Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

May 11, 2016

DHS has a new mission statement

Filed under: DHS News — by Christopher Bellavita on May 11, 2016

dhs mission statement image
Dear Colleagues,

Today, I am pleased and proud to release our new mission statement for the Department of Homeland Security:

“With honor and integrity, we will safeguard the American people, our homeland, and our values.”

In March, I asked you to help me write a single, short, and simple statement of who we are as a Department—what we stand for, and what our values should be.

I asked, and you answered. We received nearly 3,000 entries from all across DHS. As we reviewed your suggestions, we saw a lot of similar themes: honor, integrity, service, and strength. I am impressed by the thought that went into each proposal, and by the values our Department shares. And, I was pleased to consult all three former Secretaries of Homeland Security in developing this statement.

I’d like to thank each of you who submitted a statement for your time, your creativity, and your thoughtfulness. This statement, which will be on display at DHS facilities, is a reminder to all of us of who we are and why we serve.

If we are to succeed in our security mission, we must work together—a Unity of Effort. We have many employees and many components, with many complex responsibilities. But we are one Department, and it’s the unity of our efforts that keep our homeland secure.

This statement is intended for all our components and all our approximately 226,000 personnel across the entire Department. My hope is that our people will see it as the capstone of our Unity of Effort initiative, and our unifying mission statement for now and long after I am Secretary of Homeland Security.

Thank you for your time, participation, and most importantly, thank you for your service.

Jeh Charles Johnson
Secretary of Homeland Security

February 19, 2016

DHS Announces Funding Opportunity for Fiscal Year 2016 Preparedness Grants

Filed under: DHS News — by Christopher Bellavita on February 19, 2016

On February 16th, DHS  announced the release of FY 2016 Notices of Funding Opportunity for ten DHS preparedness grant programs totaling more than $1.6 billion.

From the announcement:

  • Emergency Management Performance Grant (EMPG)—provides more than $350 million to assist state, local, tribal, territorial governments in enhancing and sustaining all-hazards emergency management capabilities.
  • Homeland Security Grant Program (HSGP)—provides more than $1 billion for states and urban areas to prevent, protect against, mitigate, respond to, and recover from acts of terrorism and other threats.
    • State Homeland Security Program (SHSP)—provides $402 million to support the implementation of risk-driven, capabilities-based State Homeland Security Strategies to address capability targets. States are required to dedicate 25 percent of SHSP funds to law enforcement terrorism prevention activities.
    • Urban Area Security Initiative (UASI)—provides $580 million to enhance regional preparedness and capabilities in 29 high-threat, high-density areas. States and Urban Areas are required to dedicate 25 percent of UASI funds to law enforcement terrorism prevention activities.
    • Operation Stonegarden (OPSG)—provides $55 million to enhance cooperation and coordination among local, tribal, territorial, state and federal law enforcement agencies to jointly enhance security along the United States land and water borders.
  • Tribal Homeland Security Grant Program (THSGP)—provides $10 million to eligible tribal nations to implement preparedness initiatives to help strengthen the nation against risk associated with potential terrorist attacks and other hazards.
  • Nonprofit Security Grant Program (NSGP)—provides $20 million to support target hardening and other physical security enhancements for nonprofit organizations that are at high risk of a terrorist attack and located within one of the FY 2016 UASI-eligible urban areas.
  • Intercity Passenger Rail – Amtrak Program (IPR)—provides $10 million to protect critical surface transportation infrastructure and the traveling public from acts of terrorism and increase the resilience of the Amtrak rail system.
  • Port Security Grant Program (PSGP)—provides $100 million to help protect critical port infrastructure from terrorism, enhance maritime domain awareness, improve port-wide maritime security risk management, and maintain or reestablish maritime security mitigation protocols that support port recovery and resiliency capabilities.
  • Transit Security Grant Program (TSGP)—provides $87 million to owners and operators of public transit systems to protect critical surface transportation and the traveling public from acts of terrorism and to increase the resilience of public transit infrastructure.
  • Intercity Bus Security Grant Program (IBSGP)—provides $3 million to owners and operators of intercity bus systems to protect critical bus surface transportation infrastructure and the traveling public from acts of terrorism and to increase the resilience of bus transit infrastructure.

November 24, 2015

GAO: BioWatch is unreliable

Filed under: Biosecurity,Budgets and Spending,DHS News,Technology for HLS — by Philip J. Palin on November 24, 2015

According to the Government Accountability Office (complete report, 101 pages, available):

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) lacks reliable information about BioWatch Gen-2’s technical capabilities to detect a biological attack and therefore lacks the basis for informed cost-benefit decisions about upgrades to the system. DHS commissioned several tests of the technical performance characteristics of the current BioWatch Gen-2 system, but has not developed performance requirements that would enable it to interpret the test results and draw conclusions about the system’s ability to detect attacks. Although DHS officials said that the system can detect catastrophic attacks, which they define as attacks large enough to cause 10,000 casualties, they have not specified the performance requirements necessary to reliably meet this operational objective. In the absence of performance requirements, DHS officials said computer modeling and simulation studies support their assertion. However, none of these studies were designed to incorporate test results from the Gen-2 system and comprehensively assess the system against the stated operational objective. Additionally, DHS has not prepared an analysis that combines the modeling and simulation studies with the specific Gen-2 test results to assess the system’s capabilities to detect attacks. Finally, we found limitations and uncertainties in the four key tests of the Gen-2 system’s performance. Because it is not possible to test the BioWatch system directly by releasing live biothreat agents into the air in operational environments, DHS relied on chamber testing and the use of simulated biothreat agents, which limit the applicability of the results. These limitations underscore the need for a full accounting of statistical and other uncertainties, without which decision makers lack a full understanding of the Gen-2 system’s capability to detect attacks of defined types and sizes and cannot make informed decisions about the value of proposed upgrades.

June 4, 2015

DHS advisory committee issues report on employee morale

Filed under: DHS News,General Homeland Security — by Christian Beckner on June 4, 2015

At its meeting on May 21, 2015, the Homeland Security Advisory Council (HSAC) issued a report by its DHS Employee Task Force, established in October 2014 following the Department’s poor rankings in the latest federal employee survey results, and formerly known as the “DHS Employee Morale Task Force” but renamed a few weeks prior to the issuance of the report. The report has been publicly released but is not yet available on the DHS website; I have posted a copy at this link.

