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DHS gets Hill approval for a common appropriations structure

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Buried within the omnibus appropriations bill signed into law in December 2015 is a provision (Section 563 of Division F, the Department of Homeland Security Appropriations Act) that allows DHS to establish a common appropriations structure, starting with the FY 2017 budget request that will be released in early February. This is something that DHS Secretary Johnson originally requested as part of the FY 2015 DHS budget request, as described in this testimony from March 2014:

As part of this agenda we are tackling our budget structure and process. DHS currently has 76 appropriations and over 120 projects, programs or activities, and there are significant structural inconsistencies across components, making mission based budget planning and budget execution analysis difficult. We are making changes to our budget process to better focus our efforts on a mission and cross-component view.

In the reports that accompanied the FY 2015 and FY 2016 DHS appropriations bills, the appropriations committees were mixed in their support for a transition to such a common appropriations structure in report language. In FY 2015, the House Appropriations Committee (HAC) believed that “DHS would benefit from the implementation of a common appropriation structure across the Department,” but the Senate Appropriations Committee (SAC) remained silent on this proposal.

In the FY 2016 bills, the HAC included bill language to establish a common appropriations structure, and noted emphatically that “implementing this methodology is a strategic imperative and must move forward with haste.” But the SAC was lukewarm to the proposal in its Committee report for FY 2016. The Committee acknowledged the DHS leadership team’s reasons for considering such a shift: “the goal of following funds from planning through execution is critical to departmental oversight of the components as well as establishing a capability to make tradeoffs in resource allocation and budget development decisions.” But it expressed concern about the potential harm to transparency and congressional oversight from such a shift, and expressed concerns about being unable to compare prior years’ appropriations following such a restructuring. It urged DHS to “tread carefully in this area and work closely with
the Committee.”

The provision included in the final omnibus appropriations bill is a modified version of the House provision, changing the word “shall” to “may” in a few places to soften the mandate for DHS to implement a common appropriation structure for the forthcoming budget request, and requiring that DHS provide a detailed report by April 1, 2016 to the committees on the transition to a common appropriations structure, as a precondition for getting the full authority to implement these changes. These minor changes are not likely to inhibit the ability of DHS to move forward with carrying out this transition, consistent with the intent of the Department’s leadership.

As the new language specifies, and as illustrated in the report “A Common Appropriations Structure for DHS: FY 2016 Crosswalk” (made public on the DHS website late last year), all DHS appropriations will now be allocated in one of four top-level categories: (1) Operations & Support, (2) Procurement, Construction and Improvements, (3) Research and Development, and (4) Federal Assistance. These top-level categories are similar to the structure used by the Department of Defense, where funds are primarily allocated with the categories of (1) Personnel, (2) Operations and Maintenance, (3) Procurement, and (4) Research, Development, Test and Evaluation.

The primary intent of this structure is to facilitate the ability of DHS leadership and Congress to develop greater insight into how funds are being allocated and spent across the Department. Currently, in many of the Department’s components, funds for day-to-day operations (salaries, rent, etc.) are mixed together in budget accounts with long-term capital investments (new ships, screening equipment, etc.), making it difficult to assess whether the right balance is being struck between present-day needs and future requirements. The new structure should also make it easier to identify and compare similar investments being made in different DHS components, and hopefully then find savings and efficiencies, consistent with the stated objectives of the Department’s Unity of Effort Initiative.

A secondary benefit of this reorganization is that it should enhance the ability of authorizing committees to pass authorization bills for DHS on a regular basis. The information provided to Congress in budget requests under a common appropriations structure can be used as a basis for authorizing funds, in a similar way to how the Armed Services Committees use information from DOD budget requests and the Future Years Defense Program to inform their annual authorization bills. The new common appropriations structure would not eliminate the jurisdictional issues that have made it difficult for Congress to pass DHS authorization bills over the past decade, but it would provide a basis for authorizing funds on a cross-cutting basis that is not wholly tied to the fragmented component-level jurisdiction over DHS in the House and the Senate.

