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A quiet but notable reorganization at DHS headquarters

This past Monday (February 2, 2015), the Department of Homeland Security released details on its Fiscal Year 2016 budget request, both in summary documents as well as the nearly 4000-page Congressional Budget Justification (CBJ) for the Department. The full budget justification each year typically contains details on newly-proposed programs and activities within the Department, and this year is no exception. In particular, the CBJ includes details on a significant reorganization within the headquarters elements of the Department. This reorganization has been underway since last summer – that’s when I first heard the broad outline of the leadership team’s plans in conversations with several DHS officials – but the details within the budget justification constitute the first public overview of this reorganization.

First, the DHS Policy Office is reorganized into a top-level “executive office” and four subordinate offices (three of which are new), a significant change from what is currently still described on the DHS website. These four offices are identified as: (1) Threat Prevention & Security Policy, (2) Strategy, Plans, Analysis & Risk, (3) Border, Immigration & Trade Policy, and (4) International Engagement. The last office replaces the Office of International Affairs, which DHS had formerly proposed to separate from the Office of Policy for several years – a proposal that met Congressional resistance.

Three existing offices are moved out of the DHS Policy Office as part of this proposal: the Private Sector Office, the Office for State and Local Law Enforcement, and the Homeland Security Advisory Council. These three offices are moved into the Office of Intergovernmental Affairs at headquarters, which the Department proposes to rename as the “Office of Partnership and Engagement.” In addition to the three offices realigned from the Policy Office, this new office would also take over responsibility of the “If You See Something, Say Something” campaign from the Office of Public Affairs, and absorb an academic liaison position from the Office of the Chief Human Capital Officer.

Another existing DHS office significantly impacted by the reorganization is the DHS Office of Operations Coordination and Planning (OPS). Its Planning function is moved from OPS to the Strategy, Plans, Analysis and Risk (SPAR) element of the DHS Policy Office. The budget for the Homeland Security Information Network (HSIN) is shifted from OPS to the Office of the Chief Information Officer. (The CIO’s office has already been running HSIN for the last few years, per the terms of an MOU with OPS). Several senior liaison positions are transferred to the DHS Chief of Staff’s office, and additional positions are transferred to the Office of the Chief Security Officer. The Secretary’s briefing staff is transferred into OPS, but overall these transfers constitute a significant reduction in the size of the Operations Directorate, leaving it primarily with the National Operations Center, and perhaps still its continuity of operations function, as best I can tell. (It is difficult to fully comprehend the Operations Directorate budget request based on public budget documents, since its funding its embedded with that of the DHS Office of Intelligence and Analysis in the classified “Analysis and Operations” account).

The budget request also provides the first public details on the Department’s plans to reestablish a Joint Requirements Council (other than a brief mention in testimony last September), locating it within the Office of the Secretary (as opposed to within the Management Directorate) and requesting $5 million in initial funding for it. The budget justification describes the role of the JRC as follows, on page 96 of the full CBJ:

The new Component-led Joint Requirements Council (JRC) will formulate recommendations to DHS leadership on options to meet the capability needs of DHS operators and provide a vital link between strategic guidance and investments. The JRC will look at cross-component requirements and develop recommendations for investment, as well as changes to training, organization, operational processes and procedures, and proposed law changes. By linking Department-wide strategies and investments, the JRC will increase operational efficiencies by achieving economies of scale and eliminating unnecessary duplication. Additionally, the JRC will improve traceability and defensibility of DHS resource decision making to committee oversight and Components.

There are a number of other minor shifts of offices and personnel within Department offices as part of this reorganization, but these are the major elements of it. Taken together, they amount to the most significant reorganization of the Department’s headquarters since the 2005 Second Stage Review, but to date have not been publicized by the Department, reflected on its website, or received significant attention in Congressional hearings.

Hopefully that will change soon, starting with the House and Senate DHS budget hearings that will take place in the next few weeks. The rationales for these plans need to be explained publicly to DHS’s external stakeholders, and are deserving of robust Congressional oversight, first to assess whether any statutory changes are needed to facilitate such a reorganization, and secondly, if such changes are supported by Congress, to examine ways to reinforce their chance of having a meaningful impact on the headquarter’s role in supporting the performance of the Department’s missions (for example, by finally establishing the Office of Policy in law, and led by an Under Secretary).