Readers will recall the dearth of attention given to homeland security during the presidential campaign. In part, this was a welcome absence. It reflected some level of consensus on the issues between the candidates, but it also indicated a lop-sided focus during the campaign on kinetic aspects of combating terrorism (notwithstanding the significant attention given by candidate Obama to soft power mechanisms). However, now that the election is over, there is an abundance of discussion about whither homeland security policy, the Department of Homeland Security as an organization, the future of certain of its component agencies, and the question of how the White House will be organized to lead the mission at a variety of levels.
To cut through a lot of the conjecture, David Heyman and Ethan Wais decided to issue a white paper simply entitled “Homeland Security in an Obama Administration.” The paper cites a group of the most pressing questions the new team must answer:
• What is the right vision for protecting America against terrorism? Are we in a global war on terror? Does the government have to be right 100% of the time and the terrorist right only once? If we fight terrorists abroad, will that protect us from having to face them at home?
• How should government be structured to best manage the nation’s homeland security enterprise? Should the White House Homeland Security Council be preserved or subsumed into the National Security Council? Where and how should cross-cutting issues like preventing nuclear, cyber or biological terrorism be managed? Should FEMA remain part of DHS or become a free-standing cabinet-level agency?
• What is the best way to control the border? What is the optimal combination of physical fences and virtual ones? Do we need more guards at the border, or more officers for interior enforcement? Does the country need comprehensive immigration reform?
• How can the federal government better engage the private sector and the American public in preparing for catastrophic emergencies or other plausible disasters?
• What should be the U.S. policy on foreign ownership of critical infrastructure? What is the U.S. strategy for engaging foreign partners in homeland security?
• Given the many new missions and intelligence operations since 9/11, as well as new Attorney General guidelines to clarify the role of the FBI, what is the right architecture for how the federal government manages and implements its domestic intelligence programs? What are the appropriate rules, guidelines, and requirements for domestic surveillance and intelligence collection across the government? Who should oversee the process? Should the U.S. establish its own version of MI5?
• Three provisions of the Patriot Act are up for reauthorization next year. Should they be reauthorized?
Two sections worth looking to first are “The Obama Presidency—What the Next Administration Will Do” and “Reality on the Ground: Speed Bumps and Overcoming Inertia.”
In the former, David and Ethan dedicate a portion of the report to unpacking the President-elect’s public statements to explain how he and his team will likely craft an agenda focused on prevention, protection, preparedness, and response, as well as a number of references to processes – i.e. the QHSR – that need to unfold in order to add any more specificity to the analysis.
In the latter, the co-authors rightly focus on several key challenges irrespective of policy directions chosen. They include the human capital, IT and management infrastructure, interagency coordination, and enfranchising the American public as a real partner in securing the homeland.