The report includes a brief assessment of the relevant issues that affect DHS workforce morale, makes four primary recommendations, and includes twenty-seven specific action items that derive from these recommendations. The four primary recommendations are as follows:

1. Greatly increase the emphasis on leadership qualities when filling managerial positions and when assessing the performance of incumbents.
2. Significantly improve management training, particularly leadership training.
3. Adopt proven industrial standards for personnel development.
4. Significantly strengthen communications (upward, downward and outward), making greater use of modern communication technology.

Overall, the report provides a solid initial assessment of the challenges facing DHS leadership as it attempts to address morale issues, and suggests a number of common-sense management initiatives. But its analysis should be viewed as only a starting point. This is an issue that is difficult to generalize across the Department; the issues that affect the morale and satisfaction of the frontline officer at TSA or CBP are very different than the issues that affect an intelligence analyst or policy advisor at one of the headquarters offices. Moreover, it is necessary as part of such an assessment to make a distinction between issues that are within the span of control of the leadership of the Department (such as day-to-day operational policies and norms) and those that are outside of their control (such as civil service laws, or Congressional constraints on the Department’s organizational structure).

Two issues in particular are deserving of further analysis. The first is the set of procedures (formal and informal) related to decision-making and action-taking within DHS, and the incentive structure that underlies these procedures. My observation over a number of years and spanning multiple DHS leadership teams is that it is far too difficult for motivated and forward-looking individuals to take initiative and drive change within the Department. Instead, it is much easier for offices to stifle new initiatives that they do not like, a reality exacerbated by the fragmented Congressional oversight of the Department and by the existence of numerous internal oversight and compliance offices within DHS. This observation is supported by the results of Question #32 on the Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey: “Creativity and innovation are rewarded.” DHS employees express on average a much more negative response to this question than employees of other federal agencies. I would contend that the frustration and hopelessness captured in these responses is a major factor in low morale at DHS.

The second issue deserving of additional attention is reflected in the results to Question #22 of the Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey: “Promotions in my work unit are based on merit.” 55.6% of DHS employees disagreed with this statement in the 2014 survey – the most negative result of any agency surveyed by far, and much higher than the government-wide average of 39.3%. The apparent lack of meritocracy reflected in this result is a long-standing issue at DHS (as far back as the 2006 employee survey, DHS also had the most negative result) and needs to be rigorously assessed at the component level to determine the root causes of this, which likely includes issues related to organizational culture, personnel policies, and the lack of clear standards for promotions. Notably, the HSAC task force calls for a follow-on review of these issues, including an assessment of the Department’s promotion and compensation systems.

As noted earlier, the full HSAC report can be viewed at this link.

(Note: This piece is cross-posted from the GW Center for Cyber and Homeland Security’s Security Insights blog.)

April 18, 2015

DHS Secretary: “We are no longer “studying” the issue of morale. We are doing something about it.”

Filed under: DHS News — by Christopher Bellavita on April 18, 2015

From: Office of the Secretary 

Sent: Thursday, April 16, 2015 8:17 PM
Subject: Message from the Secretary

 April 16, 2015

Dear Colleagues:

This morning a congressional subcommittee held yet another hearing on the subject of low morale at various government agencies. Catherine Emerson, our Chief Human Capital Officer, was called as a witness.

But, before the hearing this subcommittee got a surprise personal visit from me.

My message to Congress (and the press): one of the ways we are improving morale is to stop telling the workforce you suffer from low morale. We have moved on. We are no longer “studying” the issue of morale. We are doing something about it.

The Deputy Secretary and I have an action plan to address concerns about fairness and transparency in hiring, promotion and training opportunities. We are building a pilot program to share employee ideas. We are thanking people for their good work. We are undertaking a number of other initiatives.

This morning I also told Congress that they can work with me, by addressing pay and workforce issues. In fact, the men and women all across the Department of Homeland Security are upbeat, dedicated and patriotic.

In 479 days as your Secretary, I have met enough of you to know this. Last month, I wrote you about Carol Richel, the TSA supervisor in New Orleans who suffered a gunshot wound on one day and came to work the next day. Carol is an example of the spirit I see every day-ranging from the TSA and CBP personnel I met yesterday at the Philadelphia airport, to the health care worker who treated Ebola victims in West Africa, and the Border Patrol agents I met last summer working overtime on the southern border.

Each of you deserves a thank you from the American people. Keep up the good work.


Jeh Charles Johnson
Secretary of Homeland Security



March 11, 2015

Do we need DHS? Yes.

Filed under: DHS News,General Homeland Security — by Christian Beckner on March 11, 2015

(Note: this piece is cross-posted from the GW Center for Cyber & Homeland Security’s blog, Security Insights.)

The CATO Institute released a short opinion piece today by one of its senior fellows, Michael Tanner, entitled “Do we need the DHS?” This story follows on a long legacy of similar opinion pieces in the news media, such as this piece from 2013. The new piece from CATO raises the question, following the recent resolution of the DHS funding debate, as to whether the Department of Homeland Security is needed. The piece lists off a number of the Department’s weaknesses and challenges, such as diffuse Congressional oversight, challenges with grants management, and morale issues – all of which are legitimate issues. But the piece then makes a gargantuan logical jump to assert that the Department of Homeland Security should be broken up in light of these problems and challenges. This proposal, if implemented, would be disastrous in terms of DHS’s performance of its key missions and would be contrary to the principles of effective government management.

I don’t think that there is a strong likelihood of proposals such as this being seriously considered by Congress, but I still think that it is important to push back against arguments such as this, and make the case for the ongoing value and necessity of the Department of Homeland Security. There is a long list of arguments that I could make here, but I’ll summarize my case with these four:

First, and most importantly, the Department in many respects has become much more than the sum of its parts in the last decade, with respect to its operational mission performance. CBP, ICE, USCIS and the Coast Guard all work together to carry out the Department’s border security and immigration missions. CBP, TSA and ICE all work together to prevent terrorist and other illicit travel (e.g. human trafficking) to the United States. FEMA and the Coast Guard have become closer since DHS was created in terms of their disaster response roles, and other operational components have been called on to support major disaster response efforts. ICE, the Secret Service, and NPPD all have significant cybersecurity responsibilities, and are working more closely together in support of their respective cyber activities. And all of the operational entities of DHS have some role (although admittedly not the lead federal role) in counterterrorism, and DHS information has played a critical role in disrupting several of the higher-profile terrorist plots targeting the United States over the past 7-8 years.

