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DHS Change Creates Challenges

Secretary Michael Chertoff’s proposal for restructuring the Department of Homeland Security with a greater emphasis on strategic planning has been generally well received, but even if it gets the congressional approval and funding needed, it will be many months before anyone knows whether it can achieve its goal of making DHS more integrated and effective.

The recommendations stem from an internal evaluation of the department prompted in part by the change in leadership at DHS and in part by a report called DHS 2.0 Rethinking the Department of Homeland Security, issued by the Heritage Foundation and CSIS.

The plan, details of which will be released in the months ahead, addresses preparedness, transportation and border security, information sharing, and a major realignment of departments. In the realignment, the assistant secretary for information analysis will be designated as the chief intelligence officer for DHS and will head a strengthened Intelligence and Analysis division, reporting to Chertoff.

Also key among the changes is the creation of a departmentwide policy office led by an under secretary for policy. This recommendation is essential to the future success of DHS because it allows the department to work toward departmental—not agency—goals, says James Jay Carafano, senior research fellow at the Heritage Foundation and co-author of the Heritage/CSIS report.

In addition to the undersecretary for policy, Chertoff recommended the creation of a director of operations coordination, which former Under Secretary for DHS Asa Hutchinson says “should reduce redundancies and overlapping jurisdictions.”

“What we had before was a series of stovepipes with overlapping jurisdictions, and we had no real way of coordinating that effort short of the Secretary,” says Suzanne Spaulding, managing director of the Harbour Group, LLC.

Establishing under secretaries with cross-department goals will help improve communication and ultimately increase effectiveness, she says.

Although encouraged by the new bent toward integration, Carafano says the department “still doesn’t have a long-term development plan,” which includes joint training opportunities for DHS employees that would allow them to build an understanding of each other’s agencies.

Proactive integration efforts are needed to break through the old cultural divides, say experts.

“A lot of these agencies have been around for a long time and have been used to functioning quasi-independently. So, the attempts to coordinate them will probably be met with some bureaucratic resistance,” says John Farmer, former senior counsel on the 9-11 Commission.

Another important aspect of the recommendations is an analytical matrix to help identify department protection priorities, distributing money on a risk-based approach.

That focus is applauded. “We have to spend money on the greatest risk and those that might cause the greatest damages,” says Hutchinson.

 Risk-based funding should be only part of the approach, however, says Spaulding. DHS also needs to define what constitutes preparedness or it will not know when an industry is fully prepared.  

Michael O’Hanlon, senior fellow at the Brooking’s Institute, supports a risk-based approach but says the recommendations should also have addressed the need to give private companies incentives to increase security spending.

For example, DHS might consider an insurance incentive program that would give private sector organizations breaks on premiums when they make security investments, says O’Hanlon. “Just like with auto insurance and home insurance, you would give people lower rates if they do smarter things,” he says.

In his statement before Congress, Chertoff noted that the work of the department was not finished. That ongoing reassessment is imperative, as security professionals know. “If you ever get to the point where you’re comfortable, then that’s a danger point because there’s no such thing as a perfect system that someone cannot work around,” says Hutchinson. “The challenge is to stay one step ahead of the terrorist.”

By Eric Grasser, assistant editor