Overall, this shift to a common appropriations structure is an encouraging development for the ongoing maturation of DHS, and if executed successfully in the coming year will be a significant accomplishment for Secretary Johnson and his team.

DHS updates its terrorism advisory system

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Earlier today, DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson announced changes to the National Terrorism Advisory System, adding a new category of warning, the NTAS Bulletin, to complement NTAS Alerts, and to be used as follows:

NTAS Bulletins will provide information describing broader or more general trends and current developments regarding threats of terrorism. They will share important terrorism-related information with the American public and various partners and stakeholders, including in those situations where additional precautions may be warranted, but where the circumstances do not warrant the issuance of an “elevated” or “imminent” Alert.

DHS also issued its first NTAS bulletin in conjunction with the Secretary’s statement, a one-pager on the global threat environment that highlights the Department’s concerns with “self-radicalized actor(s) who could strike with little or notice.”

Overall, this introduction of NTAS Bulletins is an improvement to the system, and is particularly warranted given the fact that DHS and the FBI already produced unclassified bulletins for law enforcement and first responders – their Joint Intelligence Bulletins (see this example) – which are widely disseminated and almost always find their ways to the news media a few days after they are issued. It makes a lot of sense to repurpose many of these JIBs into NTAS bulletins, in instances where the vigilance of the general public may help to prevent or disrupt a particular threat.

However, these changes to the NTAS do not address my long-standing concerns about the underuse of NTAS, which I outlined in this blog post last year, noting that there were a number of circumstances in the past 3-4 years where the issuance of an NTAS alert was warranted in my opinion, based on the system’s own standard of a credible threat (for an elevated alert) or a specific and credible threat (for an imminent alert). For example, I still maintain that DHS should have issued an NTAS alert after the Boston Marathon bombings during the four days when the attackers (the Tsarnaev brothers) had not yet been identified and were still at large.

Given the current pace of ISIS-related terror plots, there will likely be similar circumstances in the coming months and years where DHS should issue NTAS Alerts, not to stoke fear but to ensure that the American people have an informed understanding of current threats. Hopefully today’s changes to NTAS will also lead the Department’s leadership to be more forward-leaning in utilizing the system.

But in the meantime, the 25,000+ followers of the @NTASAlerts twitter account are still waiting for that first tweet.

DHS advisory committee issues report on employee morale

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At its meeting on May 21, 2015, the Homeland Security Advisory Council (HSAC) issued a report by its DHS Employee Task Force, established in October 2014 following the Department’s poor rankings in the latest federal employee survey results, and formerly known as the “DHS Employee Morale Task Force” but renamed a few weeks prior to the issuance of the report. The report has been publicly released but is not yet available on the DHS website; I have posted a copy at this link.

The report includes a brief assessment of the relevant issues that affect DHS workforce morale, makes four primary recommendations, and includes twenty-seven specific action items that derive from these recommendations. The four primary recommendations are as follows:

1. Greatly increase the emphasis on leadership qualities when filling managerial positions and when assessing the performance of incumbents.
2. Significantly improve management training, particularly leadership training.
3. Adopt proven industrial standards for personnel development.
4. Significantly strengthen communications (upward, downward and outward), making greater use of modern communication technology.

Overall, the report provides a solid initial assessment of the challenges facing DHS leadership as it attempts to address morale issues, and suggests a number of common-sense management initiatives. But its analysis should be viewed as only a starting point. This is an issue that is difficult to generalize across the Department; the issues that affect the morale and satisfaction of the frontline officer at TSA or CBP are very different than the issues that affect an intelligence analyst or policy advisor at one of the headquarters offices. Moreover, it is necessary as part of such an assessment to make a distinction between issues that are within the span of control of the leadership of the Department (such as day-to-day operational policies and norms) and those that are outside of their control (such as civil service laws, or Congressional constraints on the Department’s organizational structure).

