Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

October 30, 2014

Follow the money

Filed under: Border Security,Budgets and Spending,General Homeland Security,Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Philip J. Palin on October 30, 2014


The graphic shows the rough 2014 budget proportions for the Department of Homeland Security.  The $45 billion figure for the DHS budget is based on an analysis by the Congressional Research Service.

Late last week I was showing this pie chart to some graduate students who are exploring homeland security. They are on the edge of completing their law degrees, PhDs, or graduate studies in other fields. But they are interested enough in homeland security to have competed for and been selected for a Graduate Fellowship program at Rutgers University.

I asked, “What do you see?”

“It’s mostly about the border,” said one.

“Excluding the other,” said another

“Fear of the other.”

“Fear of each other.”

A young lawyer suggested this was a narrative theme — an analytical predisposition — that frames how we experience and make sense of reality. He and most of his peers agreed there was some evidence to support the  narrative. But we allow it to shape our orientation well beyond the evidence.

This is not where I was planning to take the discussion.  I was better prepared for a wonky consideration of incremental budgeting, legacy missions, Congressional oversight, etc., etc…

But I did not try to redirect.  We went with “otherness” as a homeland security problem.  Look again, you will see what they saw. Even if you can see other things and offer other explanations, I suggest their fresh eyes are not inaccurate.

It’s an interesting angle on reality, especially coincident with enhanced security being announced — despite the lack of specific threat intelligence.

Toward the end of Jean-Paul Satre’s play “No Exit”, a character proclaims, “So this is hell. I’d never have believed it. You remember all we were told about the torture-chambers, the fire and brimstone, the “burning marl.” Old wives’ tales! There’s no need for red-hot pokers. HELL IS OTHER PEOPLE! (“L’enfer, c’est les Autres.”)

Most of us have experienced this unhappy truth. But many of us have also experienced, “without a you and an I, there is no love, and with mine and yours there is no love but “mine” and “yours”… This is indeed the case everywhere, but not in love, which is a revolution from the ground up. The more profound the revolution, the more complete the distinction…” (Søren Kierkegaard). Without the other we are profoundly diminished.

Two antithetical intuitions equally true, depending on our attitude and the situation. A wicked problem? If so, extending well beyond homeland security.

How can we reason together through this paradox? Without the skill, discipline, and ethic of social reasoning we must defer to the mercy of randomness. I have often found randomness quite generous. But I aspire to — and have experienced — much more.  I know something about social reasoning in small groups.  Elinor Ostrom and others have told me interesting things about social reasoning in larger groups.  Is facilitation of social reasoning an appropriate tool of homeland security?

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Comment by Arnold Bogis

October 30, 2014 @ 12:49 am

I’m actually surprised that you seemed surprised about their insight. Smart group. Homeland security basically grew from a foundation about securing our borders – broadly conceived.

FEMA aside, it’s always been about building a better wall. Physical, cyber, intelligence, around critical infrastructure, etc. Even the ritual use of FOUO designations on every document from simple informational memos to holiday party invitations feeds a need to build barriers. Knowledge = security, sharing = vulnerability. Mention resilience whenever one can, but ensure that tangible cooperation outside of a limited bubble can never really occur.

Comment by Philip J. Palin

October 30, 2014 @ 7:21 am

Arnold: I was being myopic in a social science, public policy sort-of-way. Once the topic was raised I was very happy to go with it. Per some prior conversations you and I have had, the blending of hard-science, softer-science, and the humanities can be sort of treacherous. While I am not reluctant to indulge my humanistic interests here at the blog, I often assume a different tack in other contexts. It would be rather wonderful to be able to engage homeland security through a sustained and rigorous humanistic lens.

Comment by William R. Cumming

October 30, 2014 @ 8:29 am

Phil your question:
Is facilitation of social reasoning an appropriate tool of homeland security? I argue NO but no doubt some say yes!

Comment by Philip J. Palin

October 30, 2014 @ 8:32 am

Bill: Why not?

Comment by William R. Cumming

October 30, 2014 @ 10:28 am


Comment by Philip J. Palin

October 30, 2014 @ 10:58 am


We could write a book, couldn’t we? But quickly (before I disappear into a long lunch):

Reasoning is, I suggest, the exercise of human intelligence to observe reality, identify and analyze the emergence of what we observe, and to draw explanatory and creative implications from this process of observation and analysis.