Second, the Department has played the critical federal role since its inception in integrating state and local law enforcement and first responders into supporting its missions. This is true not only with respect to FEMA and disaster response, but equally importantly with respect to counterterrorism, and increasingly in the last few years with respect to cybersecurity. (Of note on this issue, contrary to the CATO piece, fusion centers are not “operated by the DHS” – they are entities owned and operated by state and local governments, each with a small number of federal employees detailed by DHS and DOJ.)

Third, stories such as this promote a distorted perspective on the growth of DHS over the past thirteen years. The story says that “spending has skyrocketed, tripling from $18 billion per year in 2002 to more than $54 billion last year.” This statistic likely refers to the OMB’s government-wide crosscut of homeland security spending, but that annual analysis is not solely about DHS; OMB’s numbers include items such as domestic force protection at the Department of Defense and biosecurity programs at HHS. In reality, the DHS budget has grown since its inception from $36 billion in FY 2002 to $55 billion in FY 2011 – but this growth rate is far from a “tripling” of the budget. (Budget numbers taken from DHS’s response to a Question for the Record by Sen. Ron Johnson from a 2011 Senate hearing. See numbered pages 1029-1031 of this very large PDF.)

It’s also worth noting that most of this growth was not due to sprawling bureaucracy but due to increases to frontline operational capacity, in terms of personnel (notably the doubling of the size of the Border Patrol), technology and infrastructure. The reality is that the parts of DHS that I would consider to be “headquarters” – the Office of the Secretary and Executive Management (OSEM), the Office of the Undersecretary of Management, the Offices of Operations Coordination and Intelligence Analysis, and the Science and Technology Directorate – account for only 1.7% of the DHS workforce, a large share of whom are carrying out government-wide Congressional mandates in areas such as IT management and financial oversight.

Fourth, anyone who proposes dismantling DHS should have the burden of proposing what they would do with its constituent parts, and how such an initiative would improve the performance of the Department’s current missions. The five entities that have responsibility for immigration, border security and travel security (CBP, ICE, USCIS, Coast Guard, TSA), where the rationale for operational integration is strongest, account for 195,000 of the Department’s 225,000 employees – around 87%. Is the author proposing that these five entities should not be within the same Cabinet department? If he is, he’s making a proposal that will have a serious negative impact on the government’s performance of these missions. If he is not, then he’s not really proposing to break up DHS, but instead proposing a more moderate tinkering, perhaps by returning the Secret Service to the Treasury or making FEMA an independent agency again. I wouldn’t recommend either of these; in particular, I think FEMA is now critically interlinked with many other parts of DHS. The reality is that there is no realistic option for a major overhaul of DHS that does not have significant operational impacts.

My bottom line: is the Department of Homeland Security today everything that Congress envisioned it to be when it created it in 2002? No, not yet. (And this is in part due to external factors beyond the Department’s control, such as (a) the decisions in 2002-2003 to hobble its intelligence-related mandate from the start by creating TTIC and the Terrorist Screening Center outside of DHS (b) and the ongoing dysfunctional structure of Congressional oversight). But has it made substantial progress toward realizing this vision? Yes. Would additional major organizational changes improve the performance of DHS’s current missions? No, and they would more likely backfire, and introduce substantial new operational and management-related risks.

For all of these reasons, and others, we still need DHS. And we’re better served as a nation by an ongoing policy discussion focused on how it can be improved and made more efficient, rather than a debate about breaking it up.

February 3, 2015

A quiet but notable reorganization at DHS headquarters

Filed under: DHS News — by Christian Beckner on February 3, 2015

(Author’s Note: this analysis is cross-posted from the Security Insights blog that is affiliated with the GW Center for Cyber and Homeland Security, where I currently work).

This past Monday (February 2, 2015), the Department of Homeland Security released details on its Fiscal Year 2016 budget request, both in summary documents as well as the nearly 4000-page Congressional Budget Justification (CBJ) for the Department. The full budget justification each year typically contains details on newly-proposed programs and activities within the Department, and this year is no exception. In particular, the CBJ includes details on a significant reorganization within the headquarters elements of the Department. This reorganization has been underway since last summer – that’s when I first heard the broad outline of the leadership team’s plans in conversations with several DHS officials – but the details within the budget justification constitute the first public overview of this reorganization.

First, the DHS Policy Office is reorganized into a top-level “executive office” and four subordinate offices (three of which are new), a significant change from what is currently still described on the DHS website. These four offices are identified as: (1) Threat Prevention & Security Policy, (2) Strategy, Plans, Analysis & Risk, (3) Border, Immigration & Trade Policy, and (4) International Engagement. The last office replaces the Office of International Affairs, which DHS had formerly proposed to separate from the Office of Policy for several years – a proposal that met Congressional resistance.

Three existing offices are moved out of the DHS Policy Office as part of this proposal: the Private Sector Office, the Office for State and Local Law Enforcement, and the Homeland Security Advisory Council. These three offices are moved into the Office of Intergovernmental Affairs at headquarters, which the Department proposes to rename as the “Office of Partnership and Engagement.” In addition to the three offices realigned from the Policy Office, this new office would also take over responsibility of the “If You See Something, Say Something” campaign from the Office of Public Affairs, and absorb an academic liaison position from the Office of the Chief Human Capital Officer.

Another existing DHS office significantly impacted by the reorganization is the DHS Office of Operations Coordination and Planning (OPS). Its Planning function is moved from OPS to the Strategy, Plans, Analysis and Risk (SPAR) element of the DHS Policy Office. The budget for the Homeland Security Information Network (HSIN) is shifted from OPS to the Office of the Chief Information Officer. (The CIO’s office has already been running HSIN for the last few years, per the terms of an MOU with OPS). Several senior liaison positions are transferred to the DHS Chief of Staff’s office, and additional positions are transferred to the Office of the Chief Security Officer. The Secretary’s briefing staff is transferred into OPS, but overall these transfers constitute a significant reduction in the size of the Operations Directorate, leaving it primarily with the National Operations Center, and perhaps still its continuity of operations function, as best I can tell. (It is difficult to fully comprehend the Operations Directorate budget request based on public budget documents, since its funding its embedded with that of the DHS Office of Intelligence and Analysis in the classified “Analysis and Operations” account).

The budget request also provides the first public details on the Department’s plans to reestablish a Joint Requirements Council (other than a brief mention in testimony last September), locating it within the Office of the Secretary (as opposed to within the Management Directorate) and requesting $5 million in initial funding for it. The budget justification describes the role of the JRC as follows, on page 96 of the full CBJ:

The new Component-led Joint Requirements Council (JRC) will formulate recommendations to DHS leadership on options to meet the capability needs of DHS operators and provide a vital link between strategic guidance and investments. The JRC will look at cross-component requirements and develop recommendations for investment, as well as changes to training, organization, operational processes and procedures, and proposed law changes. By linking Department-wide strategies and investments, the JRC will increase operational efficiencies by achieving economies of scale and eliminating unnecessary duplication. Additionally, the JRC will improve traceability and defensibility of DHS resource decision making to committee oversight and Components.

