The Department of Homeland Security: Background and Challenges
Congressional Research Service
This presentation is divided into two parts. It begins with background on creation of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and addresses the issue of how and why this new department came to be. It then focuses on policy issues and challenges facing the new department.
WHY A DEPARTMENT OF HOMELAND SECURITY?
How did the idea of the establishment of a department of homeland security evolve into the biggest U.S. government reorganization in American history—and not only the biggest but also the most diverse merger of functions and responsibilities?
In the early 1990s, Americans increasingly became concerned about terrorism on our soil. This concern was fueled by the World Trade Center bombing in 1993, the Oklahoma City bombing, and the discovery of a bomb at the Atlanta Olympics in 1994. Moreover, it became increasingly evident to the American public that terrorism had a growing sophisticated and global reach, a perception fueled by overseas events such as the bombings in 1998 of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, and the subsequent bombing of the U.S.S. Cole in Yemen.
Hand in hand with this development came a recognition that the security environment after the cold war had shifted dramatically—that power was devolving from the nation-state to the individual and to transnational, or subnational, groups and organizations; that individuals and disaffected groups were seeking and might gain access to weapons of mass destruction; and that globalization,
free trade, and the expansion of democratic regimes provided a relatively unregulated environment for terrorist and criminal groups worldwide.
The result was a series of U.S. commissions in the late 1990s that looked at differing aspects of U.S. national security, including the threat of weapons of mass destruction and terrorism—the Hart-Rudman Commission, the Gilmore Commission, and the National Commission on Terrorism. At the same time, individual members of Congress had expressed concern that the United States did not have a cohesive, threat-driven, counterterrorism strategy. Some in Congress also expressed concern over the difficulty of ascertaining how much money was allocated to combat terrorism and where it was going.
Many proposals for reform were announced, most recommending more centralized policy direction. Some favored keeping and strengthening existing institutions. Others proposed establishing a coordinating office within the office of the vice-president, and yet others sought to merge a few federal agencies into a larger one. Reform was debated, but before the attacks of September 11, 2001, counterterrorism was simply not the top priority of the U.S. law enforcement and intelligence communities.
After September 11, 2001, priorities changed rapidly and dramatically. There was strong pressure for Congress and the administration to act decisively, and there was strong pressure from the intelligence community to focus any dramatic organizational mergers and reassignment of responsibilities away from them. Shortly thereafter (October 2001), President Bush, arguably in an attempt to preempt action from Congress, created an Office of Homeland Security designed to coordinate domestic terrorism efforts. Some members of Congress and some experts in the field, however, recommended a new federal agency or full department to integrate and heighten antiterrorism efforts. In 2002 the Bush administration sponsored its own proposal along these lines, and on November 19, 2002, Congress passed the Homeland Security Act of 2002 (P.L. 107-296). The president named Tom Ridge, former director of the Office of Homeland Security, to be secretary of the new Department of Homeland Security created by the act. The Senate confirmed Ridge’s nomination.
The creation of the new department constitutes the most substantial reorganization of the federal government agencies since the National Security Act of 1947, which placed the different military departments under a secretary of defense and created the National Security Council (NSC) and Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).
When we look at the emerging Department of Homeland Security, we see that it incorporates 22 government agencies and some 179,000 people into a single organization. We also see an organization with
a proposed budget for FY 2004 of $36.2 billion—roughly one-tenth the size of the nation’s military defense budget ($380 billion). Note that overall these amounts constitute roughly a 7 percent jump in domestic defense spending.
customs and border protection responsibilities
emergency preparedness and response functions
an intelligence analysis and infrastructure protection mission
a science and technology mission
coordination functions involving the federal government, state and local governments, foreign governments, and the private sector
narcotics control functions that at the same time house the Secret Service, Coast Guard, and Immigration and Naturalization Services (INS)
A DHS reorganization plan of November 25, 2002, sets out a blueprint for the new organization. Included are five directorates: (1) Border and Transportation Security, (2) Emergency Preparedness and Response, (3) Science and Technology, (4) Information Analysis and Infrastructure Protection, and (5) Management.
