I was asked by CQ’s Homeland Security to provide some thoughts and couple of paragraphs reflecting the celebration of DHS’ Fifth Anniversary. In offering them a response, I was asked to respond to the following question: Five years after the founding of the Department of Homeland Security, should we have formed it this way? Should we have formed the Department at all?

My response to the question is as follows:

Absolutely. We had no real choice. Pieces that needed to be connected for information, intelligence, security, response, operations and more were not connected when they were needed at the most critical points in time (safeguarding and securing the nation). The failures and evidence we found after 9/11 leave no doubt to that fact. The realities rendered by 9/11 required a fundamental change to our national ‘game plan’ and that realization is what the White House and Congress saw as their charge and the bitter pill (for some) that we have had to take. Leaving the long-established ‘federal empires,’ attitudes, cultures and procedures in place would not have allowed our country to adapt to its new environment and respond to the new threats of the post 9/11 world. Doing nothing was simply not an option.

Unfortunately, it has become an almost throw-away line to say that 9/11 was a ‘transformational event.’ Nonetheless, it’s time we all recognized that the undeniable impact of that September morning is not just a rhetorical device to be used in a speech but is a brutal reality we face each and every day.

The Department’s creation was the first major step we took in a new era of Darwinism (survival of the fittest). For too long, we allowed our country’s power and success to breed bureaucracies and complacencies that fostered individualized, self-focused operational cultures to take root. As a result, we often ignored and overlooked the threats and challenges (foreign and domestic; terrorism and Mother Nature) that were gaining in strength and consequence. No doubt all of us would love to go back to the days ‘when things were the way they used to be.’ Let’s be real – those days aren’t coming back and no amount of wishful thinking will change that.

Breaking down those walls and bringing the various federal components together is the only way we can address the threats and challenges in any type of systematic and sustainable way.

Has the process and implementation been perfect? No.

Has it been painful to watch and be part of? Yes.

Would I do it all over again? Absolutely.

We’ve all experienced some painful and cringe-worthy lessons over the past five years with DHS, but I would prefer to learn from those lessons by working with others with shared interests and interdependent missions rather than go about business as it once was and hope it all works come ‘game time.’ The previous ‘game plan’ failed us and in today’s era of new Darwinism, failure is not an option.

Rich Cooper blogs primarily on emergency preparedness and response, management issues related to the Department of Homeland Security, and the private sector’s role in homeland security. Read More