Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

November 3, 2008

What Awaits the Dems at DHS

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Jonah Czerwinski on November 3, 2008

Greetings from Bucks County, Pennsylvania. Tomorrow is election day. Immediately afterward, DHS will begin its first presidential transition. In all likelihood, Barack Obama and Joe Biden will win, ushering in for the first time a DHS leadership comprised mainly by Democrats. For a government agency populated by more political appointees than any other agency, this is big news for our newest federal department. Granted, an Obama administration would likely replace a sizeable number of political slots with career professionals, but new leadership at DHS will result in significant change. But what kind of change?

Today, UPI ran a story entertaining a few possibilities. Interviewing Clark Ervin, former Inspector General of DHS, the story posed four worthwhile questions:

1. How, if at all, would a Democrat-led DHS affect the average citizen?
2. What would be the three major differences between a Bush-run DHS and an Obama-run DHS?
3. What would be the biggest DHS-related challenges facing Obama?
4. If you were Obama, what would you do with the DHS upon entering the White House?

Clark, a Republican who leads Aspen Institute’s Homeland Security Programs, suggests that the average citizen can look forward to a DHS that is more focused “on protecting civil rights/civil liberties, including privacy.” He also cited the likelihood that we can expect private industry to do more to secure themselves and their interdependent critical infrastructure. And, invoking his IG perspective, he hopes an Obama administration would focus “more than this administration has on making programs and operations work.”

In my opinion, specific programs that need to work better include the following:
• SBInet
• DHS International Programs
• Homeland Security Information Network
• Western Hemisphere Traveler Initiative
• DHS Cyber Initiatives
• Secure Freight Initiative

These programs alone account for more than $3 billion in the Department’s program budget and include direct involvement of the following DHS components:
• National Cyber Security Center
• Coast Guard
• I&A
• Operations
• Policy

2008 is becoming another year without an attack on the homeland since 9/11, but other factors overshadow this homeland security success. DHS’s core mission areas remain “high risk.” It was ranked at the bottom of OPM’s list of desirable places to work in the federal government. And DHS is the subject of 157 GAO reports just this year. Each of the programs above have found their ways into the GAO’s crosshairs.

The new DHS leadership team will be challenged to right these programs. If time permits, HLSwatch.com will dedicate a series of posts about what challenges face each program along with highlights of the best solutions. In the meantime, get out there and vote!

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Comment by Arnold

November 3, 2008 @ 11:37 pm

You mention the Secure Freight Initiative, but what about DNDO? Considering all the troubles associated with ASPs, ignoring the fact that they have never addressed current and near-term problems detecting HEU, would you not add them to the list of programs/components that need to work better?

In addition, at some point the overlap or competing policies of HHS and the DHS Medical office will need to be addressed. In a recent City Journal article, it was revealed that at a recent conference HHS officials “called out” (as the kids say) Biowatch. This might reveal a lack of coordination and communication that should not simply laid at the feet of the “interagency.”

Comment by Christopher Tingus

November 4, 2008 @ 5:55 am

I strongly disagree that this next administration will be led by Obama and it will be John McCain who with his ongoing commitment since the age of seventeen (17) years old where he has portrayed his Love and compassion for this great nations and people and he is certainly a mature decision-maker who knows the players and will lead a DHS/FEMA against AQ and address the issues which have been the responsibility of both sides of the aisle and the lead of the Democratic Congress which has failed we the people as government was intended to be for the people – not for government – and not the expansion of government and taxes the Democrat administration would have brought if the majority of election results today had been different…

It is time that this country forget its great divide and get on with business as the Democrats contril the aisle and the McCain presidential leadership will send a clear message that we are a proud nation willing ansd ready to compromise and sacrifice when necessary – we are tired of the lberal press – media outlets telling us how we should vote and those in the Democratic leadership led by Barney Frank and Nancy Pelosi with her $55 million in personal wealth and John Kerry’s $230 million in personal wealth and Barack Hussein Obama’s nearly $2 million in personal wealth decising against our will – a bailout plan in the trillions – printing fiat dollars ….You cannot build a global economy with central bankers printing fiat dollars and the Chinese leadership comprised of experienced elders watch the western civilization falter and will take action to further distance themselves from the demise of the west….

Christopher Tingus
Harwich, MA 02645 USA

Comment by MAX

November 4, 2008 @ 8:17 am

Mr. Tingus — We’ve put up with too many incomprehensible interjections of yours on this blog to let this inane comment go without a response. Three points that I hope you consider before commenting again here:

• This post was about the issues and programs that need better management and direction to improve homeland security, not necessarily about who will win the election. Your inferiority complex about the election’s outcome is irrelevant.

