The fiscal year 2009 Department of Homeland Security (DHS)
spending bill has excluded one integral piece of the funding
puzzle: the DHS Office of Policy. Congress's decision to fund the
Office of Policy well below the levels requested by the President
is a mistake. The Office of Policy plays a vital role within DHS.
Therefore, Congress should fully fund its operations.
Much Better Than Nothing
When the DHS was created in 2002, the Office of Policy was not
part of the initial organization. The need for such an office,
however, quickly became apparent. In the years immediately
following DHS's founding, the fledgling organization was
overwhelmed by the need to integrate the policies and programs of
many established government agencies. Additionally, DHS lacked the
means to develop a comprehensive strategy under which the new
department would operate. In 2005, Congress-recognizing the need to
address the policy obstacles facing the Department-created the DHS
Office of Policy.
Since its inception, the Office of Policy, headed by Assistant
Secretary for Policy Stewart A. Baker, has achieved significant
benchmarks with regards to policy strategy, such as increasing the
role of the private sector in DHS projects.
Not only has the Office of Policy performed well thus far, but
it recently began work on the critical Quadrennial Homeland
Security Review (QHSR). This review, the first ever for DHS, is
modeled after the Department of Defense's Quadrennial Defense
Review and will analyze the current state of the DHS in addition to
developing long- and short-term strategies for the DHS based on
current assets, capabilities, policies, and financial and
The President requested approximately $43 million in his FY 2009
budget for the Office of Policy. The House, however, did not
approve the full amount, leaving a shortage of almost $1 million.
Given the enormous homeland security budget, the deficit between
requested and appropriated funds may seem menial. However, this
money is significant to integral Office of Policy programs,
including the QHSR, the Homeland Security Advisory Council, and
other crucial projects related to immigration, international
relations, and strategic planning. Furthermore, the deficit raises
concerns over a greater problem: Congress fails to recognize the
vital role that the Office of Policy plays in DHS operations.
Not only has Congress failed to fully fund the office, but it is
also considering actions that might derail implementation of the
QHSR. The Senate version of the appropriations bill contains
limitations on the QHSR, providing that contractor funds can be
used only for administrative and clerical tasks-not for
implementation. A successful attempt to limit the use of
contractors would constitute a significant setback, as the Office
of Policy lacks the in-house capacity to implement projects.
Congress must attempt to remedy this funding disparity in
Conference. The right remedy, however, must be more than a quick
funding fix. Subsequently, Congress should:
- Fully Fund the Office of Policy in Accordance with the
President's Request. The President recognized the importance of
the work performed by the DHS Office of Policy and subsequently
sought to reinforce these efforts through his funding request.
Congress should recognize these achievements, as well as the vital
role the Office of Policy's projects play in the overall DHS
mission, by providing full funding.
- Hold Contractors Accountable. Congressional concerns
regarding the over-reliance on contractors regarding the QHSR may
be well-intentioned. Congress, however, must focus on the positive
benefits that the QHSR will produce and recognize that DHS simply
lacks the in-house staff to execute the QHSR without contractor
support. Congress can ease its concerns over contractor involvement
by insisting that contractors chosen are well-qualified and subject
to sufficient oversight throughout the QHSR process.
- Create a Policy Undersecretary. Secretary of Homeland
Security Michael Chertoff rightly sought to establish an
Undersecretary for Policy within the Department of Homeland
Security (DHS) to conduct program analysis, perform long-range
strategic planning, and undertake net assessments. He has already
established a directorate of policy under Assistant Secretary for
Policy Stewart Baker. Now, Congress must elevate Baker's position
to the undersecretary level.
As part of effective oversight, DHS can encourage Congress to
fully fund important DHS initiatives, such as the QHSR, by
consulting with Congress throughout the QHSR process. This process
should be a dialogue and not just another deliverable. Dialogue
will allow Congress and DHS to fully institutionalize the QHSR,
identifying lessons learned and effective strategies, thus
improving the process for coming years. Finally, such dialogue will
allow Congress to guarantee that contractors are subject to
Setting an Example
The Office of Policy is an example of the right direction for
the Department of Homeland Security. The office is forward-thinking
and tasked with projects, such as the QHSR, that will have a
meaningful impact on the future of the DHS. Congress must not let
politics stand in the way of securing the homeland.
Jena Baker McNeill is
Policy Analyst for Homeland Security in the Douglas and Sarah
Allison Center for Foreign Policy Studies, a division of the
Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for International
Studies, at The Heritage Foundation.