The Department of Homeland Security, Research Paper

Introduction

It is possible, and perhaps even likely, that when most Americans think of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) they presume that it was created wholly as a response to the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on September 11, 2001. This belief is, in fact, based on a number of misperceptions; not only have many of the functions of the DHS already been carried out by various federal agencies, but the proposal to create an overarching cabinet-level department to oversee matters related to domestic security was actually made public in early 2001[1].  It is fair to say, however, that the events of 9/11 lent a sense of urgency to the matter, and much of the legislative and policy-related underpinnings for the DHS were proffered in the months immediately following the attacks. The speed at which the DHS was created and brought online did, of course, lead to a range of problems, from logistical planning and coordination between sub-departments to ongoing issues related to inter and intra-departmental communication and organization. While the DHS has, by many measures, evolved at breakneck speed into a powerful and influential organization, it does continue to be plagued by many of the problems that were manifested by the sheer enormity of the tasks involved in creating it.  As the Department of Homeland Security continues to evolve into a strong organization, they must coordinate with other Governmental agencies and private/public sectors to properly meet their goal of ensuring our homeland is safe, secure, and protected against terrorism.

Background and Overview

The notion that the federal government should or could play a role in matters of domestic security has never been in doubt; the only questions have been in what ways and to what extent would federal authority to provide domestic security and protection be translated into practical, working forms.  The preamble to the United States Constitution asserts that the purpose of the federal government is, at least in part, to “establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity.” While no specific powers are enumerated in this preamble, the declarations therein do make it clear that the United States government was intended by those who founded it to play a significant role in terms of domestic security issues. It would have been impossible for the founders to have foreseen the nature and scope of issues that would, over the centuries, threaten that domestic security, but the contemporary challenges and threats the U.S. faces only serve to reinforce the need for the federal government to live up to the ideals and intentions set forth in the 18th century.

The federal government has, since the time of its inception, developed a significant number of departments, agencies, law enforcement bodies, and other organizations that have each been designed to oversee or guide various aspects of domestic security. The non-profit Homeland Security and Defense Council (HSDC), an organization that seeks to facilitate cooperation between the private and public sectors in matters of domestic security[2], has developed an interactive website which provides a chronological overview of some of the most notable federal agencies and organizations that have, in various ways, protected that domestic security. The first such agency was the U.S Customs Service, which was established in 1789; the Customs Service was responsible for collecting trade tariffs, preventing smuggling, and overseeing the movement of people and goods at ports and other points of entry into the country. The U.S. Customs Service would remain extant until 2003, when it was renamed the Bureau of Customs and Border Protection and became a component of the larger DHS.

Another notable government agency created not long after the U.S. Customs Service was the Secret Service Division. While many think of the contemporary Secret Service largely in terms of its role in protecting the U.S. President and other elected officials, the agency was originally created for a number of other purposes, and still carried out a variety of duties and functions. The Secret Service was originally established in 1865 for the purpose of dealing with counterfeit currency; by 1867 its responsibilities were broadened to include “detecting persons perpetrating frauds against the government”[3]. The new broader powers given to the Secret Service allowed it to begin investigations into the Ku Klux Klan, non-conforming distillers, smugglers, mail robbers, land frauds, and a number of other infractions against the federal laws”[4]. In contemporary terms, such activities might be defined as efforts to combat domestic terrorism.

Other notable milestone agencies along the path to the development of the DHS include the Immigration and Naturalization Service, which was established in 1933; the Federal Protective Service of 1971, established to protect federal property, buildings, and grounds; and the Federal Emergency Management System (FEMA) of 1979, which was created to coordinate federal responses to disasters that cannot be dealt with at local or state levels. Such disasters can include everything from weather-related events, such as the destruction caused by tornadoes and hurricanes, to terrorist attacks and disease epidemics. Like the Federal Protective Service and the Immigration and Naturalization Service, FEMA became an agency of the DHS in 2003.

By the 20th century the magnitude of issues and challenges faced by these various agencies had grown exponentially, and new challenges related to issues such as cyber-security and international terrorism only compounded the problem. In February 2001, the U.S. National Commission on National Security issued a report that recommended the creation of a new Department of Homeland Security that would “consolidate and refine the missions of the different departments and agencies that have a role in homeland security”[5] and hopefully provide a more effective and efficient system by which such agencies could communicate and coordinate with each other for the purposes of assuring domestic security. Within 18 months of the events of 9/11, the new Department of Homeland Security was officially up and running.