Two issues in particular are deserving of further analysis. The first is the set of procedures (formal and informal) related to decision-making and action-taking within DHS, and the incentive structure that underlies these procedures. My observation over a number of years and spanning multiple DHS leadership teams is that it is far too difficult for motivated and forward-looking individuals to take initiative and drive change within the Department. Instead, it is much easier for offices to stifle new initiatives that they do not like, a reality exacerbated by the fragmented Congressional oversight of the Department and by the existence of numerous internal oversight and compliance offices within DHS. This observation is supported by the results of Question #32 on the Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey: “Creativity and innovation are rewarded.” DHS employees express on average a much more negative response to this question than employees of other federal agencies. I would contend that the frustration and hopelessness captured in these responses is a major factor in low morale at DHS.

The second issue deserving of additional attention is reflected in the results to Question #22 of the Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey: “Promotions in my work unit are based on merit.” 55.6% of DHS employees disagreed with this statement in the 2014 survey – the most negative result of any agency surveyed by far, and much higher than the government-wide average of 39.3%. The apparent lack of meritocracy reflected in this result is a long-standing issue at DHS (as far back as the 2006 employee survey, DHS also had the most negative result) and needs to be rigorously assessed at the component level to determine the root causes of this, which likely includes issues related to organizational culture, personnel policies, and the lack of clear standards for promotions. Notably, the HSAC task force calls for a follow-on review of these issues, including an assessment of the Department’s promotion and compensation systems.

As noted earlier, the full HSAC report can be viewed at this link.

Coast Guard VADM Neffenger nominated to lead TSA

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The President has nominated Coast Guard Vice Admiral Peter Neffenger to be the next Administrator of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), replacing John Pistole, who departed from the position at the end of 2014. Neffenger is currently the Vice Commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard (its second-ranking official), and is well-respected within DHS, in Congress, and among the Coast Guard’s stakeholders – a fact reflected in the positive comments in the media on his nomination. Given this high praise, I would expect the two relevant Senate committees (Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, and Commerce) that have a role in his nomination to move quickly.

One question related to his nomination is whether he will retain his rank within the Coast Guard after being confirmed as TSA Administrator, akin to how former CIA Director Michael Hayden remained as a four-star General in the US Air Force for the majority of the time that he served as CIA Director. In addition, given the non-partisan nature of this nomination, it will be interesting to see whether the next Administration decides to retain Neffenger in this position for the purpose of continuity, assuming that he is confirmed and is successful at TSA in the next 18 months.

Senate confirms DHS management nominee; two vacancies remain

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Earlier today the U.S. Senate confirmed Russell Deyo to be the Under Secretary for Management at the Department of Homeland Security, the third most senior position in the Department. Both Secretary Jeh Johnson and Senator Tom Carper released statements praising his confirmation this afternoon.

Deyo’s confirmation is long overdue – a point that I made in an op-ed published by The Hill last week that called for the Senate to finally act on his nomination. As I had predicted in that piece, Deyo received near-unanimous support, with 95 Senators voting in favor of his confirmation, and only two opposed.

Deyo will find himself with a full agenda when he is sworn in as Under Secretary, including needing to address such issues as (a) management-related issues that are part of the Unity of Effort initiative, (b) making key decisions about the St. Elizabeths DHS headquarters project, (c) overseeing the Department’s efforts to address morale and other workforce effectiveness issues, and (d) continuing to strengthen the Department’s oversight of major acquisitions.

This confirmation represents further progress in addressing the senior-level vacancies problem that was seriously impairing the Department in 2013 and early 2014. With Deyo’s confirmation, by my count only two Senate-confirmed positions are currently unfilled at DHS:

1. Administrator, Transportation Security Administration. The TSA Administrator position has been vacant since John Pistole’s departure at the end of the 2014, with TSA being led by Acting Administrator Mel Carraway in the interim. At a recent House Appropriations hearing, Secretary Johnson told members of the Committee that a nominee was in vetting and would be announced soon.