There are a number of other minor shifts of offices and personnel within Department offices as part of this reorganization, but these are the major elements of it. Taken together, they amount to the most significant reorganization of the Department’s headquarters since the 2005 Second Stage Review, but to date have not been publicized by the Department, reflected on its website, or received significant attention in Congressional hearings.

Hopefully that will change soon, starting with the House and Senate DHS budget hearings that will take place in the next few weeks. The rationales for these plans need to be explained publicly to DHS’s external stakeholders, and are deserving of robust Congressional oversight, first to assess whether any statutory changes are needed to facilitate such a reorganization, and secondly, if such changes are supported by Congress, to examine ways to reinforce their chance of having a meaningful impact on the headquarter’s role in supporting the performance of the Department’s missions (for example, by finally establishing the Office of Policy in law, and led by an Under Secretary).

September 21, 2014

Washington Post piece examines DHS employee turnover

Filed under: DHS News,General Homeland Security — by Christian Beckner on September 21, 2014

The Washington Post has released a new story this evening looking in-depth at the issue of DHS turnover.    It’s a must read for regular readers of this blog and for former and current employees of DHS.   I’ve quickly typed out and posted some initial reactions to the piece at the new blog that we’ve started at the GWU Homeland Security Policy Institute; you can find my comments on it here.

May 22, 2014

DHS – No hope for a home?

Filed under: Budgets and Spending,DHS News,General Homeland Security — by Arnold Bogis on May 22, 2014

Yesterday’s Washington Post dumps an Olympic-size swimming pool’s worth of cold water on the future of a (relatively) consolidated headquarters for DHS at the St. Elizabeth site in Southeast D.C.:

The construction of a massive new headquarters for the Department of Homeland Security, billed as critical for national security and the revitalization of Southeast Washington, is running more than $1.5 billion over budget, is 11 years behind schedule and may never be completed, according to planning documents and federal officials.

It has been a bipartisan affair:

A decade after work began, the St. Elizabeths venture — the capital region’s largest planned construction project since the Pentagon — has become a monumental example of Washington inefficiency and drift. Bedeviled by partisan brawling, it has been starved of funds by both Republicans and Democrats in Congress and received only lackluster support from the Obama administration, according to budget documents and interviews with current and former federal officials.

Delays are only making the final price tag rise:

The crippling shortfall in funding has created a vicious cycle, causing delays that in turn inflated the projected price tag as construction costs escalated over time and DHS agencies — still scattered in more than 50 locations across the Washington area — have been signing expensive temporary leases.

The article is full of details regarding difficulties connected with the site.  Also, interesting to at least me, it deploys two narratives about DHS.

The DHS was born at a time when the wounds of Sept. 11 were still fresh and homeland security was the top national priority. The new department melded agencies as diverse as the Secret Service and Immigration and Customs Enforcement, aiming to eliminate gaps in coordination and poor communication that had helped make possible the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon.

By 2004, department officials were complaining that their headquarters on Nebraska Avenue in the District was one-quarter of the size needed. The operations center was small, with limited infrastructure. And with various DHS components dispersed as far as Herndon, Va., the department was wasting millions on leased office space and transportation costs.

These logistical problems slowed the government response to Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and to a 2006 terrorist plot to blow up transatlantic airliners with liquid explosives, Chertoff recalled. “People were shuttling back and forth in those critical days after the plot was exposed, and that just made it much more difficult and time-consuming,” he said.

Most of the poor communication and coordination gaps preceding 9/11 existed between agencies not included in the creation of the Department of Homeland Security.  To over simplify things, the intelligence community and the military take the lead in fighting terrorism overseas and the FBI generally is out front domestically.  Not to take one iota of importance away from the work of DHS, but it does not get much positive Congressional attention as those entities unless it is politically convenient. And spending billions of dollars on a new headquarters complex for DHS is currently not very politically convenient. Want to bet that the FBI will get a new building before DHS?

The comments regarding logistical problems affecting the Katrina response and the response to the airliner plot are new to me.  I think its a given that having offices spread out over the DC area didn’t make things any easier, but is it a stretch to suggest that the response in New Orleans would have gone that much smoother if only there was a unified headquarters building?

April 23, 2014

New DHS Secretary tackles “Unity of Effort”

Filed under: DHS News,General Homeland Security — by Christian Beckner on April 23, 2014

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.

February 7, 2014

Quick thoughts on Sec. Johnson’s inaugural policy speech

Filed under: Congress and HLS,DHS News,General Homeland Security — by Christian Beckner on February 7, 2014

I just returned to my office from the well-attended policy speech that new DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson gave today in DC at the Wilson Center.  The full webcast of the event is now online here, so I won’t attempt to summarize the event in full, but wanted to make three quick points on issues that I found to be of interest in the speech:

1. The role of the DHS Secretary on homeland security and counterterrorism issues.  One of the key principles of the Homeland Security Act of 2002 was to establish the Secretary of DHS as the nation’s preeminent and accountable leader on homeland security and counterterrorism matters, in addition to being the chief executive of the constituent parts of DHS.  The reality as to the DHS Secretary’s assertion of that role has evolved episodically in the last decade, with officials in the White House or in other cabinet agencies sometimes asserting aspects of that authority.  I thought that Sec. Johnson’s remarks were very strong in implicitly reasserting the preeminent role for the DHS Secretary, particularly with respect to his discussion of issues such as the evolving terrorist threat, both overseas (with a notable emphasis on Syria) and within the U.S.

2. Relationship with Congress.  As a former Senate staffer, Sec. Johnson’s remarks on his prospective relationship with Congress left me optimistic about his ability to work with Congress in a constructive way, particularly with respect to the two overriding legislative priorities for DHS: immigration reform and cyber security legislation.  He mentioned doing unscheduled “drop by” visits earlier this week with a number of members of Congress – a level of direct and personal outreach that if sustained will help to overcome some of the barriers to getting things done on the legislative front.  He also acknowledged that Congress still needs to deal with its long-fragmented oversight structure on homeland security issues, and that at some point he will have to have a discussion with members of Congress about realignment with respect to homeland security.

