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 â€œAfter 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).â€
Readers may recall the SeptemberÂ 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 â€œmoratorium,â€ DHS â€œhas cited the need to address unanswered privacy and civil liberties questions from Congress â€“ as addressed in the Committeeâ€™s September 6th hearing on the matter and also in letters from August 22nd and September 6th from Committee Members.â€
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 Presidentâ€™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 â€œjustifying our existence to justifying our investments.â€
That may be a better fate than the NAO will meet.