2. Assistant Secretary, Office of Policy. The lead Policy position at DHS has been without a Senate-confirmed leader since David Heyman departed the position in May 2014, nearly a year ago. Alan Bersin was named as Acting Assistant Secretary after Heyman’s departure, but Bersin would have been limited by the Vacancies Act to serving in that acting role for a maximum of 210 days, i.e. until mid-December 2014. Notably, the DHS Leadership page now lists this position as “vacant” rather than being filled in an acting capacity – a recent change.

Hopefully the President will soon nominate highly capable individuals to fill these two positions; and if such nominations are made, I would hope that the Senate will act with a greater sense of urgency then it did with respect to Deyo’s 7 1/2 month nomination process.

DHS S&T strategy highlights the Homeland Security Industrial Base

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The Science and Technology Directorate (S&T) at the Department of Homeland Security released a new five-year strategic plan this week, a detailed document that succinctly articulates and aligns the Directorate’s priority areas of research and engagement for the next five years. The report highlights the five visionary goals that S&T announced last fall, and it explains how S&T plans to address management and workforce issues, a very important priority given S&T’s record of low employee morale for the last several years.

One notable aspect of the strategy is the focus on the Homeland Security Industrial Base, or HSIB for short; a term that had not previously been used widely within DHS until S&T Under Secretary Reggie Brothers started using it last year, as a variant of the well-known concept of a Defense Industrial Base. The report articulates the concept of a HSIB as follows:

Unlike many other industries with well-defined sets of products, technologies, and customers, the HSIB is a highly fragmented federation of product and service providers serving a broad constituency. Customers and their needs vary widely, from ships for the U.S. Coast Guard to protective gear for first responders to cyber defense tools for power plants. This degree of fragmentation means that many companies with leading-edge technologies are often small and more challenging to locate and engage. Simultaneously, federal, state, and local agencies are spending less on R&D for next-generation technologies. Therefore, it is critical that S&T collaborate with the HSIB to capitalize on industry investments in R&D and encourage the development of force multiplying solutions that defend, defeat, and mitigate threats to the nation.

In order to energize the HSIB, S&T will revamp existing programs so industry can more easily partner with S&T. We will also develop new approaches to engage non-traditional companies. The following initiatives highlight specific activities that will help us achieve this objective.

This focus on the Homeland Security Industrial Base as part of S&T’s strategy will hopefully catalyze efforts to address the noted fragmentation of homeland security markets and technologies. This fragmentation has led many companies in the past decade to settle for opportunistic investments in the homeland security market, rather than taking a long-term, strategic approach with respect to investments in homeland security research and development, as they often do in other markets and domains.

If S&T’s efforts with respect to the HSIB can help to encourage standard-setting, reduce duplication, and decrease market fragmentation, the Department will likely find itself dealing with a stronger, more engaged set of industry partners in the coming years, who can be a force multiplier for S&T’s own investments in its portfolio of research challenges.

ICE seeks a License Plate Reader service: Take Two

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The Washington Post has a story today highlighting the fact that Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE) has issued a new solicitation entitled “Access to License Plate Reader Commercial Data Service”, a second attempt by ICE to procure such a service after a previous solicitation was withdrawn last year following a round of media scrutiny. As the Post story notes, the DHS Privacy Office also recently completed a review of ICE’s “Acquisition and Use of License Plate Reader Data from a Commercial Service”; the completion of this review likely provided the basis for ICE to move forward with this solicitation.

The Privacy Office’s review of this matter is thorough in its analysis of the relevant issues, and makes it clear that ICE would not be developing its own LPR database, but instead would simply be establishing a query capability that can be used against known subjects of investigations or enforcement actions, consistent with ICE’s well-established law enforcement authorities. This is a standard tool now for U.S. law enforcement at all levels of government, an issue that may be worthy of a broader national policy debate, building on the analysis within this 2014 report from RAND. But given that the adoption of these capabilities is already the prevailing reality today, there is no justifiable reason why one of the largest federal law enforcement agencies in the country should not also have uniform access to such a capability.

