Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

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).

EXPERIENCE

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.

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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.

July 22, 2013

NPR picks up HLSWatch topic

Filed under: DHS News — by Philip J. Palin on July 22, 2013

Monday’s All Things Considered featured an interview with Christian Beckner on the same topic as Christian’s most recent HLSWatch post. You can hear the interview and related news reporting at: Lack of Leaders Puts Strain on Homeland Security Department.

July 11, 2013

DHS Vacancies Watch

Filed under: Congress and HLS,DHS News,General Homeland Security — by Christian Beckner on July 11, 2013

We are now more than halfway through 2013, and the number of vacancies of leadership positions at DHS continues to increase.  Until two weeks ago, the President had not yet nominated a single official to serve at DHS in a Senate-confirmed position, and had only made one senior-level appointment to a position that does not require Senate confirmation – the selection of Julia Pierson to serve as the new director of the Secret Service.

Having a certain level of senior-level vacancies in a Cabinet department is normal, given the typical churn of confirmed and appointed officials.  But if enough positions are open for a long enough period of time, it can lead to significant operational and management risks to that Department, and also diminishes its accountability to the U.S. Congress.

I am afraid that the Department of Homeland Security is now at the point where it is facing these risks.   As I note below, there are currently no less than 14 senior-level vacancies at DHS.  Given this, I think that it is critical that the White House prioritize nominations and appointment for the key positions listed below, and that when nominations are made, that the Senate act quickly on nominations for qualified candidates.

Below is a list of the Senate-confirmed positions that are currently unfilled (or will soon be unfilled) at DHS:

1. Deputy Secretary: Former Deputy Secretary Jane Holl Lute stepped down in May 2013.  Under Secretary for NPPD Rand Beers is currently serving as Acting Deputy Secretary.  On June 27th, the White House nominated current USCIS Director Alejandro Mayorkas to become the new Deputy Secretary, and his nomination is pending with the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.  His confirmation would open up a new vacancy at USCIS.

2. Under Secretary for Intelligence and Analysis: Former Under Secretary for I&A Caryn Wagner left DHS in December 2012.  Bill Tarry has been serving as Acting Under Secretary since that date, but his acting role will hit the 210 day limit under the Vacancies Act in the next ten days.  No nomination has been announced yet.

3. General Counsel:  Former GC Ivan Fong left DHS in September 2012.  Former Counselor to Secretary Napolitano John Sandweg was named as Acting General Counsel, but is now listed on the DHS website as Principal Deputy General Counsel, presumably because he had been in the acting position for longer than the 210 days allowed by the Vacancies Act.

4. Inspector General:  Former IG Richard Skinner left DHS in January 2011.  The President nominated Roslyn Mazer to serve in the position in July 2011, and her nomination was withdrawn in June 2012 following opposition by members of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.  It’s now been over a year since her nomination was withdrawn, and no new nominee has been put forward.  Charles Edwards served as Acting IG until hitting the Vacancies Act limit and is currently listed as the Deputy IG on the OIG’s website.  He is currently being accused of a range of abuses of his position in a letter sent last month by Sen. McCaskill and Sen. Ron Johnson.

5. Commissioner, Customs and Border Protection: Alan Bersin was nominated as CBP Commissioner in September 2009, and in March 2010 was put in the position via a recess appointment by the President.  The Senate Finance Committee held a nomination hearing for Bersin in May 2010, but his nomination was never reported out of the Finance Committee, and his recess appointment expired at the end of 2011.   Since that time, former Border Patrol chief David Aguilar and Deputy Commissioner Thomas Winkowski have served as Acting Commissioner, but no new nominee has been put forward.

6. Director, Immigration and Customs Enforcement:  ICE Director John Morton announced his intent to resign in June and is departing at the end of July.

In addition to these six Senate-confirmed position, there are also senior leadership vacancies in at least eight other senior positions that do not require Senate confirmation, including Chief Privacy Officer, Officer for Civil Rights & Civil Liberties, Assistant Secretary for the Office of Health Affairs, Director of the Domestic Nuclear Detection Office, Assistant Secretary for the Office of Cybersecurity and Communications, Chief Information Officer, Assistant Secretary for the Office of Legislative Affairs, and Executive Secretary.

February 13, 2012

First blush look at the DHS budget

Filed under: Budgets and Spending,DHS News — by Philip J. Palin on February 13, 2012

An online version of the full 200 plus page President’s budget proposal is available from the White House.  The Department of Homeland Security budget proposal starts on page 117.   The total DHS budget amount is nearly the same as last year.  There are, however, some important internal shifts.

Homeland Security Funding Highlights per White House and OMB (direct quote from budget proposal):

Provides $39.5 billion,a decrease of 0.5 percent or $191 million,below the 2012 enacted level.The Budget continues strong investments in core homeland security functions such as the prevention of terrorist attacks,border security,aviation security, disaster preparedness, and cybersecurity.

Savings are created through cuts in administrative costs and the elimination of duplicative programs.The Budget also supports disaster relief through a cap adjustment, consistent with the Budget Control Act.

