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Transitioning to a new administration

Transitioning to a new administration

   Leave the Department of Homeland Security alone.

   That's the main conclusion of a task force report from the Heritage Foundation and Center for Strategic and International Studies as the six-year-old department undergoes its first transition to a new administration and prepares for a successor to Secretary Michael Chertoff.

   The changeover from the Bush to an Obama administration, combined with solidified Democratic control in Congress, provides a tempting opportunity to revisit the department's roles and missions. But the task force of ex-government officials, academicians and analysts recommends that Congress and the new administration allow the department to organically mature after undergoing a series of organizational changes and mandates since its inception in 2003. Further shuffling of offices and programs would inhibit the department's ability to build out a decentralized, national homeland security enterprise covering state and local governments, the private sector, non-governmental organizations, communities and individuals, it said.


   'The constant turmoil imposed on the DHS has adversely affected operations, distracted the leadership, and slowed the process of establishing effective processes and procedures,' the experts said. 'The first priority of the next Congress and administration should be to end such unwarranted tinkering. At the very least, Congress should impose a moratorium on restructuring or rethinking … until after the DHS delivers its first quadrennial security review and Congress has had sufficient time to consider it.'

   Instead, the department should concentrate on five key tasks to improve its functionality during the next four years, according to the report, Homeland Security 3.0. They are:

  • Empower a national culture of preparedness by focusing on building more self-reliant communities and individuals.
  • Shifting to a strategy focused on building and sustaining a resilient national infrastructure.
  • Expanding international cooperation throughout homeland security programs.
  • Developing a framework for domestic intelligence.
  • Establishing national education programs and standards on security and public safety to improve professional development at all levels of governance.

       More broadly, the administration should treat domestic and international security concerns in a more holistic manner through a reorganized National Security Council that relies on a strong interagency approach. Congress should reform itself, the experts said, by consolidating the 85 committees and subcommittees with jurisdiction over DHS into single House and Senate committees, and establishing a bipartisan caucus that meets regularly to consider issues that affect national homeland security.

       The unwieldy oversight structure saps a lot of time from DHS officials, who participated in 206 hearings, attended 2,242 briefings, wrote 460 legislatively mandated reports and answered 2,630 questions from members of Congress in 2007, according to a report from George Mason University.

       DHS critics say the department has been slow to plug remaining vulnerabilities and meet congressional mandates, but it is 'maybe further along in its evolution as a functioning federal department' than the departments of Energy or Defense in their formative years, said co-author James Carafano, senior research fellow at the conservative Heritage Foundation.

       Next Phase.    The task force said local responders are most effective during disasters because they are first on the scene and know the area. The department's primary role should be to create a homeland security template to guide organizations and individuals in planning, training and investment so they can take care of themselves, because government cannot protect against all contingencies. The report characterizes DHS as a systems integrator responsible for ensuring interagency, intra-governmental and private sector collaboration.

       Non-federal capabilities were on display following Hurricane Katrina when private companies proved better at marshalling transport and logistics resources to deliver supplies to the impact area. Logistics personnel need to be involved in the preparedness and response planning at all levels of government, Carafano said.

       He amplified on the report's findings during a mid-October presentation hosted by the George Mason University School of Law's Critical Infrastructure Protection Program in Arlington, Va.

       The vast nature of the threat from terrorists and natural disasters, combined with the limitations of government, mean that the best defense is to minimize impact by designing infrastructure networks that are resilient so that shutdown of a single node doesn't cripple society, the task force and experts such as Stephen Flynn contend. Resiliency – the ability for systems to degrade gracefully and restore quickly – can be achieved through greater redundancy, robustness, quick recovery, surge capacity and/or decentralization.

       The report said that DHS needs to do a better job of defining the concept of 'critical infrastructure' that supports core societal and economic functions.

       'This idea of critical infrastructure and protection is just stupid,' Carafano said. 'We live in a country of infinite vulnerabilities and if you want to spend $100 billion to take one type of vulnerability off the table, well let me do the math. Infinity minus one. We cannot buy our way into protecting this country. We can't childproof it, we can't wall it off.

       'We need to think more about, how do we keep the systems going rather than how do we protect individual things. People define critical infrastructure so broadly that critical is what I'm interested in, whether it's a congressman, a lobbyist or a stakeholder. So critical now is my popcorn factory in Indiana.'


    James Carafano
    senior research
    Hertage Foundation
    'We live in a country of infinite vulnerabilities and if you want to spend $100 billion to take one type of vulnerability off the table, well let me do the math. Infinity minus one.'

       Speaking afterwards to reporters, Carafano said there are only about 300 facilities, such as nuclear power plants, that can justifiably be labeled as critical. The process of prioritizing the most vital national components has become so politicized that DHS has difficulty making accurate risk assessments. Ports, he said, are simply links in the supply chain but have rocketed to the top of the critical asset list and received grant money because they are owned by states and localities with strong political connections.

       The government should use the Patriot Act definition of critical infrastructure as systems and assets that are so vital they would have a debilitating impact on national public health, safety or economic and national security, said Christine Pommerening, research assistant professor at GMU. That would rule out categories such as commercial facilities that are now included on the DHS list.

       'The priorities should shift to minimize the consequences and not minimize the threat,' she said. The regional impact from an incident that knocked out a bridge in the Washington metropolitan area, for example, would result in about 500 lost jobs for an undetermined period, but the annualized economic cost for such a disruption is minimal in comparison to the overall economy, she added.

       The private sector, as the custodian of 85 percent of the nation's infrastructure, should be given clear and reasonable standards for taking precautionary measures to protect assets, mitigate outages and recover from a disaster and, in turn, receive intelligence about threats to their assets as part of a true public-private partnership, according to the report.