POLICY ISSUES AND CHALLENGES
What are some of the immediate and long-term policy issues and challenges facing the new department? At least seven are worthy of note:
building an effective organization, that is, start-up
assigning/dividing jurisdictional responsibilities
processing and sharing of intelligence
integrating science and technology
interacting with Congress
defining relationships with the military
adding value over preexisting structures and relationships
Woven throughout these challenges is an ongoing theme of increasing coordination from merging related organizations into a single focal point and by creating new and innovative interagency coordinating mechanisms.
Building an Effective Organization
The immediate challenge facing the new department is clearly start-up: How quickly can DHS be up and running? The department formally began operating on January 24, 2003, and by March 1 had absorbed representatives from most of its component parts. The formal process of transferring agencies is expected to be completed by September 30, 2003, but analysts suggest full integration of agencies will take at least several years.
Notwithstanding, as a practical matter, the new department today is preoccupied with day-to-day start-up issues: finding a physical location, improving communications capabilities, and personnel management tasks. Finding a loca-
tion for the agency is key. DHS headquarters is currently at a temporary location with the majority of additional personnel scattered elsewhere. Practical staff questions about, for example, new office location and supervisor, remain for the most part unanswered.
Questions abound about how the new organizational components will communicate with each other. Linking phone systems and databases (most of the 22 agencies have their own internal computer systems and communications systems, as well as different e-mail systems) remains a pressing challenge of the first magnitude.
Human resources issues abound as well, for example, hiring, firing, retirement, processing of the payroll, and assignment to new tasks. Enormous pressure exists to fill positions. Yet, as of early March 2003, most of the senior and critical jobs in DHS were still unfilled. Only 3 of the department’s top 23 managers had been confirmed by the Senate, and nominees for most of those jobs had not been decided.
What are some of the challenges and practical problems facing DHS as it seeks to integrate agencies such as the Coast Guard, the INS, and the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) into one organization, while at the same time not incorporating others, such as the FBI and CIA? Compounding this concern is the relative autonomy of some of the transferred federal agencies, such as the Coast Guard and Secret Service. What new controls and guidance will they face? In a broader context, the new department has been likened to an interior ministry but without a national police component.
A major challenge facing the department is how to effectively join border security functions and interior functions into an organization that has centralized leadership and decentralized operations. Moreover, DHS must coordinate a network of disaster response capabilities, while at the same time seeking to become a central focal point for analysis and dissemination of intelligence. At the same time, the organization is charged with joining research and development efforts to detect and counter potential terror attacks with the goal of shoring up vulnerabilities of the nation’s critical infrastructures to include its ports, utilities, and food and water supply—no small task!
Assigning and Dividing Jurisdictional Responsibilities
A second issue relates to the functions that differing DHS components will perform. Clearly, in this new organizational arrangement, some agencies, such as the Coast Guard and Secret Service, will probably not change dramatically in the way they are managed and operate. However, the way that functions of other agencies will be orchestrated in this new setup is far from finalized. Yet to be seen are the additional functions or components that will emerge from the department. One new function is likely to be creation of a full-time, permanent red team that will simulate terrorist threats and test the security of installations, such
as nuclear plants and government buildings. Another new function assigned to the department is oversight of visa processing. How will this be worked out with the State Department? Moreover, what, if any, will the operational role of DHS be in its many areas of responsibility?
Processing and Sharing of Intelligence
A third and crucial issue is how intelligence will be moved through the system and shared. It is not clear the degree to which the department will have its own intelligence analysis group. Absent a strong in-house intelligence analysis component, it may be that DHS will have to rely more heavily on predigested information from many other agencies. As it starts up, the new department’s intelligence role will be limited, primarily linking analysis from a newly created interagency Terrorist Threat Integration Center (TTIC; see below) to efforts to strengthen the defenses of critical infrastructures.
On January 28, 2003, President Bush announced creation of the Terrorist Threat Integration Center. The new center will be responsible for fusing and analyzing domestic and foreign intelligence related to terrorist threats. It is chaired by the Director of Central Intelligence (DCI) and will be staffed by members of the intelligence community, the law enforcement community, and DHS. Reportedly, the center will have access to all intelligence information available to the U.S. government, both raw and processed.
