DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson yesterday issued a memo to the senior leadership of the Department entitled “Strengthening Departmental Unity of Effort.” The memo establishes the strategic objective of making DHS “greater than the sum of its parts” and a Department “that operates with much greater unity of effort.” The memo then identifies a number of key initiatives and tasks in support of this objective, including (a) an assessment of options for a joint requirements process, (b) a review of the Department’s primary acquisition directive, MD 102-01, (c) an effort to harmonize analytic capabilities within the Office of Policy and the Management Directorate, (d) the development of a new strategic framework for the security of the U.S. Southern Border, and (e) a new review of the Department’s international footprint.
You can read the full memorandum here.
A copy of initial thoughts on this:
First, I am glad that the new Secretary is taking on these issues, which were the key imperative for why Congress created DHS in 2002. As my former boss Sen. Lieberman noted in the Senate floor debate on the Homeland Security Act:
“…the holistic design of a new Department. By that I mean the whole will be greater than the sum of its parts. Indeed, since the very beginning, the entire purpose of formulating this Department has been to create a cohesive and unified organization in which all of the pieces fit together tightly with all of the other pieces.”
Unfortunately, these issues have received insufficient attention in the first eleven years of the Department’s history. When they have received attention, too often it has been episodic and ad hoc, due to the direct and positive leadership of people such as former Coast Guard Commandant Thad Allen (who stood up and led a joint requirements process, as he discusses in 2012 testimony) and former Deputy Secretary Paul Schneider. What has been missing in the last decade has been a sustained and institutionalized set of processes for addressing these “unity of effort” issues. A key challenge of this new initiative will be building and institutionalizing these internal management and decision-making processes, so that they can be maintained and sustained across leadership teams and Presidential transitions. This may require new legislative authority, particularly with respect the authorities of the DHS Office of Policy, Office of Operations Coordination, and Management Directorate vis-a-vis similar offices within the operational components of DHS.
Another key challenge will be ensuring that DHS is staffed appropriately – both at headquarters and at the component level – to carry out the strategic intent of this memorandum. Does DHS have enough people with the right kind of practical experience (in terms of knowledge of analytic methodologies, operational background, budget and financial experience, etc.) to fulfill the objective of this memorandum? If not, how can it address these gaps? Does DHS need a new Department-wide professional career track, akin to the Foreign Service at the Department of State? (Something I proposed in a blog post here in 2006). Does it need to increase or refocus its investment in professional development? Hopefully an evaluation of these issues will be the focus of a complementary review by the Secretary.
Overall though, this memorandum is a good first step for the DHS leadership team at tackling a set of critical issues that have a direct impact on the Department’s effectiveness and its stewardship of taxpayer dollars.