Furthermore, the DHS Privacy Office report also notes the variety of safeguards that will be put in place with ICE’s access to such a service, including required training of ICE officers, specified purpose policies, and audit capabilities to detect and deter misuse. These safeguards should help to provide the general public that such a capability will not be misused, and senior leaders at DHS and ICE will need to be watchful to make sure that it is not.

Despite the concerns expressed by a couple of the critics in the Washington Post piece, it is likely that ICE’s procurement of this service will now move forward. The real lesson from this story and the earlier firestorm over this issue in 2014, is that DHS and its components need to be more proactive in socializing such new projects and proposals with key stakeholders (including Congress) and the media early on in the planning process. Too often in DHS’s history, new projects make their first public appearance in a solicitation on FedBizOpps or as a passing reference in a job posting on USAJobs. After such projects are publicly uncovered, the critics often drive the media narrative, DHS reacts slowly, and those who would be generally inclined to support such projects are provided with scant information on which to base such arguments. This ICE/LPR issue will hopefully serve as a useful case study about how the Department can better vet and socialize similar projects in the future.

Time to abolish EB-5: Thoughts on the DHS IG Report on Deputy Secretary Mayorkas

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Yesterday the DHS Office of Inspector General released a lengthy report examining the allegations that then-USCIS Director Alejandro Mayorkas, who now serves as Deputy Secretary at DHS, provided favorable treatment to several companies that were involved in the EB-5 Immigrant Investor Program, an issue that arose during his confirmation process to be Deputy Secretary in 2013. You can read the full IG report at this link; at the end of the report is a lengthy rebuttal by Mayorkas of the allegations made in the report. Both Secretary Jeh Johnson and Mayorkas released press statements yesterday in response to the release of the report.

I have a lot of respect for the work of the DHS Office of Inspector General, but after reading the full report and Mayorkas’s rebuttal, I’m inclined to agree with Sec. Johnson’s primary interpretation of Mayorkas’s actions with respect to the cases discussed in the IG report:

Like me, he is often impatient with our sluggish government bureaucracy, can at times be very hands-on in resolving issues and problems that are brought to his personal attention, and is always mindful that we are public servants. Ali works hard to do the right thing, and never acts, in my observation, for reasons of personal advancement or aggrandizement. These personal attributes are reflected in the Inspector General’s report.

My main takeaway after reading the full report is that the EB-5 program – a creation of Congress – should be abolished. At the very least, it should be significantly narrowed to allow visas only for direct investors in real businesses, not the shell companies – the so-called “regional centers” – that seem to dominate this program.

The fundamental economic premise of this program is highly questionable. Any new or growing company that has a good business plan and solid economic prospects should be able to raise capital by securing commercial loans, finding private investors, and utilizing government programs such as the Small Business Administration’s loan programs. Any business that is unable to raise funds through such traditional means, and instead turns to a program such as EB-5, is either (a) one that has a flawed business plan or (b) doesn’t need EB-5 but is using it to lower their cost of capital and engage in rent-seeking behavior. Both of these are distortions of the free market, to the disadvantage of companies’ competitors and at an intangible cost in terms of using our immigration system as a “means” in support of other policy objectives.

The questionable economic basis for the EB-5 program – and the possibility of undeserved economic gains from rent-seeking – are an invitation to cronyism. USCIS (and formerly INS) have responded to these conditions by trying over the years to tightly administer and regulate the program – something that the IG report makes very clear in its description of the highly bureaucratic processes with respect to the cases in question. Ironically, these same bureaucratic processes within the EB-5 program make it even more of an insider’s game, with only a handful of companies able to have sufficient scale to invest in the expertise needed to navigate the program.