3. DHS vacancies and employee morale.  Sec. Johnson discussed what he has been doing to address the issues of DHS vacancies, highlighting the existing nominees (NPPD, Inspector General, CBP, USCIS, and Science & Technology) who were still awaiting Senate action, and noting that he was prioritizing efforts to find nominees for the remaining vacancies, mentioning the Intelligence & Analysis, ICE and CFO positions.   He also briefly touched on the issue of employee morale, which he had indicated during his Senate confirmation process would be an immediate priority.  If there had been open Q&A during the event, I was prepared to ask him about his initial observations on the root causes of such morale issues and if he had any initial thoughts on how to address such challenges.  It is critical that this issue remains on the front burner; ultimately, the ability of any Secretary of DHS to accomplish his or her policy objectives is contingent on an effective and motivated career workforce that has trust in its first-level and senior leadership.

Overall, the event was a very insightful discussion with the new Secretary, with excellent questions from former Congresswoman Jane Harman, and one that leaves me optimistic about the leadership of the Department in the coming years.

November 13, 2013

Ten summary observations about Jeh Johnson’s nomination hearing

Filed under: Congress and HLS,DHS News — by Christopher Bellavita on November 13, 2013

Here are ten summary observations I took away from Wednesday’s Senate Homeland Security Committee hearing on Jeh Johnson’s nomination to lead DHS.

1. The hearing was low key. It’s as if even the Senate Committee is tired of homeland security and just wants someone to take it over so they can get on with other business. Senator McCain provided the only high energy moment. He insisted Johnson agree to achieving a “90% effective” metric for border security. McCain wanted a yes or no answer. Johnson said he needed to understand the issue better before he could commit to something like that.

2. Senator Levin said there are 2 million corporations created each year in this country. He said allowing states to approve who gets to form a corporation without checking who the “real” owners are behind those corporations is a problem. Levin is a primary sponsor of the Incorporation Transparency and Law Enforcement Assistance Act. The bill would require states to identify who is behind the corporations they charter. Senator Carper noted most states are opposed to Levin’s proposal. Johnson again said he wants to understand the issue before he takes a position on it.

3. Johnson was asked how to strike the balance between interrogating someone to get information that potentially might stop a terrorist attack, and interrogating someone with the idea in mind of eventually prosecuting that person. He responded “There’s authority for a pre-Miranda national security interrogation. We need to codify that.”

4. Senator Paul asked “Does the 4th Amendment apply to my Visa [credit card] purchases?” That started a brief, mostly one way, conversation about the 4th amendment and what due process means. Paul, commenting on the Obama Administration’s approach to targeted killings: “Due process is not a bunch of good people sitting in a room discussing whether to kill someone.” I think Paul had the day’s most telegenic one-liners.

5. Johnson was asked what steps he’d take to make sure DHS works effectively with state and locals. His response suggested this is a new area for him. “I’ve been struck by the emphasis people up here [in Congress] and at DHS place on [state, local, private sector relationships]… and the attention … they want me to pay to it, and it’s pretty apparent to me that it’s part of the mission… I think I get that.” He mostly talked about law enforcement; I did not hear anything about fire, emergency management, public health, emergency medical, hospitals and the other non-law enforcement participants in the homeland security enterprise. Sensitivity to state and local issues in homeland security is something former governors (like Ridge and Napolitano) grasp. It’s not clear people who spent most of their career seeing the world through federal eyes actually do “get that.”

6. Senator Coburn asked Johnson if he agrees with the Obama Administration’s proposal to consolidate all DHS grants, and base awards on risk rather than spreading the money out across the nation. Johnson’s response suggests he has not thought much about this topic: “It’s an issue that a number of people have raised with me, how we dispense grant money; it’s taxpayer money…. In general the professionals who I’ve consulted over the past couple of weeks seem to feel that we need to move in the direction of a risk based approach to homeland security, and that probably entails focusing our grant money in the same direction as well. So I’d be inclined to agree with you if what you’re saying is we need to make efficient use of our taxpayer dollars for purposes of homeland security.” I believe DHS has been “moving in the direction of a risk based approach” for more than a decade.

7. Coburn asked Johnson about “broken travel” (i.e., when someone flies somewhere and then takes a train or bus and then connects somewhere else to fly again [h/t D.]). Coburn reviewed a few of Johnson’s statements about the need to monitor how some people travel, and asked “Can you state for this committee what role you envision for DHS in tracking the travel of US persons, at home or abroad, that are not on a suspicious list or on a high risk list?” Johnson acknowledged there are significant privacy and civil liberty concerns with travel, but also emphasized that “broken travel” is real. We have a problem with suspicious individuals laundering their travel, he said. That’s a fact. It’s a blind spot (for the United States).

8. Senator Coburn said he hoped Johnson will consider staying on through the next administration, “so that we don’t lose all this tremendous experience and gray hair, and have to re-train another leader.” And then he offered Johnson a large, white binder with what Coburn called “alternative views of homeland security collected over the past 6 years.” I would love to know what’s in the binder.

9. Johnson came across (to me) as a very competent, professional, largely uncontroversial, leader/manager. He believes protecting the American public is a core mission of the United States government. He seemed to know a lot about some homeland security and defense issues, and less  — at least in public — about several other important areas in homeland security: such as the role of state and local participants, grant programs, border security and immigration. I did not get the sense he had a unique vision for DHS.  When asked about his vision for DHS Johnson spoke about focusing on terrorism, immigration, cyber security, and getting off the GAO “high risk” list. Not an especially inspiring vision, but maybe DHS needs competent management more than it needs inspiration.

10. Johnson — who, if confirmed, would be the 17th in the presidential line of succession — closed his testimony predicting that at the end of his DHS tenure, the senate committee will say “Johnson was somebody that worked well with us in a bipartisan fashion.”


Jeh Johnson nomination to be DHS Secretary: live blogging of Homeland Security Committee hearing

Filed under: Congress and HLS,DHS News — by Christopher Bellavita on November 13, 2013

The information below is one person’s observation of today’s Jeh Johnson nomination hearing.  The post starts at the bottom of the page. You can probably see the streaming video of the hearing at “http://www.hsgac.senate.gov/hearings/nomination-of-hon-jeh-c-johnson-to-be-secretary-us-department-of-homeland-security.”

Coburn ends the hearing by reminding whoever’s listening that agreeing to take on a job like DHS Secretary takes a huge toll on the nominee’s family.  He suggests Johnson maybe not be seeing his family again before Christmas.  It is meant as a joke – perhaps.