The Evolution and Development of the Department of Homeland SecurityOctober 2001- March 2003

Beginning in the late 1990s, the U.S. Commission on National Security (also known as the Hart-Rudman Commission) issued the first of three reports that were intended to review the current state of the U.S. domestic security apparatus, assess the potential threats facing the country in the near- and long-term, and make recommendations for future approaches to dealing with these threats and security issues[6]. It was the commission’s third report, made public February 1, 2001, which recommended that a number of significant government agencies be brought under the umbrella of one, overarching National Homeland Security Agency[7] (as it was named in the report).  The department would “coordinate and integrate various U.S. government activities, such as the Coast Guard, Customs Service, and Border Patrol”[8]. Several of the recommendations made by the commission would be reflected in the subsequent development of the DHS.

Although the administration of then-President George W. Bush took no immediate action in response to the Hart-Rudman report, the attacks of 9/11 spurred the President to action. Within weeks of the attack, Bush announced the creation of the Office of Homeland Security (OHS), and appointed former Pennsylvania Governor Tom Ridge to oversee it; Ridge took over the OHS October 8, 2001[9]. Several weeks later the USA PATRIOT Act (an acronym for “Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism”), commonly referred to as the Patriot Act[10], gave broad new latitude and discretion to law enforcement agencies in terms of gathering information and evidence for the purposes of investigating and allaying terrorist activities and planning. The following year, in November 2002, the Homeland Security Act established the new Department of Homeland Security. Just as the Hart-Rudman report had suggested, this new DHS was a cabinet-level department, to be overseen by the newly-formed position of Secretary of Homeland Security. Governor Ridge, who had been the head of the OHS, was the first to be appointed to this new position; he was officially appointed in January of 2003, and the new DHS was largely operational within several months.

One of the primary purposes of the DHS was to take on the daunting task of coordinating the efforts of a number of different agencies. There was, from the beginning, a significant amount of bickering and political gamesmanship regarding the decisions about which agencies would, and would not, become part of the DHS[11]. In a sense, the U.S. armed forces are charged with defending the U.S. internationally, while the DHS is responsible for the domestic security of the nation. With that in mind, there was some initial discussion and debate about bringing the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) into the newly-formed DHS[12]; in the end, both organizations remained autonomous, though each is ostensibly supposed to coordinate and communicate with the DHS. Among the agencies and organizations that did become sub-components of the DHS are the U.S Customs Service, the Immigration and Naturalization Service, FEMA, the U.S. Coast Guard, and the Secret Service. In addition to these existing agencies, the Transportation Safety Administration (TSA) was developed to function as part of the new DHS. The TSA is responsible for overseeing security of various aspects of transportation, such as air, rail, and highway travel. Although the TSA has a wide range of responsibilities, its primary mission has been to provide security for airports.

The overarching purpose of the DHS is to provide protection against domestic terrorist attacks, natural disasters, and other national threats and emergencies. The DHS coordinates its efforts with the private sector, as significant public concerns and issues fall under the auspices of private organizations; examples of such areas of concern are privately-owned or operated suppliers of electricity, water, and other municipal resources[13]. The scope of the DHS’ operations and responsibilities is massive, and the DHS has from the outset been fraught with controversy as it has attempted to bring the various agencies under one roof and establish itself as an effective organization.

Complicating Factors

The creation of the DHS brought no fewer than 22 federal agencies together; it is only natural that there would be some growing pains as these previously-autonomous agencies began the efforts to coordinate and communicate with each other. As the DHS began to operate, significant sums of money were spent trying to establish new lines of communication, stake out new departmental territories, and determine exactly how the DHS would translate its mission to protect the homeland into practical, useful action[14]. As the DHS reaches its tenth year of operation, critics contend that it has become bloated and wasteful, and has in many ways failed to live up to its mission or adequately address the concerns and issues it was intended to handle[15]. One of the primary complaints from DHS critics is that it attempted to do too much too quickly, and that billions of dollars were spent (and continue to be spent) in creating a “mammoth bureaucracy”[16] that was developed to oversee the management of the 22 different agencies that were never originally designed for or intended to be run by one organization. In short, assert critics, the DHS is a big, wasteful, ineffective organization.

