Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

December 9, 2008

Whither HSC: A Call for Proposals

Filed under: Organizational Issues — by Jonah Czerwinski on December 9, 2008

As covered here, the WMD Commission joined the chorus of those questioning the appropriate fate or future of the White House Homeland Security Council (HSC). Even the Congressional Research Service joined in with a report questioning the statutory legitimacy of the HSC.

This ongoing debate has heard from such experts on the issue as P.J. Crowley, a former NSC staffer now at the Center for American Progress, and CSIS’s David Heyman, also a former White House staffer. David told CQ that “We should abolish the HSC and it should be subsumed by the National Security Council.” I wish he would just say what he really thinks….

P.J. is equally suspicious of an NSC-HSC dichotomy:

“It doesn’t make sense to have an Iraq policy where you are creating terrorists disconnected from a homeland security policy where you are supposed to be able to defend against them.”

Even when the Iraq war comes to an end, there still will be strong support for consolidating the NSC and HSC organizations at the White House. But what do you think?

The next Administration is surely planning to come down on the issue one way or another. I’d like to get HLSwatch readers to offer their two cents. You can be as pithy and to the point as Heyman, or be as deliberative as CRS. If you agree that the HSC should be altered, be specific about what changes are necessary. For example, install a new Deputy National Security Advisor for Homeland Security? Simply shift all HSC directorates to an expanded NSC? Redefine the role of the National Security Advisor?

All opinions welcome, just submit them via the Comment link below.

Share and Enjoy:
  • Digg
  • Reddit
  • Facebook
  • Yahoo! Buzz
  • Google Bookmarks
  • email
  • Print
  • LinkedIn


Comment by Arnold

December 9, 2008 @ 12:34 am

Just out of curiosity, why do you ask?

I ask that because I have yet to see one argument to keep the current structure of two separate councils. In fact, I’d wager money that in addition to the formal integration of the HSC into the NSC in some form, HSAC is either going to be disbanded (at least in its current form) or altered to act like the Defense Advisory Board, Defense Science Board, or Intelligence equivalent and dispense with the inclusion of corporate representatives that have or represent industries with a financial stake in the business of homeland security–and not keep up the pretense that they just provide a private sector input into homeland security policy making (which is important–but suspicious when industries positioned to benefit from policies are included in such a group).

Though I would like to add that the Iraq comment really doesn’t make the argument for the merger of the two groups–the individual last in charge of Iraq policy in the NSC (below Hadley) has never once mentioned homeland security or terrorist-attacking homeland issues related to her work on Iraq in her public statements (though I would welcome any evidence to the contrary). In other words, I think Mr. Crowley has chosen an example that potentially resonates with the public but is not best suited to further the argument against separate domestic and internationally focused White House councils.

Comment by Jonah Czerwinski

December 9, 2008 @ 7:37 am


To alleviate some of the confusion you raise, I elaborated on the call for proposals in today’s post. Specifically, if you believe that changes are necessary, state what they should be. If most readers agree that the HSC should be altered, then let’s hear the proposed “how” of it.

As for “preservationists,” we have seen a few arguments for keeping the HSC as is. I can think of Peter King, ranking member on House Homeland Security, who argued in the same article with P.J. that the president needs a stand-alone White House organization for homeland security. (His rationale was specious: Because there is a DHS, there needs to be a separate White House advisory structure.)


Comment by William R. Cumming

December 9, 2008 @ 1:38 pm

Somewhat repetitive of my earlier comments related to this post. After it is gone, which it will be, a comprehensive history of the HSC and the Assitants to the President for Homeland Security and Counter Terrorism will be a useful additon to the historical analysis of the Bush Administration. Apparently, neither Fran Townshend or Tom Ridge had delegated to their position TS original classification authority.
The NSC by statute has a mandate to coordinate policy, not repeat not operations, involving the military, international and domestic policy that impact national security. Incorporation of the HSC just again demonstrates that the shrugging of responsibility by the NSC on HS was probably a mistake. There is however one thing that must be done and effective domestic crisis management system must be developed to avoid the military being called upon in the early states of domestic catastrophic incidents/events. If just part of the funding of the national security communities was devoted to improving domestic crisis management it would fulfill the notion in the Constitution that the President is both Command-In-Chief and Chief Executive. Clinton was his own crisi manager! Will OBAMA be his own? What bothers me is that the NSC is short of knowledge and nuances on federalism as one of the mandates of the Constitution. Effective civilian control does not mean domestic crisis management run by a retired four star and the NSC. Hope the big crisis does not hit in the first 180 days. Even Bush had that reprieve, a reprieve lest we all forget that called on May 8, 2001 for the VP to organize and coordinate the Executive Branch efforts on counter terrorism and response to terrorist events. I may be wrong but looks like that cupboard was empty on 9/11. I guess we were unlucky to take the hit but lucky that it was highly confined geographically to just two pretty well prepared jurisdictions. Who knows next time?