• Simpleton complaints about how much money top Democrats possess is beyond irrelevant, it is hypocritical. John McCain is the seventh wealthiest Senator with a net worth of $32 million.

• That you invoked Barack Obama’s middle name belies your irrelevant agenda that really has no place on this serious blog about policy. By doing this, you’ve made yourself unreadable on this blog and have become about as legitimate as Rush Limbaugh.

Next time comment on what programs this post left off that you think should be included. Or suggest – and defend – a position that one of these programs really isn’t a challenge for the next team, regardless of party affiliation. Just don’t come on here and blather about “we the people” again without offering some understandable and relevant opinion.

Comment by William R. Cumming

November 4, 2008 @ 11:17 am

Well whomever wins today or over the course of the next weeks faces a big transition effort. Apparently, OBAMA has pledged to “surgically” remove FEMA from DHS if my sources are correct. Unfortunately, I have not found the source of that decision and its being fully analyzed and reported. What is interesting to me is that again an organizational solution is proposed to what really is a policy issue! The policy issue, never resolved since FEMA’s creation by President James Earl Carter in 1978 when he signed off on Reorganization Plan No. 3 of 1978 (SEE 5 USC Section 901notes) and President George W. Bush when signing the Homeland Security Act of 2002 in November 2002 is whether FEMA is assigned as its primary mission RESPONSE or RESPONSE COORDINATION. Since we now know that many STATE and LOCAL governments are not up to major catastrophic response roles, and that the NGO’s like the ARC are in trouble for many reasons in fulfilling their response roles (as documented by the GAO) perhaps someone in the next 77 days after the electtion could if not make this decision, prepare to make it, or even President Bush could finally make a decision he should have made when creating DHS with FEMA in it. The funding, staffing, authority of the key FEDERAL RESPONSE organization is far different than that of a FEDERAL OR National RESPONSE COORDINATION organization. As currently funded and staffed FEMA can neither adquately do response or response coordination in a catastrophic situation. Bush does get my appreciation for creating the National Preparedness Goals and the Target Capabilities List. Interesting that the vaunted Clinton FEMA really had no use for detailed scenairios (sic), logistics systems, all-hazard preparedness (FEMA rejected its role as assigned under PD-39, June 1995), and ensuring the STATE and LOCALs were up to the job. The US Fire Administration has been treated as a stepchild by both DEMS and Republicans when housed in FEMA even though the verification of the capabilities of the largest group of trained, or semi-trained, first responders outside of law enforcement would seem to be a priorit for whomever heads FEMA or DHS. Well no question, hard work to be done and let’s hope amatuer night in key DHS organizations does end no matter who wins.

Comment by Eric

November 4, 2008 @ 11:47 am

Whomever takes up residence at 1600 Penn. on January 20th will have a full plate with regards to DHS. This includes not only the programs in need of work that are outlined in this post, but also challenges of continuity and redirected priorities in the Strategic Plan, budget planning systems and the Quadrennial Review. Continuing to develop organizational unity and affiliation to DHS could be another such objective, and acquisition reform in general should be another priority (i.e., SBI, USCG). Adding complexity to it all is the growing fiscal challenge of a budget deficit, economic downturn, and various other competing priorities, from education to energy to diplomacy.

The HSAC listing of top ten challenges for the next DHS secretary gives a high level gloss over of many of these issues: http://www.dhs.gov/xlibrary/assets/hsac_dhs_top_10_challenges_report.pdf

Hopefully, the transition will be efficient, and that any new administration can begin to address these challenges quickly.

Comment by Cosmo deMedici

November 5, 2008 @ 11:11 pm

Let me qualify all this by stating I’m a DHS career employee, been here since nearly the beginning, and I’m still here at the Department. Yes, it has its challenges — as it is not an easy place to work (OPM survey) like some federal departments. But it is currently the only entrepreneurial federal department, which makes it exciting, challenging, and FRUSTRATING. Also, its mission is very important – I once heard Deputy Secretary Schneider call DHS this generation’s space flight program and that is a good description. However, the mission of DHS is very different than most people think.

For example Clark Kent Ervin (or as he likes to be called “Superman”) has been out of touch with the progress of the Department since he left.
Point in case, in the UPI story, first question, Superman clearly does not understand the purpose of DHS. Counterterrorism is the lead role of the FBI per section 102 of the Homeland Security Act. Everyone forgets to read that.

Second, I’m not familiar with Benjamin Friedman of the Cato Institute, but to say DHS is a “Holding Company” clearly ignores reality.

