Homeland Security: 20 years later, action still needed to make agency fully functioning

The Daily Retina

It has been 20 years since I left the original White House Office of Homeland Security, and I am proud to have been part of the team that laid the foundation for the creation of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), which first opened its doors on March 1, 2003. We are a much safer nation as a result of the new national security mission for the homeland that is imbedded in all of the agencies that were newly created or merged together.

The information sharing, thanks to the Patriot Act, that brought domestic and international counterterrorism programs back together was key. Also, the partnership that was forged between federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies made all of the difference. We now have 78 fusion centers across the nation, where all intelligence agencies work together, in both classified and open-source intelligence settings. This type of organized collaboration simply did not exist before Sept. 11, 2001.

However, as an instinctive manager, many of the concerns that I had in 2002 about the structure of DHS have proven to be persistent problems. 

First, there is the real estate problem. Along with the largest reorganization of the federal government since the joint system of command was founded by the Department of Defense (DOD) in 1947, DHS lacks anything close to a Pentagon.

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Our nation’s first Homeland Security Secretary, Tom Ridge, had the most modest office of any cabinet secretary in modern history, located at the Nebraska Avenue Navy Yard. Anyone who visited his office in those days knows it is true. Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, who was serving as Undersecretary for Transportation and Border Security at the time, was right next door. Secretary Ridge did his job the same as he would regardless, but, his management team was scattered all over the Washington metropolitan area, as it is today. 

While the new headquarters at St. Elizabeth’s is modestly better, the component agencies of DHS are still widely scattered. It was a mistake not to aggregate the core of the DHS management team together in the first place, and it remains a problem to this day.

The convergence of real estate would have aided the biggest intergovernmental cultural, and procurement challenges that the federal government has ever faced. When the joint system of command was created, the merger was military to military, a more structured environment generally combined with military discipline. The diversity of the (18) agencies brought together, or newly created, continues to create enormous challenges for the leadership of DHS.

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Equally vexing is the lack of centralized congressional jurisdiction for the agency. The Department of Homeland Security, the secretary and his team, report to 120 committees and subcommittees of Congress combined. Not only is this a time and space challenge, but it also severely dilutes the power of DHS on the Hill. Several secretaries and chairmen of House and Senate Homeland Security Committees have attempted to change this, but the congressional leadership and presidents (of both parties) have never made this congressional reorganization a priority. It costs the department in both agency mission focus and annual appropriations. The effectiveness of the agency, as well as the morale of the public servants who protect us, would improve dramatically if this were corrected.

Bringing together the management and budget authority of the agency would also help dramatically.

One of my other concerns in 2002 was that DHS was going to be under-resourced, and I believe that is the case today.

While components of the agency are well-funded due to short-term crises, such as FEMA response to disasters and ongoing immigration challenges, overall the funding for the agency is nowhere near equal to the mission. 

There is a reason the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) is approved every year. The NDAA is an established bipartisan national priority. Funding for Homeland Security in 2023 is way down the priority list for many of today’s leaders. 

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On the anniversary of the creation of DHS, I am grateful to President Bush, Secretary Ridge and the leadership of Congress on March 1, 2003, for their incredible vision and patriotism which lead to the creation of DHS. Our country is stronger, safer, and better as a result. 

But 20 years later, DHS has never been fully reauthorized. We need to do more in 2023 to help a department that in terms of bureaucracy is still in its infancy.   

Mark Holman, a partner at Ridge Policy Group, served as deputy assistant for homeland security to President George W. Bush after the 9/11 attacks.

Source: Just In News | The Hill