Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

December 5, 2008

More Insight Into the Next Administration’s HLS Priorities

Filed under: Strategy — by Jonah Czerwinski on December 5, 2008

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.

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Comment by William R. Cumming

December 5, 2008 @ 6:20 pm

Recommendations! Recommendations! Recommendations!
It “TIS” the season I guess. One problem I have with DHS and its future is that apparently there is no single location for finding out whether existing statutory mandates have been accomplished or whether in not accomplishing them it is because of budget, personnel, IT and other limitations or whether the Executive Branch and DHS has taken the time to simply identify the mandates and if in disagreeement with the HILL formally submit reports or technical amendments as to to the mandates problems from the standpoint of administrative feasibility, contrary to other specific mandates that contradict each other, contrary to other laws, contrary to other reqired actions, or simply just a waste of time and why and why not to do so. Of course like other Executive Branch swearing to uphold the Constitution and enacted law means that the formalities must not just be observed but some discretionary action must be taken as to how to fulfill or not the mandates.
To my knowledge unlike many department and agencies when faced with a new statutory or OMB requirement or court decision that impacts administration there is no regularized process for identify whether regulations are required (or even authorized); standards developed; and/or other guidance prepared. My understanding is that Classification Guides are not being produced in DHS for programs, functions and activites in accordance with classification proeecedures. Also the investigation and adjudication of personnel security clearances is not standardized nor is reciprocity given throughout DHS to all of its components. DHS is the ultimate stovepipe so maybe that is why it policy development is so barren of real progress. The one decision that DHS does seem to be able to make is to contract out its inherently governmental functions. Again I assert that a standardized rotation of Executives and cross-training would give great flexibility to staffing emerency needs. How much of DHS activity affecting the public is actually conducted by contract employees? Does any of this violate the Service Contract Act? Who actually is answering Congressional correspondence substantively in DHS? Who can handle Emergency Public Informantion 24/7 for up to six months as identified in several scenarios? Has any breakdown of FTE as assigned to line items in the budget, or linking to specific statutes been done? Perhaps some of the most important work of DHS is not authorized at all? Looks to me like after almost five years DHS has lost it on the basics and now what does it get another Lawyer to be its head. Hope someone familiar with public administration and actual running of a government agency or department will be left. Again I suggest that all repeat all Senate Confirmed positions be left in place until a replacement is not just named but confirmed. Oh and by the way does the OIG of DHS have audit authority under any of the DHS contractors or are they all audited by DCAA? By statutory change if necessary DHS should get to audit its own contractors regardless of the hardship (unlikely) imposed on the contract community.

Comment by Arnold

December 6, 2008 @ 1:50 am

Focus on “enfranchising the American public as a real partner in securing the homeland?”

Not so much. It identifies the issue, but the white paper fails to explain how the new Administration can take advantage of its opportunity to overcome “a skeptical and complacent public.” Every transition paper has brought up this goal, but none have actually provided any framework for achieving it. And this is something that goes beyond the current, Clinton, or next administration. Disaster preparedness is a perplexing issue that requires more than vague checks in the “promoting a culture of preparedness” box.

And its interesting how the authors conclude a forward looking document by giving a little “shout out” to the second stage review of which one of them takes a little credit for influencing…

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