Makes $853 million in cuts to administrative categories including travel, overtime,and fleet management,and eliminates duplicative and low-priority programs.

Maintains frontline homeland security operations, supporting 21,186 Customs and Border Protection officers and 21,370 Border Patrol agents to facilitate legitimate travel and the movement of goods while strengthening border security.

Supports the recovery of States and communities that have been devastated by disasters and emergencies with $6.1 billion for FEMA’s Disaster Relief Fund, which includes $5.5 billion in disaster relief cap adjustments pursuant to the designation established in the Budget Control Act.

Strengthens Government cybersecurity by providing $769 million to improve security of Federal civilian information technology networks while enhancing outreach to State and local governments and critical infrastructure sectors.

Promotes innovation and economic growth by providing $650 million to fund important research and development advances in cybersecurity, explosives detection, and chemical/biological response systems.

Eliminates duplicative, stand-alone FEMA grant programs, consolidating them into a new National Preparedness Grant Program to better develop, sustain,and leverage core capabilities across the country while supporting national preparedness and response.

Aligns resources with risk in immigration detention by focusing on criminal aliens, repeat immigration law violators, recent border entrants, immigration fugitives,and other priorities,and expanding resources for electronic monitoring and intensive supervision.

Initiates acquisition of a new polar ice breaker and continues recapitalization of Coast Guard assets, including $658 million to construct the sixth National Security Cutter.

End of quote

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Earlier today, practically simultaneous with the release of the President’s budget,  DHS distributed to many previous grant recipients guidance that will administratively advance the consolidation of FEMA grants referenced above.

January 28, 2011

Napolitano says we will have the resources. Are we ready for the responsibility?

Filed under: DHS News — by Philip J. Palin on January 28, 2011

Yesterday Secretary Napolitano gave a “State of Homeland Security” address at The George Washington University.  Her prepared remarks are available from the DHS website.

I expect most news stories have focused on the replacement of the color coded alert system.  Good riddance.  Glad it is being replaced.

More substantively there is quite a bit of language — and amplified attention — to the role of the “whole of the nation” or “whole community” in preparedness, protection, response, and recovery.  Some excerpts:

Despite our title, the Department of Homeland Security does not possess sole responsibility for securing the homeland within the Federal government…

But the homeland security enterprise extends far beyond DHS and the federal government. As I said, it requires not just a “whole of government,” but a “whole of nation” approach. In some respects, local law enforcement, community groups, citizens, and the private sector play as much of a role in homeland security as the federal government. That is why I like to say that “homeland security starts with hometown security…”

A study just last year study found that, between 1999 and 2009, more than 80 percent of foiled terrorist plots in the United States were thwarted because of observations from law enforcement or the general public…

And so, every day at DHS, we are doing everything we can to get more information, more tools, and more resources out of Washington, DC, and into the hands of the men and women on the front lines.

Which the Secretary strongly suggests is where each of us happen to be.

Sort of related… Wednesday afternoon during rush hour the Washington DC area was hit hard by quickly falling ice and snow.   It turned into a nightmare commute home for many.  (See Washington Post story)   Evidently tens-of-thousands were surprised.  This is despite the metro area’s horrendous traffic in the best weather, despite last year’s snowpocalypse, despite the breathless warning of weather people all day long, and despite the real surprise of significant snow on Wednesday morning.

Last night we heard snow-thunder across the National Capital Region.  In a more superstitious era someone might have suggested the storm god was slapping his forehead in frustration with how so many could miss all the warnings.

The Secretary is right to push information, tools, and resources out of Washington.  For this to make a difference the rest of us will have to accept our responsibility to pay attention, plan ahead, and practice good judgment.

January 1, 2010

Homeland Security: What’s In and Out for 2010

Filed under: Border Security,DHS News,Events,General Homeland Security,International HLS — by Jessica Herrera-Flanigan on January 1, 2010

Happy New Year or Happy 20-10 if you prefer.  I would say welcome to a new decade but having read that there is a debate going on on whether the decade ended yesterday or a year from yesterday, I’ll leave that one alone.

It has been a busy year on the homeland security front, starting with a new President and Secretary of Homeland Security and ending with lots of politics surrounding a Christmas Day thwarted terrorism attack.   For a  quick view of the top stories of 2009 and what to expect in 2010, here is an overview of what we can expect to be in and out on the homeland security front for 2010.

OUT

IN

Across the Spectrum, Praise for DHS Nominee Napolitano

Republican Criticism of Secretary Napolitano

Subpoenas for White House Gatecrashers Salahis To Appear on January 20th in Congress

Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab Prosecution in Federal Court

Privacy

Full-Body Scanners

System Failure (Again) of Intelligence Information Sharing

Connecting the Dots

Iraq

Afghanistan

Border Enforcement Only

Comprehensive Immigration Reform

Cybersecurity

Cybersecurity

H1N1

Next Pandemic?