[2:29] Coburn says he hopes Johnson will consider staying on for the next administration, “so that we don’t lose all this tremendous experience and gray hair, and have to re-train another  leader.”

And then he offers Johnson a huge white binder with “alternative views of homeland security collected over the past 6 years.”

At 2:27 Johnson gets to make closing comments. He compliments the people who he’s dealt with preparing for the hearing.  He says he believes in the hearing process. He pledges to having an open and transparent relationship with the committee. He predicts that at the end of his tenure at DHS, the committee will say “Johnson was somebody that worked well with us in a bipartisan fashion.”

Carper comes back on at 2:23 with cyber security. Compliments NIST (http://www.nist.gov/) for working with the private sector. DHS needs to find quality employees for the cyber work DHS does.

Carper then moves to loan wolves (or “stray dogs,” as a colleague terms them).

At the 2:21 mark, the conversation moves to acquistions.  Coburn asks what Johnson will do to firm up the DHS acquisitions process.  Johnson says it starts with getting quality people involved in the acquisitions process.

At the 2:19 mark the issue of “broken travel” comes up (i.e., when someone flies somewhere and then takes a train or bus and then connects somewhere else to fly again [h/t to D. for the explanation]. Coburn: “Can you state for this committee what role you envision for DHS in tracking the travel of US persons, at home or abroad, that are not on a suspicious list or  on a high risk list?”

Johnson: There are privacy and civil liberty concerns with travel. We have a problem with suspicious individuals laundering their travel. That’s a fact.  It’s a blind spot (for the US). [Expect to hear more about this one.]

At the 2:15:30 mark, back to more traditional homeland security topics.  Coburn on homeland security spending: Do we spend the money on risk or do we spread the money out?  [Great question.]

Coburn says he feels we should spend the money where risk is the greatest.  Johnson says he “thinks” he agrees.

Coburn: We’ve spent 37 billion on grants, and less than 25% has gone to highest risk areas. (He blames congress’ parochial interests for some of this.) Coburn agrees with the Obama Administration’s plan to consolidate all DHS grants and then base awards on risk.  How does Johnson feel about that?

Johnson: “It’s an issue that a number of people have raised with me, how we dispense grant money; it’s taxpayer money….  In general the professionals who I’ve consulted  over the past couple of weeks seem to feel that we need to move in the direction of a risk based approach to homeland security, and that probably entails focusing our grant money in the same direction as well. So I’d be inclined to agree with you if what you’re saying is we need to make efficient use of our taxpayer dollars for purposes of homeland security.”

Coburn then brings up the lack of performance metrics. Grant reform is a big deal to Coburn. Money should be spent to reduce risk, and not to make a politician look good, he says – not allowing the windmill to obscure his vision.

Johnson says he’ll work with the committee to reform grant programs.

Around the 2:14 mark, Coburn gets another turn questioning Johnson.  He first congratulates John Pistole for TSA improvement.  Then comments on how negligent the Congress and the country has been confronting the problems of mental illness.

At 2:11, Carper reviews the LAX shooting and sends “a shout out” to TSA. He then asks what Johnson will do to mitigate the threat against TSA and other DHS employees. “We need to look at how to provide for their safety,” is Johnson’s response.

Carper reminds Johnson of the importance of keeping guns out of the hands of people who have mental illness. He also underscores to Johnson and whoever is still listening to the hearings at this point the importance of “See something. Say Something.”

At the 2:09 mark, Carper turns to the issue of “state and local stakeholders.”  A lot of DHS work involves state, local and non-profits (like Red Cross). What steps would Johnson take to make sure the DHS works effectively with state and locals?

Johnson: “I’ve been struck by the emphasis people up here [in Congress] and at DHS place on [state, local, private sector relationships]… and the attention … they want me to pay to it, and it’s pretty apparent to me that it’s part of the mission.” He then goes on to talk about his New York City experience, working with New York Police Department.  He concludes his answer to the question about what steps he’d take to make sure DHS works effectively with state and locals by saying, “I think I get that.”  That seems to be it for state and local; nothing about fire, emergency management, public health, and the other non-law enforcement participants in the homeland security enterprise.

At the 2:06 mark (I‘m now using the video timing, not my pacific time clock; an archive of the video stream is still available on the Senate site): Carper asks Johnson what Johnson thinks are the major management challenges for DHS, and his role fixing them. Johnson refers to GAO report on DHS high risk issues (http://www.gao.gov/highrisk/strengthening_homeland_security/why_did_study#t=1).  Management issues: vacancies, efficient procurement; unqualified audit financial statement; business intelligence (with 6 different account systems). Talks about leadership as sometimes requiring that you “push people,” as you might push a sluggish aircraft carrier. (Expect more DoD metaphors to enter the homeland security vocabulary,)

11:47 AM – Back to blogging. The hearing is over, so I’ll just summarize the remaining 30 minutes or so.

8:57 AM  – Need to attend to my day job for awhile.  Back later.

8:51 AM  – Sen Carper defines “high risk” list.  High risk = ways of wasting taxpayer money. Arnold B provides  details:  http://www.gao.gov/highrisk/overview

8:45 AM – Senator Paul “Does the 4th Amendment apply to my Visa purchases?” Can a single warrant apply to millions of things? Can you have due process with only one side represented? (FISA court.)  Should we decide the scope of the 4th Amendment in secret.  Johnson wants “robust discussion” as he’s had in past use of force decisions. Paul “due process is not a bunch of good people sitting in a room discussing whether to kill someone.” Should we target Americans overseas who are not engaged in combat? Paul argues for an examination of due process and paying attention to the 4th amendment.

8:37 AM – Senator Ayotte asking about AQ. Johnson describes 3rd phase of AQ terrorism – loan wolf.  Harder to detect; need more local focus by state/local first responders. Now asking about interrogation of AQ. How to balance the benefit of interrogation with domestic laws and protections. How can we have a policy that allows us to gather information and prosecute. Johnson – “There’s authority for a pre-Miranda national security interrogation. We need to codify that.”  And then the discussion moves to DHS employees abusing DHS overtime policy.