       The economic stimulus plan being considered in Congress is largely targeted at shoring up decaying transportation, water, school and other infrastructure systems. The task force recommends that new construction projects incorporate appropriate homeland security and safety measures into their design.

       A key part of internationalizing homeland security, Carafano said, is to build the capacity of less developed nations to efficiently regulate imports and exports, combat terrorism, control borders and ensure safety so that trade and economic development can flourish. Countries that are considered high-risk trading partners will have greater difficulty selling their goods in the United States and Europe.

       Carafano called for a systematic U.S. security assistance program akin to foreign military sales and foreign military assistance programs to help overseas customs and immigration administrations train and educate agents and acquire new technologies. U.S. Customs, with the help of the State Department, does provide technical assistance to several countries, but Carafano's approach would expand the capacity-building effort.

       Increasing the professionalism of customs services, and reducing corruption, will help improve the flow of goods moving through the international trading system, he said.

       The task force also urged the State Department and DHS to work with foreign governments to adopt liability protections similar to those in the SAFETY Act of 2002, which limits the damages that can be awarded against companies if their security products or services do not prevent a terrorist attack.

       Liability protection would open the market for U.S. security technology vendors, who are reticent about deploying their products outside the United States for fear of lawsuits, and make valuable products more available to other governments. As liability protection regimes proliferate, countries with similar rules could extend reciprocal privileges to certified suppliers in partner nations, the task force said.

       New Sheriff. Any positive changes in DHS functionality or governance will have to come from the new president and his security team instead of a Congress that is more interested in 'bumper sticker security' and can't even streamline its own oversight structure, Carafano said.

       'I think the prospects for rationale reform in the Congress in this area are zero,' he said.

       Obama, the Heritage analyst noted, will be preoccupied with the economic crisis, war in the Middle East and Afghanistan, so progress will depend on the DHS leadership, especially at the assistant secretary level.


       Obama has named Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano to head the department. Napolitano's choices for aides were unknown as of mid-January, but, as reported on, she is believed to have asked CBP Commissioner Ralph Basham to stay on for several months to help with the transition.

       Improvements are possible, Carafano said, if the new DHS officials are serious, talented experts who can push back against ill-considered congressional instructions such as 100-percent scanning of containers at foreign ports.

       'If they're just a bunch of hacks, then you're doomed,' he said, because the congressional committees will exert control and pull the department in myriad directions.


       The department should put together a two-hour computerized introduction course for all political appointees to help them understand the basic issues they will face and then conduct tabletop exercises with senior officials prior to the inauguration, said Randy Beardsworth, a principal at consulting firm Olive, Edwards & Cooper and former assistant secretary for strategic plans at DHS, in a separate presentation.

       Most political observers have been impressed so far by the way Obama has gone about building his Cabinet, and a similar disciplined approach based more on merit than patronage appears likely at the sub-Cabinet level.

       The challenge for Democrats is to embrace fresh thinking because the last time they controlled the levers of power was in a pre-9/11 world and homeland security policy has been run for eight years by Republicans, according to Carafano.

    'The constant turmoil imposed on the DHS has adversely affected operations, distracted the leadership, and slowed the process of establishing effective processes and procedures, The first priority of the next Congress and administration should be to end such unwarranted tinkering'
    Homeland Security 3.0
    Heritage Foundation
    and Center for Strategic
    and International Studies

       A Democrat DHS, however, could have more sway with Democrats on Capitol Hill and be better able to argue for restraint on cargo security and other issues than could the Bush administration, Carafano said.

       The easy solution for the scan-all mandate is for the secretary to invoke waiver clauses in the legislation and keep pushing out the 2012 deadline. But appointing a commission to lay out the downsides and then repealing the mandate is preferable, he argued.

       'The most important thing we can do for the global supply chain, for the business community, is to give them a degree of predictability. If there's uncertainty in the marketplace that adds to your costs, it stifles innovation, stifles creativity. As long as that mandate is sitting out there, that's something that somebody who is building a port or buying a ship or filling a container always has to worry about,' he said.

       Beardsworth said he senses a convergence of thinking among policy experts that will lead to:

  • More focus on resiliency than protection.
  • Growing movement toward a non-federal, distributed concept of homeland security.
  • Defense against the catastrophic threats of nuclear, biological and cyber attack.
  • Improved internal management.
  • Development of a Quadrennial Homeland Security Review process that mirrors the Pentagon's Quadrennial Defense Review.

       The QHSR process is a way 'to not be forced into making quick politically expedient decisions and instead get expert input and insight from the private sector to make measured decisions six to nine months down the road,' he said.

       A good sign in the past 18 months is that the department has begun to integrate and take the lead from strong independent agencies, according to the former DHS official. The Office of Operations Coordination, for example, has begun to coordinate planning and the Office of Policy is working to tie together policy across the department. But a lot more work remains to be done, he said.

       The department, under the direction of Deputy Secretary Paul Schneider, has also instituted more process-oriented management, but still grapples with making decisions on how to distribute its resources, Beardsworth said. Applying risk management principles across programs – northern border vs. southern border, aviation vs. maritime, nuclear detection vs. non-proliferation – is more difficult than tactical risk analysis for things such as incoming containers or travelers, he noted.

       Further integration in international affairs could be achieved by harmonizing attach's for various agencies stationed at U.S. embassies, Beardsworth said. Transportation Security Administration, Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Customs attach's are often located in different embassies and are responsible for different countries in a region. He proposed the creation of a cadre of DHS attach's who would coordinate the representatives from each agency operating overseas.

    The FREIGHTWAVES TOP 500 For-Hire Carriers list includes Schneider (No. 7).