A few weeks ago a friend suggested that homeland security was a legacy concept.
Legacy is a polite word. It is used as a synonym for something no longer in fashion. It also refers to what’s left when somebody dies.
In the computer world, legacy means something that has been superseded but that is difficult to get rid of because it is still widely used.
“Homeland security’s outlived its usefulness,” my friend said.
To paraphrase the rest of his argument:
Most terrorism prevention is either law enforcement or military work; sometimes both. The concept of “homeland security” does not add much value to what the police or the defense department already do.
Emergency management takes care of things that can’t be prevented. Except for a few very well publicized events, the nation’s emergency management enterprise does a good job responding to disasters. Covering emergency management with a coat of homeland security paint doesn’t add much.
To many state and local agencies, homeland security means “what we have to do to get emergency management grants so we can prepare for the events we will actually experience.”
Public health may not have performed perfectly during the H1N1 season; but it’s not obvious how incorporating public health into the homeland security stew made anything better.
DHS component agencies — Customs and Border Protection, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, TSA, Citizenship and Immigration Services, the Coast Guard, the Secret Service — take care of their areas of responsibility. Why do they need to be connected to the same federal overhead agency? And does anyone recall why we keep the Customs part of Customs and Border Protection separate from the Customs part of Immigration and Customs Enforcement?
What do any of the overhead management agencies in DHS actually contribute to making the nation more secure? Is there any evidence other than rhetoric about the value overhead agencies add?
Sure there is DHS rhetoric about value:
“We are a unified Department with a shared focus: strengthening our Nation – through a partnership with individual citizens, the private sector, state, local, and tribal governments, and our global partners. We must also coordinate across Federal agencies, while shaping homeland security policy and coordinating incident management.”
But that language comes from the DHS “One Team, One Mission, Securing Our Homeland” strategic plan. It was issued in 2008. By DHS Secretary Chertoff. It’s still featured on the DHS website, in spite of language on the same web page that says
“…it is important to acknowledge that this Strategic Plan is a living document and will be revised as needed to guide a dynamic Department and its ever-changing requirements.”
If the strategy has not been revised in two years, is that evidence of a legacy strategy and a moribund department? Or should we look at the Quadrennial Homeland Security Review as the new living document?
There is little question “homeland security” as a concept has been replaced at the national level by “national security.” Last year the homeland security council staff dissolved into the national security staff. The country no longer has a national homeland security strategy. The 2007 National Homeland Security Strategy was replaced, with little fanfare, by the May 2010 National Security Strategy.
If homeland security is not already dead, it’s getting there.
I dismissed my friend’s argument out of hand — meaning I didn’t think much about it. Or rather I tried not to think about it.
But the thought would not go away. What if he was right?
I asked colleagues what they thought of the idea. Most agreed with my first reaction: the idea is wrong. There are no unambiguous measures of whether we are better prepared to prevent and respond to terrorist attacks and catastrophes today than we were a decade ago. But the consensus of people I asked was agencies were better at sharing information and working together than they were in early 2001. Is that improvement because something called “homeland security” served as an organizing and funding device? Possibly. Probably.
No, I don’t think homeland security is a legacy concept.
But what if it were true? Or at least in the early days of being true? What kind of argument could be constructed to support the claim that the nation is moving beyond the concept of “homeland security?”
What if, like a soft green blanket, homeland security was what the nation needed to get past the trauma of the first years of this new century? How would we know when it was time to let go? When it was time to move on?