DHS is essentially the Nation’s gatekeeper (Border and Transportation Security as well as Immigration) and preparedness and response coordinator (NPPD, FEMA, with a dash of S&T). All of this has a very strong law enforcement/National Security background or spine. Unfortunately, DHS did not get the sexy parts of law enforcement (Justice Department kept that – previous example counterterrorism), and Congress cannot make up its mind if DHS is a domestic or national security agency (depends on which committee of jurisdiction you talk to). If the public and/or Congress want DHS to be like MI6 then that is a very different discussion.

Also, GAO and the IG serve very good purposes with their reports. IG Skinner is tough as nails but fair (which is more than anyone at DHS will ever say of Superman). However, keep in mind that every GAO report says something negative and 9 times out of 10 they never, ever have to or have implemented a program. So, 157 GAO reports requested by over 86 congressional oversight committees and subcommittees is not surprising.

I look forward to the new and different approach that Obama will bring, but I also know they have the biggest learning curve coming. It is very different on the inside vs. being on the Hill or at a think tank.


Comment by Arnold

November 6, 2008 @ 12:06 am


Thanks for your interesting comments. First of all, there is no doubt that being on the inside and understanding the nascent culture that is emerging from the shotgun marriage of legacy agencies and the creation of new ones all under the same roof cannot be compared to people publishing op-eds from a think tank office.

On the other hand, some outside perspective might be required. Especially if DHS is being compared in any way, shape, or form to the beginning of the space program. NASA was not cobbled together from several existing programs and given the mission to basically get along and marginally improve on what they were already doing (I write knowing someone out there will be offended by that characterization of DHS). It was an extension of mostly experimental work, mostly done in the military (and *cough* the most advanced up to that point by the Nazis *cough*), given the extraordinary goal of not just putting a man in orbit, but to send him to the moon.

DHS is this generation’s DOD or ________ (insert incredibly large corporate merger here). And your statement regarding gatekeepers and preparedness/response gets to the heart of the matter. What synergy exists by combining such different cultures and struggling to mesh them? For example, how much does the work of ICE really require it to be housed in the same department as FEMA? Whatever help they provide each other might not be negligible, but no one is suggesting that military units that might respond to a catastrophe also be put under everyday DHS direction.

In my opinion, as opposed to DOD where a total lack of institutional cultural knowledge would be a major impediment to any new officials, a lack of such understanding for such a young and immature creature such as DHS is probably a good thing. That enables fresh eyes at a critical juncture which may represent the last opportunity to enact major reforms–or decide that the current path is best.

Comment by Cosmo deMedici

November 6, 2008 @ 9:45 pm

Arnold (and others),

I like your “shotgun marriage” analogy, just don’t forget that is only 2/3rds of DHS. The other 1/3 is a complete start up, all executed at the same time on a Fortune 50 scale.

I can not stress enough that I am looking forward to the new administration, but DHS is further along than you think in establishing solid processes and culture; while that sounds easy it is much harder to do when you have components and people who work in those components that point out “their organization is mentioned in the constitution.” The new leadership needs to come into DHS with their “fresh eyes” but they best be “open very wide”. DHS like DOD or any large organization is a collection of warring tribes. While DHS Senior leadership and the Headquarters continues to push, “One Team, One Mission, One DHS” different components are pursuing their own agendas — some work well with others, some don’t. I agree that DHS is not as institutionalized as DOD, but DOD has ongoing bureaucratic fights since it was stood up 60+ years ago.

Synergy does exist, but you have to use at an all hazard approach and get out of Washington’s bureaucratic/political game. To paraphrase an old campaign statement – It is the mission stupid! In Gustav and Ike response for example, ICE was heavily involved in providing special teams that gave initial situational awareness (the infamous ground truth), and it was ICE’s law enforcement powers that allowed them (& FEMA) to move seamlessly through check points and provided security in areas where normal law and order did not exist. Also, when FEMA needed order & additional manpower at distribution points for relief supplies – TSA screeners were brought in to lend a hand. There are lots of stories like this but these are the two that always jump out at me. Today, FEMA as part of DHS has more resources at its call and more importantly when needed “command” than ever in its history.

My best advise for the new leadership team: brush-up on your bureaucratic (internal / Administration) political skills as they will be needed. Otherwise, the components will eat the new leadership’s lunch and the other Departments will have their dinner (as everyone takes a swing at the new kid).


Comment by Jonah Czerwinski

November 6, 2008 @ 10:25 pm

Cosmo —

Great vignettes about ICE-FEME collaboration. And thanks for the added context re established processes and culture. As noted in the Oct 22 post, the Office of Strategic Plans is leading a new DHS Planning, Programming, Budgeting and Execution (PPBE) process and offered a briefing on the FY 2011-2015 Integrated Planning Guidance (IPG). Can you tell us anything about this?

