Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

February 16, 2010

What is Homeland Security Now? (Part 2 of Grading the QHSR)

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Christopher Bellavita on February 16, 2010

The Quadrennial Homeland Security Review was released on February 1, 2010, and is available at this link.


Here are two quotes from the Quadrennial Homeland Security Review:

“The effort to strengthen the homeland security enterprise must begin with an evolution in how we think about homeland security itself.” [my emphasis]

“The QHSR process … and resulting report were designed to serve as a catalyst to spur the continued evolution and maturation of our Nation’s homeland security enterprise—the diverse and distributed set of public and private actors from all corners of this Nation.” [also my emphasis]

Evolution or one of its derivatives appears almost two dozen times in the Review.

At one level, perhaps the authors used it as simply a synonym for change.

I prefer to see something potentially more profound.

The biological world — and we are a part of that world — has faced threats for over 3.5 billion years.  As Sagarin and Taylor write in “Natural Security,” biological organisms have developed millions of ways to respond to these threats.

Read in a particular way, the QHSR can be viewed as acknowledgement that there is room in homeland security for both design and emergence.

But unlike nature who shapes biological evolution with a blind weaver’s skill, homeland security offers an opportunity for conscious co-evolution.  The QHSR calls it “stewardship.”

“Looking forward, and as we consider the evolution of homeland security and this enterprise, we recognize that the enterprise itself requires active stewardship.” [my emphasis]

I understand stewardship to mean taking care of something one has been entrusted with.  It is a style of leading notably different — much of the time — from command and control.

If the Review is serious about augmenting the existing homeland security machinery with an explicit evolutionary strategy, it means creating an environment that encourages more variation and less standardization, that supports local and regional decisions about appropriate levels of preparedness and resilience, and that offers flexible grant programs to reproduce and grow smart ideas.

I think I see evidence of those strategic shifts in the QHSR.

On the other hand, I could again be reading way too much into what the authors intended.

The Quadrennial Homeland Security Review describes how the 21st century meaning of homeland security evolved from our history.

“…[H]omeland security traces its roots to concepts that originated with the founding of the Republic. Homeland security describes the intersection of new threats and evolving hazards with traditional governmental and civic responsibilities for civil defense, emergency response, customs, border control, law enforcement, and immigration. Homeland security draws on the rich history, proud traditions, and lessons learned from these historical functions to fulfill new responsibilities that require the engagement of the entire homeland security enterprise and multiple Federal departments and agencies.”

Figure 1 — from the Review — illustrates the evolution.


Biological evolution does not require a vision.  It tries a great many things, mostly keeps what is functional and ignores what fails to add some sort of value to the gene pool.

Unlike nature, the QHSR has a vision.

A vision statement typically outlines a future one desires, in this case, a homeland security future for the nation.

According to the QHSR, the purpose of a homeland security vision is to help achieve “unity of purpose.”

“Unity of purpose”  appears three times in the Review.  “Unity of effort” shows up twenty three times.   This suggests getting cohesion around the vision is a huge precondition to ensuring a unified effort in the homeland security enterprise

I use to ask people what the vision was of homeland security.  I was not looking for an exact restatement, but rather the sense of it.

I had to stop asking.  I rarely got even close to a response that matched the official vision.

Instead I almost always got a reformulation — in Vision Words — of what the person I asked was already doing under the homeland security penumbra.


Prior to 2003 — according to the first homeland security strategy — the United States “never had a comprehensive and shared vision of how best to achieve” the goal of protecting the homeland from future terrorist attack.

Characteristic of the “All Security, All the Time” days after September 11, 2001, the 2003 homeland security strategy sought to remedy the Vision Gap by identifying 10 of them.

The 2007 strategic recalibration included a single comprehensive vision:

The United States, through a concerted national effort that galvanizes the strengths and capabilities of Federal, State, local, and Tribal governments; the private and non-profit sectors; and regions, communities, and individual citizens – along with our partners in the international community – will work to achieve a secure Homeland that sustains our way of life as a free, prosperous, and welcoming America.

The Quadrennial Homeland Security Review reduced the number of words in the vision by half, and included safety and resilience as core ideas.

The new vision 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.”

I did not find much of a difference in the Review between the vision and the definition of homeland security.

The Review defines homeland security 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.”

“A concerted national effort” is all that stands between the vision and the definition of homeland security.  I wonder if that “actionable clue”  was intentional.

As I mentioned in the initial QHSR post, the authors reinforce the definition/vision construction by highlighting what it connotes, as opposed to denotes:

“…[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.”

Semantically, I think the QHSR could have made clearer distinctions between the vision of homeland security and its definition.  But from the view on Mt. Connote, I think I get the point.


So, what is homeland security now?

As best I can tell from the Review, it is a concerted and shared effort to make sure the American homeland is safe, secure and resilient.

That’s the bumper sticker.

The Review summarizes where this effort should be directed:

“Ensuring a shared awareness and understanding of risks and threats, building capable communities, creating unity of effort, and enhancing the use of science and technology underpin our national efforts to prevent terrorism and enhance security, secure and manage our borders, enforce and administer our immigration laws, safeguard and secure cyberspace, and ensure resilience to disasters.”


I used to think “What is Homeland Security?” was a question that troubled only academics.  Practitioners were too busy doing homeland security to be overly concerned with how to define it.