Creation of the TTIC, however, is considered controversial by some in Congress who are concerned it undermines the language and intent of the Homeland Security Act, that is, that the TTIC’s functions be performed within the Information Analysis and Infrastructure Directorate of DHS. Other analysts express concern that the TTIC structure will increasingly involve the DCI in domestic intelligence issues, a prickly arena potentially prone to collision with civil liberties safeguards.
One of the functions of the TTIC will reportedly be to maintain an up-to-date database of known and suspected terrorists that will be available to federal and nonfederal officials, as needed. This function is a terrorism counterpart to EPIC, the El Paso Intelligence Center. Currently, in the drug area, a policeman on the beat can, in real time, contact EPIC and get information on a suspect from a national drug trafficking database.
There are other complex issues as well. What role will DHS play in the flow of information from the national level to the first responder and vise versa? What role will the new department have in facilitating the flow of information to the public, to the private sector, to international organizations, and to foreign governments? Some argue that homeland security is in its essence global security. Thus, homeland security must be based on the underlying principle that security for one will never be achieved without security for all. Yet to be defined is how DHS will interact with the international community.
Integrating Science and Technology
An important issue is what role will DHS play in the area of promoting and integrating science and technology into the homeland security policy equation. The pragmatic answer here is “more,” especially in the area of threat and vulnerability assessment. The National Academies’ report Making the Nation Safer: The Role of Science and Technology in Combating Terrorism has outlined a policy framework.
A current policy debate within DHS centers on whether the new information analysis directorate should focus on vulnerabilities or threats. Whatever the outcome, analysts predict that increasingly systems analysis and risk management will be brought to bear on this debate. The Office of Management and Budget (OMB), the General Accounting Office (GAO), and the NAE have emphasized the importance of the risk management sciences to the nation’s homeland security effort. Moreover, the intelligence community is increasingly employing such methodologies. At some point, we are likely to see widespread use—and perhaps even daily use—of a broad range of terrorist threat-based risk assessment matrixes by government officials charged with homeland security decision making.
In September 2002 the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology issued a report on maximizing the contribution of science and technology to homeland security. Stressed was a need for flexibility for research and development programs in terms of organization, personnel, and budget. Moreover, the report proposed a DHS organizational structure for research and development to be headed by an undersecretary for science and technology, an idea subsequently adopted. The report also recommended the use of risk management, based on risk assessment, in the budgeting process and in research and development programs to determine infrastructure interaction models. The new DHS Science and Technology Directorate will coordinate research and development programs, including preparation for and responding to threats from weapons of mass destruction. A major responsibility of the new DHS Science and Technology Directorate is to join research and development efforts to detect and counter potential terrorist attacks. The DHS requests for funding for research and development totaled $761 million for fiscal year 2003 and $1 billion for fiscal year 2004.
Relationship with Congress
An important question is how will Congress relate to this new entity as the legislature performs its traditional functions of overseeing, legislating, and appropriating money. Much of this depends on how Congress chooses to organize, either with a new structure or by restructuring its committees. Both the new department and the threats it addresses defy traditional jurisdictional power structures. Today in Congress, 88 committees and subcommittees have oversight responsibilities for agencies that have been folded into DHS.
Because of this, both houses of Congress have recognized a need for integrating these jurisdictional complexities. In the House of Representatives, the leadership has created a new House Select Committee on Homeland Security. The committee is chaired by Representative Christopher Cox of California, who sees one of the major challenges of the committee as integrating the efforts of FBI, CIA, Pentagon, and intelligence communities into a homeland security framework.
The House committee has five subcommittees, which mirror the five directorates at DHS. The five subcommittees are
Infrastructure and Border Security
Emergency Preparedness and Response
Cybersecurity, Science, and Research and Development
Intelligence and Counterterrorism
In addition, new Subcommittees on Homeland Security under both House and Senate Appropriations Committees have been created.
When discussing government failures preceding September 11, 2001, the focus tends to be on failures of the executive branch, but questions have also been raised about the effectiveness of legislative activities. The Subcommittee on Rules is studying whether Congress should structure itself to more effectively perform its responsibilities in light of the new policy and organizational focus afforded the issue of homeland security.