Congress will likely express outrage and dismay over this IG report, but it needs to consider its own role in creating and then expanding such a program in the first place. The IG report and Mayorkas’s response make clear that many members of Congress have tried to use this program throughout its history as a pseudo-earmark, pushing USCIS to approve EB-5 proposals that would provide economic benefits in their states or districts, without regard to the fundamental soundness of such investments. By contrast, Congress has a sparse record of oversight and scrutiny of the program’s efficacy in the past decade.

Hopefully this episode will lead to a reexamination by Congress of the value of the EB-5 program, and ultimately to either a termination of the program or changes to it that eliminate the opportunities for rent-seeking behavior and cronyism.

Do we need DHS? Yes.

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The CATO Institute released a short opinion piece today by one of its senior fellows, Michael Tanner, entitled “Do we need the DHS?” This story follows on a long legacy of similar opinion pieces in the news media, such as this piece from 2013. The new piece from CATO raises the question, following the recent resolution of the DHS funding debate, as to whether the Department of Homeland Security is needed. The piece lists off a number of the Department’s weaknesses and challenges, such as diffuse Congressional oversight, challenges with grants management, and morale issues – all of which are legitimate issues. But the piece then makes a gargantuan logical jump to assert that the Department of Homeland Security should be broken up in light of these problems and challenges. This proposal, if implemented, would be disastrous in terms of DHS’s performance of its key missions and would be contrary to the principles of effective government management.

I don’t think that there is a strong likelihood of proposals such as this being seriously considered by Congress, but I still think that it is important to push back against arguments such as this, and make the case for the ongoing value and necessity of the Department of Homeland Security. There is a long list of arguments that I could make here, but I’ll summarize my case with these four:

First, and most importantly, the Department in many respects has become much more than the sum of its parts in the last decade, with respect to its operational mission performance. CBP, ICE, USCIS and the Coast Guard all work together to carry out the Department’s border security and immigration missions. CBP, TSA and ICE all work together to prevent terrorist and other illicit travel (e.g. human trafficking) to the United States. FEMA and the Coast Guard have become closer since DHS was created in terms of their disaster response roles, and other operational components have been called on to support major disaster response efforts. ICE, the Secret Service, and NPPD all have significant cybersecurity responsibilities, and are working more closely together in support of their respective cyber activities. And all of the operational entities of DHS have some role (although admittedly not the lead federal role) in counterterrorism, and DHS information has played a critical role in disrupting several of the higher-profile terrorist plots targeting the United States over the past 7-8 years.

Second, the Department has played the critical federal role since its inception in integrating state and local law enforcement and first responders into supporting its missions. This is true not only with respect to FEMA and disaster response, but equally importantly with respect to counterterrorism, and increasingly in the last few years with respect to cybersecurity. (Of note on this issue, contrary to the CATO piece, fusion centers are not “operated by the DHS” – they are entities owned and operated by state and local governments, each with a small number of federal employees detailed by DHS and DOJ.)

Third, stories such as this promote a distorted perspective on the growth of DHS over the past thirteen years. The story says that “spending has skyrocketed, tripling from $18 billion per year in 2002 to more than $54 billion last year.” This statistic likely refers to the OMB’s government-wide crosscut of homeland security spending, but that annual analysis is not solely about DHS; OMB’s numbers include items such as domestic force protection at the Department of Defense and biosecurity programs at HHS. In reality, the DHS budget has grown since its inception from $36 billion in FY 2002 to $55 billion in FY 2011 – but this growth rate is far from a “tripling” of the budget. (Budget numbers taken from DHS’s response to a Question for the Record by Sen. Ron Johnson from a 2011 Senate hearing. See numbered pages 1029-1031 of this very large PDF.)

It’s also worth noting that most of this growth was not due to sprawling bureaucracy but due to increases to frontline operational capacity, in terms of personnel (notably the doubling of the size of the Border Patrol), technology and infrastructure. The reality is that the parts of DHS that I would consider to be “headquarters” – the Office of the Secretary and Executive Management (OSEM), the Office of the Undersecretary of Management, the Offices of Operations Coordination and Intelligence Analysis, and the Science and Technology Directorate – account for only 1.7% of the DHS workforce, a large share of whom are carrying out government-wide Congressional mandates in areas such as IT management and financial oversight.

