Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

July 2, 2008

Next DHS Transition Study Now Available

Filed under: Congress and HLS,Organizational Issues — by Jonah Czerwinski on July 2, 2008

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.

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Comment by William R. Cumming

July 3, 2008 @ 2:04 pm

Interesting post and study! NAPA might also have identified the following current problems affecting the transition no matter which party wins and personally I believe Senator McCain will find DHS a bigger headache than Senator Obama if he wins. For one thing, he will still have no analysis of failures of DHS since march 1, 2003 when its doors opened for real. Example $30B invested in IT systems and processes that have largely failed and even destroyed old functions systems. Another, no real critical infrastructure protection program or cyber security effort. First documented of course 11 years ago this fall by a Presidential Commission. Third no effective integration of monies spent by HHS, DOD, and DOJ on HS with DHS. So much overlap and waste. One more, no decision on whether FEMA is an ops agency or something else. It certainly has had virtually NO policy role since March 1, 2003. Finally of course there is not even a single document listing statutory or executive authorities vesting legal authority in the Secretary DHS and certainly no adquate delegations, in particular to field personnel. Just one more shot across the bow, ask Secretary Chertoff under oath how he officially and otherwise relates to the DNI? Remember when the principal rationale to create DHS was the need for domestic intelligence. Always a sensitive issue legally and policy wise. Actually the Executive Branch has no largely decided to let the federal courts decide the limits on domestic spying with no real thought as to what is necessary or legal. So far despite the conservative nature of the courts as currently staffed the Executive Branch is now recieving outstanding approval from those same courts.

Comment by William R. Cumming

July 9, 2008 @ 7:44 am

A further thought on the NAPA report. Remarkable for what it did not analyze by the way. With the addition recently of 18,000 additional DHS positions to the law enforcement community (meaning criminal law enforcement) allowing 20 year and out retirements, perhaps the twin cultures of those who can retire after only 30 years and age 55 as opposed to the GUN and BADGE carriers, and the Coast Guard (Uniformed Military) should have been seperately analyzed. In fact I would argue for ALL criminal law enforcement activities of DHS to be overseen by the respective Judicary Committees of the House and Senate. Additionally all statutes vested authority in DHS or delegated by the President should have oversight by the Homeland Security Committee (which to my knowledge has never seen the Senate take up one of its authorization efforts) and the Senate’s Homeland Security and Government Reform Committee. Failure of Congressional oversight is a clear and present danger to Homeland Security at this point and hope the 111 Congress does better. By the way the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act (42 U.S.C. l521 et.seq.) should undergo a full policy review for its funding of non-humanitarian criminal law enforcement activity and I would recommend that no funding under that statute be used for criminal law enforcement programs, functions, or activities, at either federal, state, or local governmental levels. Provision of security to responders is a separate issue and should be excluded from this ban.

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