8:26 AM – Senator Begich’s (Alaska) turn – CBP denied a request from a tourist company to move; Begich says approving the request would actually make money for the government (and CBP), and “DHS would make a 20% profit.”  Discussing Coast Guard and the Arctic. Johnson in favor of [Coast Guard] being agile with resources we have. Domestic drone activity discussed. Johnson uses the “risk based strategy” mantra again. DHS has two offices related to drones. Question about disaster assistance to houses of worship. Starts a discussion about church-state relations

8:19 AM Senator Levin’s turn – 2 million corporations created in the US each year; states approve the corporation without asking who they are.  Senator Levin is about to expand DHS mission to monitor ownership of who own the 2 million corporations created by states annually. Advocates for support for a Levin-Grassly bill to do this. States opposed to the bill.  Johnson says he wants to understand the issue better.  GAO report on border report discussion – says terror threat is greater in the north than it is in the south. Coast guard needs helicopters….

8:11 AM McCain – Says Johnson will be confirmed.  Then starts asking questions about border apprehensions and what constitutes border security. Apprehensions are up? Apprehensions are down? who knows what any of that means. McCain gets his border information from CBP not DHS.  McCain wants 90% effectiveness at the border.  McCain wants a yes or no answer; Johnson uses his “inclined to…” response.  Johnson then says he wants to cooperate with McCain, but he wants to understand the issue better before he commits to what McCain asks. McCain says he won’t support Johnson unless he commits to the 90% target.

8:03 AM – Senator Tester’s turn at questions (and statements). Focus on DHS morale. Asks for ideas to cultivate future leadership at all levels of DHS? Johnson says you have to have passion for the mission.  How do you motivate people? Johnson: complement them for a job well done. Tester asks about CBP pay, border security technology. Johnson uses the buzz phrase “risk based strategies.”  Tester: on to the private sector and contractors.  DHS favors big contractors; Tester wants smaller organizations to have a shot.  Johnson says he’s in favor of competition. Questioning gets into the details of how to write contract specifications.

7:58 AM – Coburn asks what DHS programs might not be necessary. Johnson suggests some intel programs.  Coburn asks about DHS cyber security problems, including DHS internal cyber procedures. If DHS can’t take care of its own cyber issues why trust it with the cyber portfolio, he asks.

7:54 AM – Coburn starts his testimony by asking Johnson to give him information.  Johnson says “If confirmed I will look at the issue and be inclined to give you the information.” Coburn going through a list of things he wants to learn about DHS and asks Johnson to look into the issues, including intel, fusion centers, border security, immigration enforcement.  Johnson good at responding that he will “be inclined” to provide what’s asked. 7:58 AM

7:50 AM – Johnson talking about what he learned about leadership. Needs to be able to see the entire enterprise.  Tells a story about actually reading memos and asking people why others agreed to the memo’s suggestions.  He cites the 11 for, 1 against story about decision making.  Carper: “leadership is the courage to stay out of step when everyone else is wrong.”

7:47 AM  — Carper: what is your vision for DHS? and what are the challenges?  Fill management positions; focus on terrorism, immigration, move the ball forward on cyber security; get off the GAO high risk list (whatever that is); read Coburn’s writing on DHS.  “We need to be vigilant.”  Recongizes morale issues at DHS. Believes protecting the american public is the core mission of the US government.

7:44 AM – starts with three standard questions: any conflicts of interest? anything preventing you from doing your job? will you respond to “reasonable summons” from congress.  No to first 2, and yes to last one.

7:35 AM – Johnson starts his testimony by introducing his family. Describes his past experience related to homeland security and DoD.  Reads the DHS mission. Understands many senior positions in DHS are vacant. Will get DHS off the GAO “high risk” list. Says he won’t shrink from hard decisions – hints at previous drone decision and don’t ask/don’t tell decision.  Going through a list of his decisions.  Pledges transparency and candor with congress.  Use to be an intern for Sen. Moynihan. Cites a photo with his family car parked next to the Capitol.  Says those days may not return in our lifetime. Ends at 7:44 AM.

7:32 AM – McCaskill — has 5 issues, but they went by too quickly for me to catch them:   1)right sizing DHS, 2) cohesive department, 3) DHS as directorate, 4) procure bio terrror stuff, 5) DHS needs a clean audit.

7:31 AM – Carper asks Johnson to turn in another draft of his answers to the committee; too many of them were cut and pasted from other hearings, Carper claims.

7:29 AM – Coburn’s critique of DHS comes in a binder:  1) Establish proper balance between freedom and security. CBP owns drones, but hasn’t filed privacy statements. 2) Is DHS spending on Intel and counter terrorism helping to make us safer? who knows? 3) Can DHS secure borders and handle immigration? 90 billion spent in the last decade on border security, with minimal effect. 4) DHS needs to prove it can work with private sector, especially with cyber. 5) Needs to manage major acquisition programs effectively. 6) FEMA disaster declaration process needs fixing. Asks Johnson to “run a transparent shop” (whatever that means).

7:19 AM – Coburn’s turn.  He warns everyone his opening statement will be “lengthy.” Coburn to Johnson: It’s not “if” you’ll be confirmed; it’s “when.” But he’s still concerned by cut and paste responses from past hearings.

7:18 AM – Carper: “DHS lacks cohesion and a sense of team; morale is low at DHS; fiscal environment constrains what DHS can do.  Even on a good day DHS secretary is a very very hard job.”  DHS has 13 vacant leadership positions; it’s executive swiss cheese.  Basically, Carper in favor of Johnson. Suggests Johnson seek advice from former DHS secretaries, Comptroller, former DoD secretaries.

7:08 AM – Menendez: “Johnson oversaw 10,000 attorneys in DoD.” DoD has 10,000 lawyers?

7:06 AM – Booker: “All three previous DHS Secretaries support Johnson’s nomination; so does law enforcement.”

7:03 AM – Hearings start. The nominee will be introduced by Senator Robert Menendez and Senator Cory A. Booker

6:57 AM[pacific time] — Hearings are being streamed at http://www.hsgac.senate.gov/hearings/nomination-of-hon-jeh-c-johnson-to-be-secretary-us-department-of-homeland-security.  They start at 10 AM eastern; 7 am pacific

November 12, 2013

Wednesday: Confirmation hearing on the nomination of Jeh C. Johnson to be Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security

Filed under: Congress and HLS,DHS News — by Christopher Bellavita on November 12, 2013

On Wednesday 11/13 at 10am (EST), the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee will hold a confirmation hearing for Jeh Johnson to be Secretary of Homeland Security.

I am told by a colleague who is in a position to know, there’s a good chance the hearings will be carried by C-SPAN and (for maybe part of the hearings) by some cable news outlets.

I did not see the Johnson hearings on the C-SPAN schedule for Wednesday.  But that could change.

At 10 am on Wednesday, C-SPAN 1 is scheduled to show the House of Representative’s Morning Hour, “during which members speak on a variety of topics.”

