I was happy to see a copy of an April 3, 2012 Congressional Research Service (CRS) publication called “Defining Homeland Security: Analysis And Congressional Considerations.” (Thanks JM)
I like CRS reports. I think CRS does some of the best policy analysis in the country.
Shawn Reese is given credit as the Defining Homeland Security author. (I understand CRS reports are often a group product.) I think the document makes a contribution to the sprawling “What is homeland security” literature, and related topics. It’s worth reading.
The report summarizes the evolution of homeland security as a concept, and reviews the main strategy documents from the 2002 Strategy up through the 2011 National Strategy for Counterterrorism.
It notes the various definitions of homeland security imbedded in the strategies, and does a service to homeland security students everywhere by summarizing those definitions and identifying common themes among them.
The report outlines where homeland security spending goes (at least half of it does not go to DHS or its missions), and describes the importance of risk:
“Homeland security is essentially about managing risks. The purpose of a strategic process is to develop missions to achieve that end.”
I hope to write more about the opinion that homeland security is about managing risk. It’s a mantra that has been around more than a decade. John Mueller and Mark Stewart point out in their brutally impressive 2011 book, Terror, Security, and Money, the mantra still has no clothes.
But that’s for another post.
I want to get back to the CRS report.
The main claim in the report is
“the US government does not have a single definition for homeland security.”
This is considered to be a problem because
“Varied homeland security definitions and missions may impede the development of a coherent national homeland security strategy, and may hamper the effectiveness of congressional oversight.”
I like words and definitions as much as any academic, but I’m still looking for a significant policy domain where having a single definition contributes to policy effectiveness.
Last time I checked, there were over 100 Congressional committees and subcommittees that had some oversight responsibility for homeland security. I’m guessing that unique structural feature of the homeland security enterprise may be a greater impediment to coherence than the lack of a single definition.
One of the characteristics of a wicked problem is the presence of multiple definitions (of problems and solutions), generated by multiple stakeholders. If homeland security is seen as an aggregation of wicked problems, the absence of a single definition is not a problem to be solved. It is a terrain feature to be acknowledged. Policy prescriptions that are appropriate for tame problems turn effete in the presence of wicked problems.
The CRS report asserts that “policymakers continue to grapple with the definition of homeland security.”
I’ve been around homeland security policymakers. I have not heard them spending much time grappling with definitions.
Typically, they tend to hang out with people who subscribe to the same general definition of homeland security they do. And if they run into somebody with a different definition – “it’s about terrorism;” “no it’s about all hazards;” “no it’s about national security;” “no it’s about slow moving disasters;” “no, it’s about….– they’ll either argue for a while, or get another drink and go back to people who speak the same language they do.
Richard Rorty believed “truth is what your colleagues let you get away with.” There may be too many different collegial tribes in homeland security to reach a consensus definition.
But I do like the image of grappling policymakers.
The CRS document evokes a wistful specter of how public policy is made:
“Policymakers develop strategy by identifying national interests, prioritizing goals to achieve those national interests, and arraying instruments of national power to achieve the national interests.”
And later in the report:
“In an ideal scenario, there would be a clear definition of homeland security, and a consensus about it; as well as prioritized missions, goals, and activities. Policymakers could then use a process to incorporate feedback and respond to new facts and situations as they develop.”
Ignore for the moment who these “policymakers” are who think and act like this, even in scenarios. Do we have enough — or any — examples of policy domains where this kind of process exists?
The CRS report refers to how well (apparently) the Quadrennial Defense Review identifies “national security and U.S. Military priorities and [guides the] priorities through a process ‘…from objectives to capabilities and activities to resources’.”
I think we’ve already tried — in the early 2000s — injecting Department of Defense logics into homeland security. Civilians, governors, mayors, agencies, associations, corporations and other members of the enterprise preferred — in their small f federalist and small p populist way — to make their own decisions.
Maybe there are some non-military public policy examples where interests lead to goals, missions etc. … all the way down to activities and resources: Education? Health? Environment? Criminal Justice? Transportation? International Relations? Congress?
The literary critic John Leonard once wrote this about how policy is made:
“Understand that national policy – any policy – is arrived at by the accretions of hunch, conviction, compromise, fatigue and exhibitionism.”
In my experience that’s a more accurate description of the policy process than strategists sitting around the room identifying national interests, prioritizing goals, and arraying instruments of national power.
The CRS report suggest developing an effective homeland security strategy:
“may be complicated if the key concept of homeland security is not defined and its missions are not aligned and synchronized among different federal entities with homeland security responsibilities.”
I hear grappling in those words.
I hear grappling between Newton and Darwin. Adherents of a Newtonian worldview long for a universe where all the parts fit together like a machine. Darwinians muck around in John Leonard’s accretion stew, struggling to do a little bit here, a little bit there.
Good luck to the machine people. I too would like to live in a world where all the parts fit together. I think homeland security is messier than that.
The CRS report – reluctantly – might also agree:
“Some degree of evolution of the homeland security concept is expected. Policymakers respond to events and crises like terrorist attacks and natural disasters by using and adjusting strategies, plans, and operations. These strategies, plans, and operations also evolve to reflect changing priorities. The definition of homeland security evolves in accordance with the evolution of these strategies, plans, and operations.”
Darwin could not have said that better himself.
This very worthwhile CRS report treats an important topic. But I don’t think it’s about definitions.
“As deficit reduction causes demand for reduced federal spending, Congress may [sic] pay more attention to homeland security funding…. Limited resources heighten the importance of prioritization and need for efficient and effective federal spending…. [There] is no clarity in the national strategies of federal, state, and local roles and responsibilities; and, potentially [sic], funding is driving priorities rather than priorities driving the funding.”
If funding is driving priorities, I wonder who is driving the funding.
I’d like to ask them how they’re able to do all that driving without having a single definition of homeland security.