Congress last month received the pre-release draft of a new report focused on managing DHS through the coming presidential transition. The final public report is now available by its authors, the National Academy of Public Administration (NAPA), which had undertaken the study at the request of Congress to prepare the Department for the management challenges – as well as security vulnerabilities – it will face between November and January 20, 2009.
Given that we’ve seen spikes in terrorist attacks at times of political transition, such as the terrorist attacks in Madrid in 2004 and London in 2005, the presidential transition carries with it an added challenge for DHS. It must manage the institutional flux that occurs with any change in the presidency while also maintaining, if not bolstering, the ability to defeat, deter, defend against, or respond to a terrorist attack seeking to exploit such a symbolic window of time.
The policy community has embarked on a number of ongoing transition studies that aim to inform the next team’s policy slate as it takes over DHS. I participate in two of them, and there are at least two others I’m aware of. For the most part, these efforts do not address the management challenge of keeping DHS running during this key timeframe. This is where the NAPA study comes in.
The report suggests that, while the ratio of political appointees to career leaders is typical at DHS given the rest of the Executive branch, DHS should shift more executives to field operations and convert deputy slots to career positions. This process is well underway, but we are seeing cases where political appointees are getting the deputy jobs as career positions.
In all, NAPA offers a transition plan in 22 steps. Among them are the following:
June through the Democratic and Republican conventions:
• Appoint a full-time transition director.
• Develop a comprehensive transition plan.
• Enhance current transition initiatives and a transition training plan.
• Fill vacant senior executive service positions quickly.
Between the conventions and the election, DHS should:
• Ask the presidential candidates to name a potential Homeland Security transition team.
• Expedite security clearances for all transition team officials.
Between election day and inauguration the president-elect should designate, and Congress should vet, a new DHS secretary to be sworn in on Inauguration Day
After the election:
• Other key political appointees should be approved no later than December.
• DHS should offer training for likely presidential appointees.
• DHS should continue joint training exercises with career and non-career executives.
As with nearly all such reports, the NAPA panel calls for Congress to consolidate its oversight of DHS. However, the focus it gives to the less exciting, but equally vital, management imperatives makes this study unique. I have no doubt the current DHS leadership is committed to carrying out the NAPA report’s recommendations. But let’s hope that all the concern over security vulnerabilities during the transition proves to be unnecessary.