December 14, 2010 | WebMemo on Homeland Security
Today, few individuals in government have all of the skills necessary to lead the national homeland security enterprise. In essence, Washington does not think very well.
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS)—as well as other federal actors who work on security matters—like other arms of government, use tired thought processes to analyze public policy choices that simply do not reflect the new threat realities—which will not help the U.S. outthink its enemies. Absent extensive professional development in the realm of homeland security, it has and will continue to have a profound impact on the ability of the United States to protect, prepare for, and respond to terrorist attacks and other disasters.
DHS has often been criticized for a seeming inability to come together as one cohesive organization—rather than the 22 separate entities that were brought together when the department was created. From an interagency perspective, the problem is worse. There is a serious interagency communication problem from the Department of Health and Human Services, the Department of Defense, and the State Department to DHS. This problem has serious consequences, such as in the case of the Christmas Day bomb plot, when the State Department failed to contact DHS with information from a Nigerian man’s father that might have led to the arrest of the would-be bomber.
New dangers, such as cyber threats, require technological expertise from a government that has never really done technology well—and has recognized that it has an intellect gap, with not enough individuals with the skills and expertise to meet the growing cyber threat. Furthermore, the cyber problem requires a cross-government approach that allows government actors to share necessary information without compromising the security of the information.
The U.S. military faced similar professional development challenges in building a cadre of joint leaders and officers competent in multi-service operations involving two or more of the armed services. The Goldwater–Nichols Act of 1986 mandated a solution that required officers to have a mix of joint education, assignments, and accreditation by a board of professionals in order to be eligible for promotion to general officer rank. Goldwater–Nichols is widely credited with the successes in joint military operations from Desert Storm to the war on terrorism.
In this way, national security professionalism should be a core competence of government. The professionals that lead the effort must have four essential skills:
The lessons learned from the original Goldwater–Nichols Act are similarly appropriate and can be used now to improve competency at DHS: The need for education, assignment, and accreditation can be applied to developing professionals for critical interagency national security activities and can help the federal government produce professionals that have these skills:
The first step toward any of these goals should be to establish or assign congressional committees in the House and Senate with narrow jurisdictions over key education, assignment, and accreditation interagency programs. While some may be concerned about the increase in oversight over DHS, such committees should be given very limited jurisdiction.
An Existing Solution to a New Problem
The answer to DHS’s professional development needs is not reorganizing the federal government or redistributing federal responsibilities. Congress should focus on how to make the interagency process more responsive in the operational environment. This means a combination of building the professional workforce of skilled analysts and decision makers and giving them places to learn, teach, and practice their craft.
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. James Jay Carafano, Ph.D., is Deputy Director of the Davis Institute and Director of the Allison Center at The Heritage Foundation.