that began by explaining that “After several requests from the Homeland Security Committee calling for a moratorium on the controversial use of spy satellite imagery for domestic purposes, the Department has heeded the call and delayed its planned October 1st launch of its new National Applications Office (NAO).”

Readers may recall the September 10 post here explaining the plans for this new office. This is effectively a modernization of the Civil Applications Office (CAO) to reflect a joint effort of two new entities: DHS and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. A lot has changed since the days of the CAO. Evidently the civil liberties questions today are no match for the NAO. Thompson explains that as a result of the “moratorium,” DHS “has cited the need to address unanswered privacy and civil liberties questions from Congress – as addressed in the Committee’s September 6th hearing on the matter and also in letters from August 22nd and September 6th from Committee Members.”

This sounds a lot like the days when we rolled out the Domestic Nuclear Detection Office. While the challenges had more to do with political science than with privacy protection, the Congress felt as if they were in the dark about the DNDO and pushed back hard. Both Democrats and Republicans were skeptical of the DNDO since they were effectively told of its existence when it showed up in the President’s budget request. (The Presidential Directive creating it was not released.) It made a Congressional Affairs expert out of the DNDO Director real quick. Vayl Oxford spent upwards of 30 visits to the Hill over a few months. Eventually, as he explained it to me, they went from “justifying our existence to justifying our investments.”

That may be a better fate than the NAO will meet.

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Comment by William R. Cumming

October 5, 2007 @ 1:15 am

Competent executive branch officialdom always paves the way with Congressional staff and member briefings rather than just spring new components out of whole cloth. Also Congressional activity in the past and GAO have called for this effort. An accurate time-line internal to DHS, the Executive Branch, Congressional interest, and GAO activity might smooth the skids for launcing.

Comment by William R. Cumming

October 5, 2007 @ 10:17 am

Apparently OMB budget guidance to DHS for the FY 2009 Fiscal Year is very interesting. Please request your readers to send you a copy if they are given access to it. Also the fact that DHS is under a continuing appropriation for FY2008 is already causing great stress within DHS. By the end of the CR if there is one, DHS will be a totally disfunctional operation with one hand taking and the other hand taking and no hand giving. ICE, FEMA, Coast Guard, Secret Service, will be showing the first signs of stress and strain shortly if not alread. This is a disaster.

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October 22, 2007 @ 2:14 pm

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