Section 2401 of the Implementing Recommendations of the 9/11 Commission Act of 2007 directs the Secretary of Homeland Security to “conduct a review of the homeland security of the Nation.” The review is called the Quadrennial Homeland Security Review (QHSR).
As part of this review, the Secretary will examine the homeland security strategy, make recommendations regarding the long-term homeland security strategy and priorities, and provide guidance on the programs, assets, capabilities, budget, policies, and authorities of the Department of Homeland Security.
DHS has designated a core staff for the QHSR within the Office of Policy, as well as “work teams” to manage and conduct the Review. The work teams include employees dedicated full-time to the QHSR, detailed personnel from DHS and other Federal departments and agencies, and contract support.
DHS Deputy Assistant Secretary for Strategic Plans, Alan Cohn, is responsible for managing this first QHSR. Yesterday, Alan testified before a House Subcommittee hearing about where things stand on the current effort. Christine Wormuth, Senior Fellow in the International Security Program at CSIS, also testified at the hearing.
Christine made a solid point: Despite having an able leader in Alan Cohn, don’t expect the QHSR to meet its goals with a budget as small as $1.5 million and 6 full time staff. As a comparison, DOD has multiple offices throughout the Department working already on their 2010 Quadrennial Defense Review with substantially larger budgets available to them.
Section 2401(b)(2) of the 9/11 Act directs the Secretary to provide Congress, and make publicly available, a resource plan for the QHSR. The Resource Plan explains the implementation phases, estimates of the required resources, and explainst the QHSR Work Teams.
According to the resource plan, the QHSR report will be written and delivered to Congress at the end of 2009. The interim work is to lay the foundation for the ultimate deliverable next year. Nevertheless, DHS is at a disadvantage due to a few critical factors:
1) Disengaged senior leadership
2) Massive turnover at the transition
3) Temptation to offer recommendations covering an unwieldy scope
On the disengaged leadership, I’ve seen no evidence that Secretary Chertoff is as engaged in the QHSR as the Secretary of Defense is in the QDR. On the occasions when I’ve met with him, the Secretary responded to my questions about the QHSR with minimal detail. The budget request alone is evidence of lacking buy-in, but its proof, too, that the White House doesn’t understand the potential value of this Review.
The implications of substantial turnover for the Department of Homeland Security include the risk that Christine pointed out during the hearing:”No matter what party wins the presidential election, the incoming team will want to take a fresh look at DHS and is likely to be somewhat skeptical of work done in advance for the QHSR.”
Finally, while the review is mandated by Congress to make recommendations regarding the long-term homeland security strategy and priorities of the Department of Homeland Security, the maxim of “know your audience” enters in. The QHSR is more for the Department than for the Congress. With the new Administration coming in, there will be a premium placed on assessing the programs, assets, capabilities, budget, policies, and authorities of the Department, not normative statements.
The next Administration will craft its own national security strategy and, possibly, a new homeland security strategy (the latter may be folded into the former). Therefore, the recommendations will be less valued than the net assessment of the DHS landscape, which is challenging enough as it is. Alan and his team are uniquely capable of doing this.
The next Administration would be wise to avail itself of the QHSR deliverables and the career staff leadership who are responsible for it. The current Administration would benefit from committing more resources – leadership buy-in and financial support – to the QHSR process if it intends to make good on its commitment to a smooth transition to the next Administration.