Last week, the Center for American Progress released a report, ‘Safe at Home: A National Security Strategy to Protect the American Homeland, the Real Central Front’ that offers its vision for what the future of homeland security should look like. As the latest edition of prose to feed the rhetorical beasts that must be fed in an election cycle, it echoes the traditional mantras of the armchair homeland security complainers, “DHS does not do this… DHS does not do that… They don’t have enough of this…” while offering another rendering of the “Things We Ought to Do” wish list.
For all of the things it professes that we should do, the Report is painfully shallow on recognizing the foundations that have been built and established over the past five years to enhance border protection, chemical security, emergency management, security operations at airports, ports and a number of other areas.
Even though these areas are by no means perfect today – and will only get better with time and experience – if you were to wake up from a coma, pick up this report and read it without knowing anything about the issues it discusses, you would swear that absolutely nothing has been done since 9/11.
Nothing could be further from the truth. Huge investments in time, resources, people and programs are underway today in cyber security, transportation, emergency management planning and coordination, critical infrastructure planning and so forth. None of that is captured in this piece.
The Report also glosses over one of the greatest challenges that DHS has today – Congressional oversight. Depending on whose list you look at, there are either 86 or 88 Congressional Committees that have purview over DHS. Talk about death by a thousand cuts.
If that image does not capture your attention – this one will.
Imagine having 86-88 proctologists, each with their own sigmoidoscope, all working at the same time on the same patient. Each is using their own ‘probe”– usually without any sedation for the patient.
Or how about this image?
Imagine working on your jump shot on the basketball court only to have 86-88 different coaches along the sidelines, all taking a page from legendary coach Bobby Knight’s playbook to scream and throw chairs as a means of constructive criticism.
Neither of these two examples are pretty or comfortable sights, but let’s be real – this is the current environment today with the existing Congressional oversight structure of DHS. This type of ‘preventative medicine’ and ‘coaching’ is killing the very patient we need to be strong, upright and in the game…
Do the doctors (Congressional Members) deserve and warrant a look (oversight) at the patient under their care? Do the coaches (Congressional Members) deserve to point out the failures in the game performance of their players? The answer to both questions is a resounding “YES!” but there is not a patient, player, company or organization that can keep its attentions focused enough to succeed under these conditions.
The record on this effort is very clear – DHS and Congress have done an awful lot of organizational box ‘adjustment’ over the past five years to help ‘improve its mission performance.’ Some of those efforts have worked. At the same time, though, the demands upon the Department’s leadership and components for hearings, reports, briefings, individual meetings with State and District based companies who make the ‘magic box’ that DHS needs to buy (and mandate everyone else to buy) only continues to grow.
The resulting reports have done little but contribute to global warming by wiping out countless miles of forests to print countless pages —- just to give someone, somewhere in the bowels of a Congressional office building the opportunity to pour over pages of text in hopes of preparing the ‘gotcha’ question for the next Congressional hearing that will make their boss look good on C-Span for the folks back home.
There will always be things that are wrong and that could be done better. The Department, its people and its programs should all be held accountable through oversight. However, using 86 Bobby Knights is not the way to do it.
For all of the celebratory hoopla that went into the passage of the remaining 9/11 Commission Recommendations last year, the esteemed leadership of Congress left one out – the streamlining of Congressional oversight of homeland security. Now that’s leadership we can all be proud of…
If reports like this want to really have an impact on the future of homeland security, the Center for American Progress and similar organizations would do best to recognize the foundations that are in place and instead identify ways to correct the doctors and coaches who are killing the Department we desperately need to succeed.