Fourth, anyone who proposes dismantling DHS should have the burden of proposing what they would do with its constituent parts, and how such an initiative would improve the performance of the Department’s current missions. The five entities that have responsibility for immigration, border security and travel security (CBP, ICE, USCIS, Coast Guard, TSA), where the rationale for operational integration is strongest, account for 195,000 of the Department’s 225,000 employees – around 87%. Is the author proposing that these five entities should not be within the same Cabinet department? If he is, he’s making a proposal that will have a serious negative impact on the government’s performance of these missions. If he is not, then he’s not really proposing to break up DHS, but instead proposing a more moderate tinkering, perhaps by returning the Secret Service to the Treasury or making FEMA an independent agency again. I wouldn’t recommend either of these; in particular, I think FEMA is now critically interlinked with many other parts of DHS. The reality is that there is no realistic option for a major overhaul of DHS that does not have significant operational impacts.

My bottom line: is the Department of Homeland Security today everything that Congress envisioned it to be when it created it in 2002? No, not yet. (And this is in part due to external factors beyond the Department’s control, such as (a) the decisions in 2002-2003 to hobble its intelligence-related mandate from the start by creating TTIC and the Terrorist Screening Center outside of DHS (b) and the ongoing dysfunctional structure of Congressional oversight). But has it made substantial progress toward realizing this vision? Yes. Would additional major organizational changes improve the performance of DHS’s current missions? No, and they would more likely backfire, and introduce substantial new operational and management-related risks.

For all of these reasons, and others, we still need DHS. And we’re better served as a nation by an ongoing policy discussion focused on how it can be improved and made more efficient, rather than a debate about breaking it up.

A breakthrough on DHS funding: Four initial thoughts

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The House of Representatives has now passed the “clean” Senate-passed version of the DHS appropriations bill for fiscal year 2015. The bill will now go to President Obama for signature, and the looming threat of a partial shutdown of DHS will be averted. Importantly, the bill that is moving forward is a full appropriations bill, and not another continuing resolution, so new priorities for Fiscal Year 2015 will be funded.

A few initial thoughts on this outcome:

First, it shows that trying to use DHS appropriations as a bargaining chip toward desired policy outcomes is a losing strategy, for either party and regardless of the relative merits of the desired policy outcomes. Just as it would be unwise for either political party to threaten Defense appropriations over disagreements on military strategy, it is also unwise to try to use DHS funding as a bargaining chip in a broader debate on immigration policy or any other DHS-related policy issue. The potential risks of a DHS shutdown – in terms of a degradation of the Department’s frontline activities, and the economic and social impact of not paying employees – are too great, especially during a period of a heightened terrorist threat.

Second, I hope that this outcome does not reduce the imperative for further action by this Congress on immigration and border security. There are significant national and economic security issues that legislation can help to address, and I still believe that there is a middle ground where a common-sense deal can be struck that would receive the support of 70-80% of the members of the House and Senate.

Third, I think that the effort by Secretary Johnson and his team to address this issue, and make the case for funding DHS, has perhaps been the most effective public relations campaign in the twelve years of the Department’s existence. The Secretary has been ruthlessly on message about this issue, and has factually made the case about the potential impact of a shutdown on the Department’s operations and on DHS’s support for state and local responders. He has managed to do this without being adversarial, which likely paid dividends in terms of garnering Congressional support for the pending outcome.

Fourth, I hope that the resolution of this issue clears the path for the Senate to finally confirm Russell Deyo to be the Under Secretary for Management at DHS. I wrote in mid-February about the status of his nomination, which has now been stalled on the Senate floor for nearly four months, perhaps due in part to gridlock related to this broader funding fight. Deyo has broad bipartisan support, and with DHS appropriations now resolved, the Senate should try to approve his nomination this week.