Hold on Appointees at DHS

New TSA Administrator, Other Appointments

Homeland Security- Bipartisan Kinda?

The Blame Game

August 3, 2009

A Web 2.0 Dialogue on QHSR

Filed under: DHS News,Events,General Homeland Security — by Jessica Herrera-Flanigan on August 3, 2009

In furtherance of the Obama Administration’s tech-saavy, public-friendly approach to governance, DHS unveiled its “National Dialogue on the Quadrennial Homeland Security Review” today at http://www.homelandsecuritydialogue.org.   DHS is inviting the public to give its opinions between today and August 9 on proposals made by QHSR study groups in four different study areas and two process study areas, including:

Mission Studies:

  • Counter-terrorism and Domestic Security Management
  • Securing Our Borders
  • Smart and Tough Enforcement of Immigration Laws
  • Preparing for, Responding to, and Recovering from Disasters

Process Studies:

  • Homeland Security National Risk Assessment
  • Homeland Security Planning and Capabilities

This is the first of  three “dialogues” with the American public to be held during the summer and fall.  Dialogue 2 is scheduled for August 31-September 6 and will have more information and content from the QHSR study groups on the mission and process concepts.  Dialogue 3, scheduled from September 28 through October 4, will give the public and stakeholders one more opportunity to review and offer comments on the “refined mission goals, objectives, key strategic outcomes and enhancements” to the six priorities.

According to DHS officials, the dialogues are intended to transform how the agency engages the American public with regards to an all-hazards approach to homeland security and counter-terrorism. They are also intended to meet the consultation mandate included in 2007′s 9/11 bill (aka “The Implementing Recommendations of the 9/11 Commission Act of 2007″).  That bill required the Secretary to conduct the QHSR  in consultation with

  • the “heads of Federal Agencies” (including the Attorney General, the Director of National Intelligence, and the Secretaries of State, Defense, Health & Human Services, Treasury,  and Agriculture);
  • key officials of DHS; and
  • other relevant governmental and nongovernmental entities, including State, local, and tribal government officials, members of Congress, private sector representatives, academics, and other policy experts.

Overall, the Web 2.0 idea  is a fresh approach to communicating to and with the public (at least the connected public) on addressing homeland security issues. The website, hosted by the National Academy  of Public Administration, is easy to navigate and provides a mission statement on each item, as well as goals.   Reviewers who log in are giving the opportunity to rate whether they agree with the overall statements and provide comments. Additionally, participants can suggest their own ideas and alternative proposals for the six study areas.  To date, it appears that between 9 and 44 persons have logged in to provide ratings and comments.

The real test of the success of the dialogues will come over the next several days when we see how many citizens log in and upload thoughts and ideas for DHS.  Even a bigger test will be whether those who do offer opinions are “outside the Beltway,” offering local perspectives from New York, Atlanta, Houston, Peoria, and beyond.  Input from those communities would strengthen the QHSR and be in line with Secretary Napolitano’s comments last week at the Council of Foreign Relations that communities are our “greatest asset” and “you are the ones who know if something is not right in your communities.”

I would encourage anyone reading this to check out the site and offer your thoughts on the goals and priorities of the QHSR. Even better, once you finish doing that, share the site with a few (or few hundred) of your friends around the country so they can do the same.

July 23, 2009

If a dog barks on the internet …?

Filed under: DHS News,Events,General Homeland Security,Strategy — by Christopher Bellavita on July 23, 2009

If you are interested enough in homeland security to be reading this, the Department of Homeland Security and the National Academy of Public Administration want you to participate in something called the National Dialogue on the Quadrennial Homeland Security Review (QHSR). Information about the Dialogue can be found at this link.

The first “meeting” is scheduled for August 3 through 9.  It is intended to be a “conversation between you, other Homeland Security stakeholders, and DHS on an innovative web-based platform.” (One hopes the “you” might also include unaffiliated people with a point of view about homeland security.)

The first dialogue “will seek your opinion on general priorities of different Homeland Security mission areas. During this session, you will be able to evaluate the missions and goals proposed by DHS study groups, and rate, tag, and suggest your own alternative proposals.”

Two additional dialogues are scheduled for later in 2009.  The QHSR has to be turned in to Congress on Thursday, December 31, 2009.  Presumably by the close of business, before everyone leaves for the long weekend.

Yes, this whole National Dialogue could turn into another one of those anemic “we involved our stakeholders” justifications slogged out with the National Response Plan, Target Capabilities List, Universal Task List and their mechanical cousins.

But it might also be an opportunity for well-intentioned people to discover how broad collaboration, Web 2.0, social networks, mashups, and lord knows what else can contribute to a homeland security future worth creating.

You can sign up on the www.homelandsecuritydialogue.org website to receive emails for “news and announcements about the National Dialogue, and be notified when each Dialogue is live.”

I am persuasively informed that signing up does not put you on any of the special “lists” that may or may not be maintained by agencies that may or may not exist.

Besides, as we learned during the Web 1.0 days:internet_dog1

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