To truly understand the scope of the DHS, as well as the problems it has faced over the last decade, it is helpful to consider some of the primary or most significant areas in which it is intended to operate, and to discuss the functions and operations of the individual agencies that became a part of the DHS. The DHS took over the Immigration and Naturalization Service, for example, and immediately split that agency into two new, separate organizations: the first is Immigration and Customs Enforcement; the second is Citizenship and Immigration Services. While there are surely a number of arguments that can be made for justifying the decision to sever one department into two and divide up the responsibilities of the previous organization between the two new agencies, it is also easy to understand how a decision of this nature would come with inherent problems in terms of potential bureaucratic bloat.

The TSA has, in some ways, become the public face of the DHS for many Americans who must now contend with strict new security measures during air travel. Countless news stories have been published about problems related to the TSA, from TSA agents screening passengers who seem to be unlikely terror suspects to agents abusing their positions to harass travelers[17]. As is the case with the INS-related issues, it is understandable why the TSA was developed, just as it is understandable why the new agency would experience some growing pains. The question remains, however, whether the DHS is in fact adequately carrying out the duties and meeting the responsibilities for which it was created. It is clear that the DHS has spent hundreds of billions of dollars over the last ten years; what is less clear is how much safer these expenditures have made the nation.

The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) has described the DHS as a “high risk”[18] proposition, noting that the attempt to merge 22 different government agencies is one that is inherently fraught with potential and realized problems. Although the GAO has asserted that the DHS “has made progress in improving and integrating its management areas (acquisitions, financial management, human capital, and information technology)”[19] it goes on to claim that it “continues to face considerable challenges that have impacted the department’s ability to satisfy its missions.”[20] The GAO report points to some successes the DHS has achieved in terms of coordination the efforts of various agencies and its implementation of new technology used for screening and other counter-terrorist activities. At the same time, however, the GAO lists a number of areas in which the DHS has failed to live up to its expectations; chief among the GAO concerns is the failure of the DHS to rein in or to even adequately monitor spending. As the GAO states, “DHS has been unable to obtain an audit opinion on its internal controls over financial reporting due to material weaknesses in internal controls, and much work remains to modernize components’ financial management systems.”[21] In short, the DHS is spending vast amounts of money while not doing enough to track or account for such spending.

Possible Solutions

At its core, the biggest problem faced by the DHS is that it has become a massive bureaucracy; as such, it is difficult to imagine how the size and scope of that bureaucracy can be effectively scaled back. The fundamental means by which the DHS may become more efficient and effective is through continuing to improve the manner in which its sub-agencies communicate with each other and coordinate their efforts. With this goal in mind, the DHS has created so-called “fusion centers;”[22] these are, in brief, liaison organizations wherein operatives and agents from different sub-agencies work together to ensure that plans are coordinated, efforts are not duplicated, and communication between agencies is streamlined and effective. If the DHS is to find its way out off the difficult financial and bureaucratic morass in which it is currently suspended, it will likely be through the increasing adoption and use of such fusion centers.

Recommendations

As the DHS passes the 10-year mark, it is recommended that the entire agency, from the top down, engage in a systematic and probing search of its own shortcomings, and develop a plan to address these shortcomings to make it a more efficient and effective organization. The current Secretary of Homeland Security, Janet Napolitano, recently announced her resignation[23]; she departs he position in September 2013.  With the future vacancy at the top DHS position imminent, it is time for the DHS to rethink its strategy. The fusion centers that were originally developed as an afterthought -when it became clear that communication between sub-agencies was ineffective- must be viewed not as an afterthought, but as the organizations top priority. The only way to reduce the bureaucratic bloat and economic waste at the DHS will be to ensure that agencies do not duplicate each other’s efforts, and that they work together to face the challenges of protecting domestic security.

Anticipated Outcome

As the GAO has pointed out, the successes of the DHS have in some ways been overshadowed by its difficulties. Despite the problems it has faced, though, the DHS serves an important and vital set of functions for the nation. As Napolitano recently stated, ““a decade after the creation of a Cabinet-level agency bearing that name, homeland security has come to mean much more: it means the coordinated work of hundreds of thousands of dedicated and skilled professionals, and more than ever, of the American public, of our businesses and families, communities and faith-based groups.”[24] When concerns are raised about the manner in which the DHS functions, it is important to remember just how massive its responsibilities are. With that in mind, the next Secretary of Homeland Security faces significant challenges as well as significant opportunities. Under the right leadership, the DHS will hopefully evolve into a leaner and more effective agency.

