It is always easier to critique than to create.
I say that as prelude to this unsolicited assessment of the first Quadrennial Homeland Security Review. (This is Part 1 of my assessment. Other parts will follow in the next few days.)
There is a great deal of intelligence, effort and reasonableness in the QHSR. It is a document that should be read cover to cover, including the appendices, by everyone who has an interest in the homeland security enterprise. However, if the Review were turned in to me as a seminar paper I would struggle deciding whether to give it an A- or a B+.
I would end up giving it a B+.
Let me explain. I think it is a good piece of work. With additional effort in clarifying some of the ambiguities and apparent inconsistencies, and in better crafting the presentation of the voluminous research, it could have been an A-. I doubt the environment the QHSR authors worked in would allow it to be an A.
The Quadrennial Homeland Security Review starts out strong. It seems to lose its way along about page 37 when it confront the massiveness of the mechanical task it has set out to accomplish. Surprisingly (to me), it regains its bearings in time for the two page Conclusion and — more surprisingly — provides in Appendix A the best and most succinct articulation I’ve seen of Who’s Who In The Homeland Security Zoo, and what they do.
T.S. Eliot wrote:
“When forced to write within a strict framework the imagination is taxed to its utmost — and will produce its richest ideas. Given total freedom the work is likely to sprawl.”
The Quadrennial Homeland Security Review does not sprawl. No doubt there were numerous constraints on the collective that produced the document — a collective, I am told, that consisted of government employees. The Review was not written by contractors. In spite of — or maybe because of — the constraints, the Quadrennial Homeland Security Review sparkles more than occasionally with creativity and insight.
In some parts, the Review presents a carefully considered and disciplined analysis of how homeland security has evolved since September 11, 2001. It is forthright about how much more there is to do, and the strategic path to get, not to the end, but to the next phase of this never ending enterprise.
The word “enterprise” appears enough times in the Review (over 100) to give “resilience” (used fewer than 100 times ) serious competition for the BuzzWord Award. But the Review gave me a new appreciation for the meaning of “enterprise.”
While the word conveys the many pieces and shared goals of the homeland security domain, “enterprise,” also suggests the attitude needed to take advantage of the sometimes subtle invitation the Review offers: “Homeland Security is about all of us. Regardless of where you are, find something to do that will help and do it.”
In other words, the Review is an invitation to be enterprising, to look for opportunities within the uncertainty and ambiguity that is homeland security.
But the Review is not unconstrained optimism or creativity. It is also a sometimes pedestrian working document that is one piece of a larger, almost “faith based” planning effort that continues to believe — in spite of years of disconfirming evidence — it is possible to align vision, mission, goals, objectives, programs, budgets, procedures, training, exercises. Good luck with that.
The Review is mostly silent about what the new homeland security enterprise learned from the previous Administration’s efforts to do essentially the same thing. If deliberate thinking and hard work were not enough to build and measure an efficient and effective Homeland Security Machine during the Bush years, it’s not clear what new ingredients will be added by the current Administration. One is reminded, perhaps unfairly, of Dr. Einstein’s quote about “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” But perhaps I am not being enterprising enough here.
In parts of the document — primarily in the first pages — the Quadrennial Homeland Security Review is brilliant. It seeks to construct a new narrative about homeland security, one that moves past the largely reactionary (“reactionary” in a good way) story we told ourselves after September 11, 2001.
“In the closing days of 2001, the first narrative describing homeland security began to take shape: that despite the dramatic changes since the end of the Cold War, the world was still very much a dangerous place. The terrorists that had targeted this country clearly were determined to attack Americans at home, American interests anywhere, and our friends and allies everywhere. As the central part of this first narrative, our Nation believed that it needed to improve its vigilance, increase its preparedness, reduce its vulnerabilities, and strengthen its guard against any future attack in order to confront this threat.”
With a setup like this, I was expecting the Review would present an equally clear statement of the New Homeland Security Narrative. I could not find it. To me this is a deficiency in the Quadrennial Homeland Security Review.
What homeland security story should we be telling within the enterprise?
Al Qaeda tells a story that Islam is under attack all over the world and it is the duty of all Muslims to defend Islam. I was looking for something of equivalent clarity in the QHSR.
But one can infer some of the new homeland security narrative by stringing a few of the pieces in the Review together.
(I should note that if one goes out looking for “red trucks,” one sees red trucks just about everywhere. I bring a certain theoretical preference to my homeland security work. I found enough material in the Review to support the claim that I am not the only one who shares that perspective, basically a complex adaptive systems view of the homeland security world (details later). I have a friend — whose opinion I respect — intimately involved in the QHSR process who believes I am reading too much into the Review to support that claim.)
With that as a caution, here’s what I think the Review suggests as the New Homeland Security Narrative.
It has to do first with remembering who we are as a people.
Maybe we used different words in the old days, but securing the homeland was something Americans have been doing since before we were Americans, before the Republic was founded. So America is coming back home to its security roots.
For example, several of the elements in the current homeland security enterprise — customs, immigration, borders, and maritime — used to be in the same organization. The Review describes how over the years they were split into other organizations. Now, like brothers and sisters who have matured enough to stop bickering about trivialities, they’ve come back home to once again work together.