Defining, or Redefining, Relationships with the Military
An issue of emerging importance is the role of the military in homeland security—of the Department of Defense (DOD), the National Guard, and in some instances the state militias.
On October 1, 2002, DOD activated a new regional combatant command, Northern Command (NORCOM), which plays the lead role in homeland defense for missile or air attack defense. Yet unclear is where DOD will fit into a support role for other homeland security missions, such as intelligence analysis; intelligence gathering and law enforcement; research and development, particularly in the chemical/biological area; and use of reserves and the National Guard in functions ranging from protecting airports and borders to assisting in the wake of national disasters.
We must be mindful that if we look at missions from the DOD perspective, much interest centers on keeping overseas military operations as the department’s primary focus. Providing personnel and resources to the support of a homeland security mission, though important, is not DOD’s top priority.
Finally, we must ask ourselves what added value, if any, will DHS provide over preexisting structures and relationships. Arguably, it will better integrate state and local government activities with national antiterrorism and homeland defense efforts, and it will provide better coordination of law enforcement functions among component federal agencies and thereby enhance the efficiency of such operations.
There is an expectation that DHS will provide a more effective use of science and technology in combating terrorism and supporting homeland defense. Certainly, we can expect an enhanced role for science and technology because of DHS activity. To the degree that DHS lends support to science and technology projects on a large scale, a challenge will be not to overlook smaller, creative, and perhaps more independent projects that may look at things differently. In this regard, independent input from organizations such the National Academies may contribute much to preserving a spirit of open and promising scientific inquiry.
Last, it is hoped that DHS will provide a better model for government structures in an increasingly borderless, jurisdictionless, interconnected, interdisciplinary world. However, civil libertarians are quick to remind us that a potential downside of centralization of power in institutions is the possibility of a climate less conducive to open inquiry and dissent.
Who would have thought even 10 years ago that the United States would so dramatically reorganize the federal government? In one sense, what the DHS model attempts to do is deal a serious blow to the nineteenth century musket assembly-line model of government, where every agency had a separate piece of the action, and where at the end of the day, the pieces fitted together fairly well. Although in most instances such compartmentalized models served us relatively well for certain functions, they may be losing relevance in the world of today and the world of the future. If successful, DHS will enhance homeland security. Perhaps even more important, a smoothly functioning DHS could well provide the United States with a government that will function more efficiently and serve as a model for other organizational fusions in our nation and abroad.
It is possible to take a solid or sound path to the wrong destination. It is also possible to take a good path to the right destination at the wrong time. Clearly, there are downsides to massively reorganizing the federal government especially at a time when the nation perceives itself at war. There is strength in the argument that at such critical times, individual and organizational efforts should be focused on combating the threat of terrorism and not diverted by a need to find office space, define turf, or get working telephones.
On the other hand, if not now, when? Is it realistic to expect threats to the homeland of any nation to diminish in the immediate future? Without the events of September 11, 2001, it is unlikely that any reorganization of substance would have had the impetus to go further than the planning stage. A fully operational DHS is expected to have the resources readily available for controlling borders, fighting terrorism, and combating illegal activity generally and the power to prioritize such resources and use them more efficiently.
What will the impact of DHS actions be on earlier priorities and policies? Will anticounterfeiting efforts suffer because the Secret Service is no longer in the Treasury Department? Will marine safety activities of the Coast Guard lose their importance in a homeland security organization? Will antidrug efforts be helped, or harmed, by infusion of new resources along the U.S. border, resources directed by DHS, not by the Department of Justice?
The issue is part of a broader question: Is the nation overreacting by overprioritizing terrorism? We must ask ourselves, to what degree does America’s expenditure of unending energy and countless billions of dollars constitute a follow-on victory for al Qaeda by weakening our economy and relatively open, unregulated lifestyle? As a society, are we diverting money and attention in an area, or in areas, that are not productive?
What can science, technology, and engineering offer here? How can the scientific and engineering community support government and industry decision making in a world of increasing terrorist risk? The National Academies and other scientific organizations continue to face these questions head on.