Comment by Arnold

November 6, 2008 @ 11:56 pm

Seeing the first few picks (especially the Chief of Staff), I’m sure the new team will be well versed in the bureaucratic martial arts.

With no experience inside DHS, I cannot argue about the culture.

But I will still quibble with the synergy argument. As I already mentioned, I’m sure ICE (and TSA) was involved in those situations. But as the newly released Defense Science Board study “Defense Imperatives for New Administration” pointed out, the number of DOD personnel involved in the response to Katrina was equal to the entire military of the UK. So are you calling for the National Guard or NORTHCOM to come under DHS?

Of course not.

I originally heard such a line of argument in a Heritage Foundation backgrounder. It still doesn’t stand the comparison to the role of the military in responding to catastrophic incidents.

Comment by Christopher Tingus

November 7, 2008 @ 6:35 am

Max – God Bless America and in six months, we will discuss the new administration’s progress in implementing new policies and procedures and placing qualified professionals at least in key decision-making positions which until thus far has placed – we the people – in jeopardy as there are far too many requirements which have not been properly addressed with the funding available.

I am not optimistic at all that the new administration’s national and global perspectives will afford the policies required to further enhance our national security from those who seek our demise. We shall see….

Thank you for your comments. My response was to an assumption presented that President-elect Barack Hussein Obama were to be the next President and his professional and long-time friendships with those in direct opposition to what millions of – we the people – consider in the best interests of our country and – we the people – are truly frightened,
scared at many of the viewpoints held by this gentleman and Nancy Pelosi and Barney Frank and Kerry. After all – I come from Massachusetts and oir Governor ran on a campaign of – change – and we are $1 Billion in deficit and first responders who I have stood in snow and cold all alone night and day are worried so my opinions on this blog may be simple – as that’s who we are simple folks – however time will tell….

Yes, I have my graduate degree as you do, my many years of professional excperience, however I walk the streets everyday talking to Mr. & Mrs. Joe Citizen and we have seen DHS and FEMA in their fake news conferences and lack of proper preparedness and response and while you obviosuly are quite competent in your discipline – I only responded because we here on the street are truly worried and let no one doubt that we are very concerned about the new administration’s perspectives on first responders and border patrol, illegal aliens, etc.

Again, I stand tall with President-elect Obama’s hand over heart – Pledge of Allegiance – however we – millions of us – are dubious of he, Nancy Pelosi, Barney Frank and how their “decision-making” will help us or possibly compromise our well being – that’s all my comments were about…We are really scared….of the economy and our security. This is one of the few blogs which allows us to convey our skepticism to professional like you….

Christopher Tingus
Harwich, MA 02645 USA

Comment by Cosmo deMedici

November 7, 2008 @ 10:18 pm

Arnold (and others),
I agree that the WH will have an appropriate sledgehammer as Chief of Staff (and that is what is needed). Who they pick as DHS Secretary and his/her Chief of Staff will be the real test – I am very hopeful.

Rational people can agree to disagree on the synergy topic, I would not claim that DHS or FEMA fully maximizes what could be done and surely will not be done if FEMA is removed from the Department. I only stress that great progress has been made, particularly since Katrina.

I did a graduate study paper on DOD/DHS interactions related to Katrina response (20 + pages with interviews, lots of touchy documents, as well as my own observations in the IIMG). So in no way or form am I saying that NORTHCOM or the National Guard should move. The main fact that jumps out to me from this time period and following through to today is; DOD hates the Defense Support for Civilian Authorities mission. DOD wants to participate as the “white knight” with the ESFs (big messes), but not too often. Thankfully, the infamous FEMA “mission assignment” vs. DOD “request for assistance” fight appears to be now just a simmering pot as opposed to boiling over in Katrina. Where I’m going is that with FEMA in DHS there are assets that can be “commanded” when needed – where as all other assets are actually still “requests for assistance” regardless of the Department/agency. I think that is a real benefit to the nation and FEMA. You and others obviously disagree; so we will agree to disagree.

Regarding Heritage, Carafano (sp?) writes a lot of stuff and about half of it that I see I agree with, the other half that I see IMO is garbage. I’m not familiar with the backgrounder you referenced, so I can’t comment on that. CSIS also puts out some great stuff – but I tend to filter all of these think tanks through the prism of doing the mission or supporting the mission. Thus the theory can help but Clausewitz’s friction makes plans change.

Jonah – regarding the OSP and PPBE processes – I have knowledge of this but want to verify some information and will comment on that posting once I have done so.


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