On July 15th, DHS’ Under Secretary for Intelligence & Analysis, Charlie Allen posted on the Department’s Leadership Journal blog about the National Applications Office (NAO). Entitled ‘Why the Country Needs the National Applications Office,’ the posting responds to criticisms that I and many others have offered about the NAO.

Under Secretary Allen was right on the money on several things and I applaud his response. While I could nit-pick about a couple of things he presented (I won’t), I only had one major problem with his posting. Everything that was presented – what the NAO would be doing; how it would help; who had reviewed its plans and signed off; etc. – should have been made public months ago!

In fact, there was more detail and vision offered in Under Secretary Allen’s posting than had been previously offered in any other public forum or material released by the Department, its leadership or reported by the media. That is what is so frustrating part about this whole episode.

The NAO could be a tremendous asset to the Department’s mission. The fact that it was not pro-actively articulated, pushed and defended in a public and transparent way has left the NAO as a concept stuck on paper and not an operational reality that could provide real benefit to the homeland mission.

There is literally an entire community of public and private sector geospatial users and service providers (non-intelligence/non-military) who could have been engaged in the formation of the NAO but weren’t. These were champions, by nature of their record and performance who had the public’s confidence (and acceptance) yet were never called upon to be a part of this effort. Not engaging them, in favor of relying on the intelligence/military communities (and their space-based assets), was a tremendous misstep in establishing a comfort and confidence level with the Congress and others who have voiced concern about the NAO. As a result of this misstep, it is not surprising that critics, including me have been raising their voices saying, “Now wait just a minute now. You want to do what?”

In an era when real questions and issues about privacy and civil liberties are raised, and space-based military and intelligence assets are proposed for use for ‘domestic purposes,’ it is paramount that mission requirements and operations are clearly defined and publicly articulated at the outset.

Under Secretary Allen did that in his posting this week and it is my hope that he and the members of his team will do so again when the next debate on the NAO occurs.

If they do, they just might get an NAO. If they invite individuals outside of the intelligence/military crowd to work with them on an ‘NAO mission,’ they might just get it even sooner…

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