Comment by Arnold

December 11, 2008 @ 2:30 am

My apologies up front for still avoiding you question. But the topic does raise important general points that require attention.

No offense, but I have found the calls for the HSC to be folded into the NSC to often fall into the category of reform “sounding sophisticated but requiring little heavy lift” because there is no way to actually provide some metric for its success.

Homeland security as a concept requires cooperation across a multitude of departments, but suggested reform within the White House that will change with each Administration seems to a week foundation to base it on.

Each President and National Security Adviser will look at the role of the NSC in a different light. So during the current Administration it will work as the current President wishes it to work. The same goes for the next. So while some may wish for czars or integration, the form is best left to those few who will benefit from its function. After the current occupants leave, the next will shape it to their particular needs/whim as well. Think before, during, and after Kissinger.

Longer lasting, harder to implement, but more permanent in influence will be the decisions made about the Department’s and other related agency’s structures. So not only whither FEMA, but should DNDO be moved to DOE (where the expertise exists in depth); all medical functions moved to HHS–or alternatively, all disaster medical functions moved from HHS to DHS; intelligence cooperation focused in the FBI or formalized in DHS; etc.

These are the harder, and in my opinion, more important issues.

Comment by William R. Cumming

December 11, 2008 @ 10:54 am

The new report out by the Center for the Study of the Presidency on Proposed National Security Reform provides a good historical summary and seems to also conclude merger of HSC into NSC a good idea. Is this just expansion of a bloated national security state? Maybe! The report had over 300 contributors. If as rumored they (the commentators and participants) are now drafting Executive Orders and implementing documents will be interesting to see how they read the current version of the National Security Act of 1947, as amended. Clinton lost his chance to deflect unparallel growth in the national security state leading to Bush’s almost total dependence on that community for leadership in his two administrations. Cheney was certainly part of that community. As always it could not withstand screwups being hidden even with secrecy. By the way Secretary Chertoff sits on the HSC by statute but not he NSC? Is this an issue if HSC is merged with NSC? You betcha! Nothing in the Center’s report really addresses Domestic Crisis Management or operating within the Constitutional framework of federalism. Not surprising because rarely does the National Security Community worry about Domestic Crisis Management or issues of federalism (or the Constitution?).

Comment by Philip Palin

December 13, 2008 @ 6:27 am

I advocate a continued distinction between the Homeland Security and National Security teams in the White House. Certainly there is cause for close coordination of functions, especially in regard to counter-terrorism. But I am concerned full integration of Homeland Security into the National Security Council would:

• Diminish attention to non-terrorism related issues, such as prevention, mitigation, and preparedness for pandemic and other natural catastrophes;
• Encourage further centralization and militarization of the Homeland Security mission; and
• Discourage the emergence of a robust White House role in interagency, intergovernmental, and public-private “brokering” much needed to achieve the Homeland Security mission.

To the third point, national security is principally a federal undertaking. Domestic security, catastrophe preparedness, and disaster response is most appropriately a responsibility of the States and the people. This constitutional (and practical) distinction has long-term benefits and treacherous near-term complications. The federal role in Homeland Security is critically important, but it is a very different role than its role in national security.

The culture of the National Security Council, at its best, reflects the President’s leading role in national security. This culture is almost certainly counter-productive to effectively advancing the constitutional and practical requirements of Homeland Security.

Under the current administration the HSC has failed to effectively play its role. This does not mean the role is unnecessary. An appropriately organized, well-focused, and effectively staffed Homeland Security Council could generate substantial benefits, especially in working with the States and the private sector to achieve strategic resilience.

An extended consideration of this issue is provided in the current Washington Quarterly. The essay is entitled Reform, Don’t Merge, the Homeland Security Council. (http://www.twq.com/09winter/index.cfm?id=330)

Comment by William R. Cumming

December 13, 2008 @ 4:43 pm

This is facetious but somewhat in point! The new “The Day the Earth Stood Still” has the SECDEF in the lead when Klattu again arrives. Hey! Kathy Bates for SECDEF! And how can Jennifer Connelly still be so incredibly beautiful and has to hold the heart of all male scientists (or most) in the film. Who knew of the scientific discipline of “Altrustic alien life forms.” Still Pat Neal will always have my heart since seeing her as a nine year old in the orginal which does seem to stand the test of time. Hope when the real klattu arrives he is somewhat more forgiving of our frailities even though the book “Earth Without Humans” is on my Xmas list.

Comment by Arnold

December 15, 2008 @ 1:04 pm

Over the weekend there was a National Journal article on just this topic:


RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a comment

XHTML: You can use these tags: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>