The Department of Homeland Security has achieved considerable success in pursuing its daunting mission. I criticize the Department a lot, but DHS is responsible for an unwieldy mission space and is itself still undergoing significant organizational change that complicates efforts even further. Let’s face it; DHS also manages its mission under the chaotic supervision of a very vocal Congressional oversight community. It is my belief that more progress could have been made with sufficient resources (monetary and otherwise), and that the Department’s mission is actually in need of being revisited.
For several years now, DHS leadership articulated the mission in terms of five major goals:
1. Protect our Nation from Dangerous People
2. Protect our Nation from Dangerous Goods
3. Protect Critical Infrastructure
4. Strengthen our Nation’s Preparedness and Emergency Response Capabilities
5. Strengthen and Unify DHS Operations and Management
Each is a goal that needs to be pursued still, but there are ways to protect the nation that are less desirable than other ways. For example, protecting the nation from dangerous goods is achievable by significantly reducing the number of importers and goods permitted to cross into the U.S. That way, the limited resources available to CBP and other DHS authorities can be applied to a smaller problem with a higher likelihood of success. In real-world contexts, that’s an unsustainable trade off that offers too few ways to measure progress. As a result, we have other programs that seek to strike a better balance between commercial trade and travel and the important security imperative that is with us in the 21st century.
As for protecting our nation from dangerous people, the same principles apply. Yet, Congress has set aside $2.7 billion so far for the bluntest of security devices: a wall. Secretary of Homeland Security-nominee, Governor Napolitano, famously asserted “Show me a fifty-foot wall and I’ll show you a fifty-one-foot ladder. That’s the way the border works.” She is correct. A wall cannot be calibrated to respond to changes in the threat environment, natural environment, or immigration goals of our country in the same way as screening protocols at our sea ports.
Nonetheless, I thought you’d be interested in the progress being made on the wall being built between the U.S. and Mexico. CBP announced that it had completed 526 miles of the border fence as of December 12, 2008, and Chertoff said 600 miles should be complete in time for the Presidential transition.
Here is a map from CBP of the wall so far (click to enlarge):