Social reasoning is the practice of the prior processes by various groups of humans. To engage in meaningful reasoning by social groups I perceive there is a particular need for additional skills — beyond reasoning per se — in listening, asking questions, encouraging conversation, honoring diversity of opinion, and facilitating group dynamics.

Good question, needs more, but I have to be off. Enough for you to disagree with or at least critique, I hope.

Comment by Philip J. Palin

October 30, 2014 @ 5:34 pm

Just a bit more on “social reasoning” as a homeland security tool: It is rare in my experience for there to be real conversations about homeland security issues. Personal agendas, political agendas, academic agendas, other agendas collide and are complicated by funding interests, obscure lexicons, and unevenly distributed expertise. Other impediments could easily be listed. Shortage of time may be the biggest. But it is also my experience that there is a real hunger and appreciation for meaningful conversation — what might be called informal “social reasoning” — if someone will take the risk to get it started and has the skills to help the conversation sustain. There are three homeland security officials who come to mind that I have seen again and again be effective catalysts for social reasoning both inside and outside the enterprise. I perceive these are skills that can be learned and applied, but there has to be a commitment to systematic development and use. There are also some cultural issues — especially related to old-fashioned notions of command and control — that would have to be reformed for the tool to be widely adopted. These are serious impediments, but I have seen other large organizations successfully undertake this sort of effort.

Comment by Arnold Bogis

October 31, 2014 @ 1:00 am

Phil, I will admit much of my comment was a late night rant against the perceived vs. actual mission of DHS. (Generally not an indictment of DHS personnel…except that FOUO comment…seriously you folks have got to knock that off….the “enemy” doesn’t care about the vast majority of federal government memos…).

I don’t have the background to argue about different academic approaches to examining homeland security policies. After a day’s consideration, however, I will say that I think your approach was brilliant. It may have taken you in an unexpected direction, but I believe it was simple, clean, and provocative. Federal officials, members of Congress, and media pundits can all pontificate about the perceived role of DHS. But the true action happens where the money is spent.

Comment by William R. Cumming

October 31, 2014 @ 2:36 pm

Wondering if Heisenberg Principle applies to social reasoning?

Disclosure: I will be departing as a routine commentator on this blog after a full decade. Still will read and comment from time to time after January 1st 2015.

I continue to try and recruit contributors to several book ideas I have struggle with. First, one on first principles of the military/civil interface in USA and world wide. Second, first principles of HS in USA and world wide. Third, a book on first principles of EM in USA and world wide.

And hoping to establish the Cumming version of the Aspen Institute on a much lower scale of course! Or perhaps the Cumming version of the FED’s annual soiree at Jackson Hole.

The notion is hard nosed off-the record discourse relating to the above, both bi-partisan and non-partisan.

Yeah! Ambitious I know but my reach has always extended my grasp.


Comment by Philip J Palin

October 31, 2014 @ 3:02 pm

Bill, Sounds like a plan very conducive to social reasoning in homeland security. Best wishes… and let me know how I can help.

Comment by William R. Cumming

November 1, 2014 @ 9:45 am

Thanks Phil! This blog seems to facilitate SOCIAL REASONING IMO!

Comment by Arnold Bogis

November 1, 2014 @ 12:30 pm

Bill, this is sad news for everyone who contributes to this blog, but seemingly great news for the wider community when your book projects reach completion.

I often felt that you were the only person who read many of my posts. Indeed, my girlfriend still asks “what did Bill think of this week’s blog post?”

In regards to your books, is it safe to assume that the first book will be about the military/civil interface in terms of EM? Regardless, if you haven’t already read it Sam Huntington (of clash of civilizations fame) wrote on the general subject back in the late 50?s: “The Soldier and the State: The Theory and Politics of Civil-Military Relations.” His first, and some consider his best, book. It might provide some 30,000 ft level context for your work.

Comment by William R. Cumming

November 2, 2014 @ 8:56 am

Thanks Arnold and read both of those Huntington books and still reread occasionally. I do think Professor Huntington reached one conclusion that is erroneous in his SOLDIER AND THE STATE.


Comment by William R. Cumming

November 3, 2014 @ 3:04 pm

BTW many estimates exist that less than 50% of all HS expenditures are funded by DHS. Is this accurate?

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