I attended a conference last week where the question came up again.  Many of the practitioners in the room were concerned there is not a universally accepted definition of homeland security.

I think the Quadrennial Homeland Security Review (especially Chapter III) does a more than adequate job clarifying the scope and depth of homeland security.   By doing that, the Review  contributes to the continued evolution of our understanding about homeland security.

But I do not believe it has much of a chance putting an end to the “What is Homeland Security” question.

I believe not having a precise definition is a good thing for homeland security.

We will know with increasing clarity what homeland security is only as we continue the co-evolutionary work of helping it emerge.

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Comment by William R. Cumming

February 16, 2010 @ 9:07 am

Excellent post. Back to some basics however. First, I wish everyone in the DHS and Executive Branch was resworn with some version of the Constitutional Oath required of the President! Specifically Article II, Section 1 last paragraph!
“I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of the President of the United States, and will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.”

So my question is where is this in the mission and vision statements of the QHSR? Also always remember that the review was a Congressional mandate, not self-initiated by DHS. Why is this important? Clearly Congress does not understand the mission or terminology either after almost 9 years and wants help. Does the QHSR help. Bottom line it does help. Apparently assigned to be prepared with personnel with some vision in the Department. But does it help enough? Well several chapters yet to be produced and published.

Personally I would have chose the term “Department of Civil Security” as opposed to the Department of Homeland Security. This is not because of the vaguely authoritarian ring to the use of the word “Homeland.” It is because it makes a fundamental cut in the mission, doctrine, and vision of the department. This is why I also recommend the U.S. Coast Guard, even though I view many of its civil missions as its most important, be transferred to DOD. In fact along with a number of other DOD missions that are mixed civil/military DOD has shown some vision in its own periodic reviews that might have been used to learn from for DHS its first review. And by the way, I would transfer the USACOE to DHS. Why, because it is a pretend military veneer with no real depth of leadership or purpose except for domestic water resources, permitting, and other functions, including the leadership of debris removal for FEMA under mission assignments during disasters. By the way should be noted the President of Haiti now says that at the current rate it will be almost a decade until debris from the January earthquake is removed. Perhaps the country can be expanded by filling in the coast line and being used to create several new ports which are clearly needed. The earthquake hazard is now clearly known and has to be reflected in ability to access the devastation and population in the next earthquake, which will occur.

On Chris’s focus on evolution. Well even the stars of evolutionary theory now talk about puncuated equilibrium. Meaning that Mother Nature may provide a spontaneous mutation that is highly beneficial to survival of a species, or not. Probably real world events are the equivalent to mutation for DHS. Some will result in beneficial changes some will not. Either because the event is such an outlier or because DHS is not a learning organization.

So again interesting post. For myself I await the documents supporting footnotes #1 and #2 [which are identical]! I understand that process is underway and wonder if the interested public will be invited to participate in that phase.

And by the way I now count over a dozen mandates by Congress to various Executive Branch organizations for in depth review every four years. Part of the review should contain a listing of necessary but unauthorized programs, functions, and activities, that only have seen daylight because the Congress has utilized in its laziness the appropriations process to authorize some favorites, including non-sensical earmarks. Rest in Peace, John Murtha, you did you district proud for earthmarks. Hope that unlike Senator Everette Dirksen of Illinois [there is that state again} they don’t find huge out of state depository accounts that clearly were slush funds.

Comment by Philip J. Palin

February 16, 2010 @ 10:54 am

Chris, you write, “I believe not having a precise definition is a good thing for homeland security.”

I agree that being realistic about the absence of precision is a good thing.

But asking what is homeland security and regularly hearing “a reformulation — in Vision Words — of what the person I asked was already doing…” does not sound helpful. It sounds sloppy, disingenuous, and confusing to others.

There are organizations and communities that demonstrate the possibility and utility of a shared sense of vision, mission, and purpose. In all of those with which I am familiar vision, mission and purpose benefit from personally meaningful — even eccentric — angles on the meaning of what is shared. But the axis of the angle to the object of meaning is usually recognizable.

In such social groups there is evidence of independent actors organizing behavior around “attractors” of shared meaning. There is evidence of this voluntary self-organization producing greater resilience and other benefits. (There are also some dangers here, but that is not a near-term risk regarding homeland security.)

Such a shared vision, mission, and purpose usually do not emerge easily, quickly, or fully formed. Coherence usually emerges awkwardly from ongoing participation, collaboration, and deliberation that creates a sense of social comity around the shared values. Individual identity becomes bound up with what is shared.

In your judgment, beyond the bumper sticker that you quote above, does the QHSR point us toward a credible “attractor of meaning” to restart the conversation about what we might share and advantage of such coherence?

If not, do you have any suggestions regarding what such an attractor might be?

Or are you suggesting not having such an attractor is a good thing?

Comment by Christopher Bellavita

February 18, 2010 @ 1:34 am

Hmmm. Lots of good points, Phil and Bill. I will think about them before my next QHSR post.

Comment by ortega olive

August 23, 2016 @ 8:28 am

Está bien, inicialmente el título Homeland Security Watch ? What is Homeland Security
Now? (Part 2 of Grading the QHSR) no pienso quue sea apropiado y
segundo, verdaderamente invertiste ttu vida en opinar este articulillo?

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