Bibliography

Homeland Security and Defense Business Council. “The 9/10/11 Project: Evolution of Homeland Security.” Last modified 2013. http://www.homelandcouncil.org/the91011projectevolutionofhls.html.

GlobeNewswire News Room. “The Evolution of Homeland Security.” Last modified September 9, 2011. http://www.globenewswire.com/news-release/2011/09/09/455945/231857/en/The-Evolution-of-Homeland-Security.html.

Ferran, Lee. “America’s Failing Grade on Cyber Attack Readiness.” ABC News. Last modified July 27, 2012. http://abcnews.go.com/Blotter/americas-terrible-failing-grade-cyber-attack-readiness/story?id=16870064.

Hesson, Ted. “Meet Alejandro Mayorkas, the Man Who Could Run Homeland Security.” ABC News. Last modified July 25, 2013. http://abcnews.go.com/ABC_Univision/Politics/meet-alejandro-mayorkas-man-run-homeland-security/story?id=19770760.

Kramer, Mattea, and Chris Hellman. “‘Homeland Security’: The Trillion-Dollar Concept That No One Can Define.” The Nation. Last modified February 23, 2013. http://www.thenation.com/article/173131/homeland-security-trillion-dollar-concept-no-one-can-define#.

Lanthrop, Charles, and MacKenzie Eaglen. The Commission on National Security: A Hart-Rudman Primer.” Home. Last modified April 6, 2001. http://www.ausa.org/SiteCollectionDocuments/ILW%20Web-ExclusivePubs/National%20Security%20Watch/NSW_01-26.pdf.

Painter, William. “Issues in Homeland Security Policy for the 113th Congress.” Federation of American Scientists. Last modified February 27, 2013. http://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/homesec/R42985.pdf.

Green Technology. “Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano’s Third Annual Address on the State of Homeland Security: “The Evolution And Future Of Homeland Security”.” Last modified February 26, 2013. http://green.tmcnet.com/news/2013/02/26/6952653.htm.

U.S. Government Accountability Office (U.S. GAO). “U.S. GAO – Key Issues: DHS Implementation and Transformation.” Accessed August 12, 2013. http://www.gao.gov/key_issues/dhs_implementation_and_transformation/issue_summary.

[1] Charles Lanthrop and MacKenzie Eaglen. “The Commission on National Security: A Hart-Rudman Primer.” Home. Last modified April 6, 2001.

[2] Homeland Security and Defense Business Council. “The 9/10/11 Project: Evolution of Homeland Security.” Last modified 2013.

[3]  Homeland Security and Defense Business Council, 2013

[4] Ibid.

[5] Charles Lanthrop and MacKenzie Eaglen. “The Commission on National Security: A Hart-Rudman Primer.” Home. Last modified April 6, 2001.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Charles Lanthrop and MacKenzie Eaglen. “The Commission on National Security: A Hart-Rudman Primer.” Home. Last modified April 6, 2001.

[8] GlobeNewswire News Room. “The Evolution of Homeland Security.” Last modified September 9, 2011

[9] Homeland Security and Defense Business Council, 2013

[10] Ibid.

[11] Mattea Kramer and Chris Hellman. “‘Homeland Security’: The Trillion-Dollar Concept That No One Can Define.” The Nation. Last modified February 23, 2013.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Lee Ferran. “America’s Failing Grade on Cyber Attack Readiness.” ABC News. Last modified July 27, 2012.

[14] William Painter. “Issues in Homeland Security Policy for the 113th Congress.” Federation of American Scientists. Last modified February 27, 2013.

[15] Mattea Kramer and Chris Hellman, 2013.

[16] Ibid.

[17] Mattea Kramer and Chris Hellman, 2013

[18] U.S. Government Accountability Office (U.S. GAO). “U.S. GAO – Key Issues: DHS Implementation and Transformation.” Accessed August 12, 2013.

[19] U.S. Government Accountability Office (U.S. GAO), 2013.

[20] Ibid.

[21] Ibid.

[22] Painter, 2013

[23] Ted Hesson. “Meet Alejandro Mayorkas, the Man Who Could Run Homeland Security.” ABC News. Last modified July 25, 2013.

[24] Green Technology. “Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano’s Third Annual Address on the State of Homeland Security: “The Evolution And Future Of Homeland Security”.” Last modified February 26, 2013.