Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

April 2, 2009

Strategy, seminaries, and homeland security

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on April 2, 2009

This morning I was one of five testifying before the House Homeland Security Committee.  A video of the hearing and links for formal testimony are available from the House Committee’s website.

Tomorrow I will offer a more comprehensive take on the hearing’s topic: the likely reorganization of the Homeland Security Council.   But this evening let me answer the two most frequent questions asked immediately after the hearing and in Email since.

As one Emailer asked, “What’s the distinction you were making between an HSC role in policy/strategy as differentiated with the Department’s role in operations and tactics?”   Thanks for asking, I don’t think my point was clear to members of the Committee either.  I was not clear or complete in my answers.

In my lexicon policy focuses on the destination we want to reach and why that destination (goal, objective, major outcome) is more important than other attractive possibilities.  Strategy sets-out a road-map for getting there.  But think in terms of pre-Mapquest or pre-GoogleEarth.  Think about strategy in terms of  John of Portugal saying, “We are going to head South along the coast of Africa until we can go north and East onto the orient.”  In setting out that strategy he also decided to not pursue other possible directions. 

Operations involves bringing together the resources (personnel, money, equipment, training, etc.)  necessary to implement the strategy.  Tactics is getting in the ship and beginning to sail.

The White House staff  – not just the Homeland Security Council – is increasingly preoccupied with operations and tactics.  Some say this is inevitable.  If so, it is a serious indictment of current capacity across the federal enterprise.   What I consider more probable is that insufficient time, energy, and effort is going into the articulation, communication, measurement, and management of strategy.  Because strategy is so poorly engaged, various agencies are – innocently – heading off to the Caribbean, Brazil, Egypt and Norway instead of South along the African coast. 

Too often the NSC, HSC, DPC, and other White House elements are leaping aboard fast corvettes to chase after and turn around a very capable fleet that has set sail in the wrong direction.  We need to invest more in setting out policy and strategy so the fleet is prepared to go in the right direction immediately upon leaving port.  

I was arguing this morning for a Homeland Security Council and staff organized and self-disciplined to provide policy and strategy leadership. 

Later in the morning, or even early afternoon, (the Rev.) Emanuel Cleaver, Congressman for the 5th District of Missouri, asked the panel if a merger of the HSC into the NSC would be similar to the merger of two churches, something which he had experienced and found to be a messy business.

Ken Wainstein, the former Homeland Security Advisor, very sensibly answered that since both the NSC and HSC staffs are just coming together in the new administration… and PSD-1 has clearly signaled the possibility of a merger… and White House staff are patriotic professionals, he doubted there would be much dissension.

On a practical organizational basis, I stated my agreement with Mr. Wainstein.  But then I suggested to Congressman (the Rev.) Cleaver that a different concern is captured in thinking of an HSC-NSC merger as a merger of a United Methodist Seminary with a Free Methodist Seminary.  “Not going to happen,” the Congressman quickly replied.

For those of you not familiar with seminary politics (perhaps even uglier than D.C. politics) it wouldn’t happen because United Methodist doctrine and culture is quite different from Free Methodist doctrine and culture.  The United Methodist church (think national security community)  is much larger and wealthier than the Free Methodist church (think homeland security community).  No matter how open and helpful the United Methodists might try to be they would inevitably stifle and alienate the Free Methodists.  And the merger might create more dissension in one seminary than would have been the case if the two seminaries had remained separate, but shared buildings, faculty, and even morning worship.

So endeth the lesson.  More substantive detail tomorrow.

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Comment by J.

April 3, 2009 @ 8:49 am

“In my lexicon policy focuses on the destination we want to reach and why that destination (goal, objective, major outcome) is more important than other attractive possibilities. Strategy sets-out a road-map for getting there. ”

I would quibble with you on that. Strategy is the ideal objective against which you intend to employ resources. Policy is the written directives under which one pursues that objective/strategy. Operations and tactics are how you get there. Using your example, I would suggest that the strategy was “Get to the Orient so we can open up trade routes,” the policy was “the King endorses this as in line with his objectives,” and the operations were “go south along Africa… etc etc.”

Comment by William R. Cumming

April 3, 2009 @ 9:47 am

I would argue that both Congress and the Executive Branch long ago abandoned development and articulation of policy. It is just too much fun to argue issues (lawyers starve when one in town but thrive when two) and thus you can attack and destroy whomever is on the other side of an issue. Problem I see is that the Adminstration needs to promote healthy rivarly (thus the fasicnation with Doris Kearn’s book “Team of Rivals”) but must eliminate to the extent possible the tendency of the self-promoters to not be team players at any level. This requires great skill and leadership and competence. It remains to be seen with 20 White House Czars major and minor and the current Executive Branch organization whether this is possible?

Comment by Philip J. Palin

April 3, 2009 @ 12:53 pm


I appreciate the quibble. And if we were in a private conversation I would simply agree with your definition and we could proceed to communicate more coherently with one another.

The difference you have noted often seems to characterize military versus political science types. For many military, strategy is “king” and policy follows. For polysci types, which is closer to my tribe, policy — written or not, explicit or implicit — is king. I wonder if Bill Safire could ferret out the origins of this difference?

But it sounds like you and I end up agreeing that it would be helpful if policy/strategy was given more attention upfront… and we may not – yet? – have reached Mr. Cumming’s despair for some renewal of policymaking.

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