OK, hyperbolic hokey, but from a story perspective, it’s a start.
Another part of the narrative reminds the reader that homeland security is more than what the Department of Homeland Security does. Operationally (as I was told), that means the QHSR is not the QDHSR — translation: the Quadrennial Homeland Security Review is not the Quadrennial Department of Homeland Security Review. Congress told DHS to look at the entire homeland security enterprise, not just at the Department.
One of the appendices in the Review outlines the process DHS used to carry out that assignment. I’ve already heard people criticize the Review, saying the process was as much window dressing as “coordinating with stakeholders” was in the previous Administration. My (limited) experience and conversation with QHSR participants does not support that view.
Maybe there could have been fewer emails from on high that said, “Make sure to say ‘resilience’ a lot.” But if nothing else, the national online conversation during the Review process was a first. Perhaps one cannot find much of a direct link between that dialog and specific parts of the Review. That’s for further analysis.
I think of it as similar to the dog who could talk, but who didn’t say much that was very interesting. The fact that DHS even tried to involve the American people in shaping the Review is the point. It was a sufficiently enterprising experiment to be worth replicating in the future and in other policy domains. What might this effort to tap the collective insight of American look like two or three decades from now? Whatever the answer, it began here.
That said, I was happy to see the Review did not include suggestion by one participant in the Dialog that we place mines along our borders.
The Quadrennial Homeland Security Review is mostly very careful in the way it uses language. To its credit, it tackles head on the apple bobbing job of defining homeland security. It devotes Chapter III to the issue. The review answers the question “What is Homeland Security” in what I think is a very smart way.
It spends much of the chapter describing some of the history, functions, activities, and expectations of homeland security. Then, like a cat who wants some of what you’re eating but doesn’t want to be too obvious about it, the authors of the Review introduce the notion of “connote.”
“[H]omeland security is meant to connote a concerted, shared effort to ensure a homeland that is safe, secure, and resilient against terrorism and other hazards where American interests, aspirations, and way of life can thrive.”
Why “connote,” rather than”denote?” Denote means to point at the primary sense of something. A “denoting definition” makes an explicit claim about the primary meaning of homeland security. For reasons the Review discusses directly and indirectly, homeland security does not have a single meaning.
“Connote” means to suggest a sense of what something is. So, if you want to understand what homeland security is you don’t have to look directly into the sun. It is enough for the enterprising reader to glimpse that homeland security
“connotes a broad-based community with a common interest in the public safety and well-being of America and American society and is composed of multiple partners and stakeholders whose roles and responsibilities are distributed and shared. Yet it is important to remember that these partners and stakeholders face diverse risks, needs, and priorities. The challenge for the enterprise, then, is to balance these diverse needs and priorities, while focusing on our shared interests and responsibilities to collectively secure our homeland.”
The connotation of homeland security does not trip from the tongue with Churchillian ease. But — and this may be one of those places I’m reading too much into the Review — it is a way to embrace the many dimensions of homeland security. It is a way to recognize the breadth of membership in the enterprise.
I think the connotation vs. denotation theme also symbolizes a major conflict in the Review (a potentially good conflict, one that can create a productive dialectic). Some parts of the Review acknowledge the complex nature of the homeland security enterprise — and I mean “complex” in a phenomenological or sensemaking way that I will say more about in the next post.
The conflict is between interests that focus on the organic and evolutionary nature of the enterprise, and the Homeland Security Machine interests — relegated mostly to the back the the Review — whose phenomenological predisposition centers around such values as neatness, order, efficiency and control. Evolutionists are ok with connotation. Machine people require the precision of denotation.
My experience says control is not the property of a complex adaptive social system like homeland security; collaboration, coordination, cooperation, co-evolution are properties of such a system. In my reading, the Quadrennial Homeland Security Review posits, but does not resolve or even address directly the fundamental conflict between these two ways of making sense of the homeland security enterprise. I think that’s an important gap in the Review, particularly if the QHSR is meant to be a road map.
More about that concern in the next part of this analysis. In the next post I will also address:
1. Is the Quadrennial Homeland Security Review the new National Strategy for Homeland Security? Does it replace the 2003 and 2007 National Strategies? If it does, why doesn’t it come right out and just say that? Or if it is not the new strategy for the nation, will there be a new one, or are we still operating under 2007 rules? Or does it matter?
2. If the vision of homeland security is:
“to ensure a homeland that is safe, secure, and resilient against terrorism and other hazards where American interests, aspirations, and way of life can thrive,”
and if Homeland security is defined as
“a concerted national effort to ensure a homeland that is safe, secure, and resilient against terrorism and other hazards where American interests, aspirations, and way of life can thrive,”
is the phrase “a concerted national effort” the only difference between the vision and the definition? And does it matter?
3. In the definition/vision, is there some punctuation or phrase missing between the words “hazards” and “where American interests….”? What could possibly be meant by “…other hazards where American interests, aspirations, and way of life can thrive?” (OK, I know what the sentence is supposed to say, but I don’t think it says it.)
4. Do the authors of the Quadrennial Homeland Security Review set out a plan for applying complex adaptive systems theory to the homeland security enterprise?