C-SPAN 3 plans to broadcast the 10 am House-Senate Conference Committee Meeting on the Fiscal 2014 Budget. Fairly significant.

C-SPAN Radio scheduled its flexibly generic “Public Affairs Programming” in the 10 am slot.  So, who knows.

I thought Al Jazeera might be interested in broadcasting views about the (probably) next Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security.  They have something called “News” scheduled for 10 AM Wednesday, meaning “Live, breaking and in-depth news coverage reports on America and the world for an American audience. Human-centered reporting reveals how events affect Americans and the interconnectedness of people across the world.” Again, who knows.

My colleague said the hearing will be streamed from the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee website. As of Monday night, I did not see any information about streaming on the Committee site.  But Monday was, after all, a federal day off for a lot of people.  Maybe tomorrow.

If the hearings are broadcast or streamed, I‘ll do liveblogging of the event on this site.



October 17, 2013

Jeh Johnson nominated for DHS Secretary

Filed under: DHS News,General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on October 17, 2013

Several news outlets are reporting the President will nominate Jeh Johnson as Secretary of Homeland Security.  Mr. Johnson served as DOD Chief Counsel from 2009-2012.

Lots to talk about in tomorrow’ Friday Free Forum?

The following is taken verbatim from the website of the law firm with which Mr. Johnson has been affiliated since departing the Department of Defense:

Jeh Johnson’s career has been a mixture of successful private law practice and distinguished public service. In private practice, Mr. Johnson is a nationally recognized trial lawyer, having personally tried some of the highest stakes commercial cases of recent years. At age 47, he was elected a Fellow in the American College of Trial Lawyers. In public service, Mr. Johnson was appointed by President Obama to serve as the General Counsel of the Department of Defense (2009-2012), by President Clinton to serve as General Counsel of the Department of the Air Force (1998-2001), and he served as an Assistant United States Attorney in the Southern District of New York (1989-1991).


As General Counsel of the Defense Department in President Obama’s first term, Mr. Johnson was the senior lawyer for the largest government agency in the world, responsible for the legal work of more than 10,000 military and civilian lawyers. With the nation in armed conflict in Iraq, Afghanistan, and against al-Qaeda during his tenure, Mr. Johnson was responsible for the prior legal review and approval of every military operation approved by the President and Secretary of Defense.

Mr. Johnson is credited with spear-heading reforms to the military commissions system at Guantanamo Bay adopted by the Congress in 2009, and co-authoring the 250-page report that paved the way for the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” by the Congress in 2010. The report was hailed by the Washington Post editorial page as a remarkable document for its “honest, thorough and respectful handling of a delicate subject.” Mr. Johnson’s November 2012 address at the Oxford Union in England, “The Conflict Against al-Qaeda and Its Affiliates: How Will It End?,” received national and international press attention and wide editorial acclaim.

In private practice in 1984-1988, 1992-1998, 2001-2008 and now, Mr. Johnson has been a Paul Weiss litigator and civil and criminal trial lawyer. His career as a trial lawyer began when he was an Assistant U.S. Attorney. In three years as a federal prosecutor, Mr. Johnson tried 12 jury cases and argued 11 appeals before the Second Circuit. Building on that experience, Mr. Johnson has continued to try significant civil and criminal cases in private practice.


Homeland Security Watch has one prior post dealing with Mr. Johnson, from February 23, 2012.

July 26, 2013

DHS Deputy Secretary confirmation fight exacerbates vacancies problem

Filed under: Congress and HLS,DHS News,General Homeland Security — by Christian Beckner on July 26, 2013

In late June the President nominated Alejandro Mayorkas, current Director of USCIS, to be the next Deputy Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security.  This nomination was a critical first step in addressing the issue of DHS leadership vacancies that I wrote about here a couple of weeks ago, and which has attracted notable media attention since Secretary Napolitano announced her resignation two weeks ago.

Until a few days ago, I assumed that this nomination would move forward smoothly, given Mayorkas’ very good reputation and his performance leading USCIS for the last four years.   But as has been reported in the news this week, there’s been a bump in the road in his nomination process, related to a reported DHS Inspector General investigation into certain investments made via the Immigrant Investor Program (known as EB-5), and Mayorkas’ alleged involvement in key decisions related to this matter.

The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee held its confirmation hearing for Mayorkas yesterday (July 25th), likely having scheduled this hearing before this news broke with the intent to try to get him confirmed before the August recess.  Senator Coburn and the other Republican members of the Committee boycotted the hearing, arguing that these  issues raised by the IG needed to be resolved before the nomination should move forward.

I’ve reviewed the transcript of yesterday’s hearing, all relevant news clippings on this EB-5 matter, and the relevant documents released by Senator Grassley yesterday.  This is definitely the kind of issue that Senate Committees need to look at and sort out as part of a confirmation process.  There’s still a lot of confusing and contradictory information in the public record on this matter, so I don’t feel confident to comment on the substance of the allegations.  But from a process standpoint, I would note that these allegations are being brought forward publicly by the IG (who is under his own investigative cloud) in a way that seems very unfair to Mayorkas – who was perplexed and blindsided by these allegations at the hearing, and appears to have had no opportunity to respond to them in the year that the IG’s investigation has been open.   The IG’s actions in relation to the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee also appear to be very strange – the Committee apparently only learned about this matter from the IG earlier this week, and Senator Carper indicated at the hearing that he found no relevant information on this matter in Mayorkas’ FBI background report.

And unfortunately, the net result of this matter is that it now seems unlikely that Mayorkas will be confirmed before Secretary Napolitano departs DHS on September 7th.  (The Senate will be on recess from August 3 to September 9, so will have no opportunity to confirm him after next Friday, August 3rd).  That will create a significant and troubling leadership gap at the top of DHS, just in time for the 12th anniversary of the September 11th attacks, and right in the middle of hurricane season.  The Department is also likely to have a full legislative agenda this fall (cyber security, border security, appropriations etc.) and on the policy front is charged with working on the second Quadrennial Homeland Security Review (QHSR) and updating the National Infrastructure Protection Plan this fall.   These issues will all suffer if there is a prolonged senior leadership gap after Secretary Napolitano’s departure.

For these reasons, I hope that the Senate will find a way to resolve this issue and move forward soon on Mayorkas’s nomination.  And it is also imperative that the White House nominate someone as soon as possible to be the next Secretary of DHS, and also finally move forward on nominating and appointing individuals for other key vacant positions (CBP, I&A, ICE, IG, etc.) as soon as possible.

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