Recently, The Reform Institute sponsored the “Forum on Resilience in Homeland Security Policy” which sought to set out an agenda for preparedness, protection, response and recovery for the next Congress. While the panel highlighted the theme of “Focused Leadership,” I believe we need to come to grips with what we are willing to pay for homeland security and decide whether we are going to go forward on the “cheap” or whether we can define a policy that we are willing to fund to the max. The Reform Institute’s report quotes Karl Rauscher, Executive Director of the Bell Labs Network Reliability and Security Office, in the following way: “Threat versus vulnerability is an important distinction. Threats are infinite; vulnerabilities finite.” Rauscher makes the point that vulnerabilities are much more within our control. He suggests that the private sector is much more willing to take on the task of addressing vulnerabilities than threats.
I think this makes sense. I see a country suffering from homeland security spending fatigue. I see people who are wondering whether what we go through at airports is really doing anything and whether our efforts at border security will actually work. It’s time to change the paradigm. Up until now we’ve thought about the threat of Islamic terrorism and failed to prioritize the vulnerabilities that we have. Spending to reduce the identified vulnerabilities to our cyber system, our infrastructure, our borders and our national iconic emblems in the National Capital Region is more justified because it is quantifiable.
What will it take to get us to the point where the dialogue can make this kind of change? The answer is leadership. There are political points to be made by maintaining the status quo discussion about potential threats – whether they are air cargo, supply chain, container screening or others. These threats can be difficult to defend against with the resources currently available to DHS. On the other hand, spending money to reduce or eliminate vulnerabilities is realistic, but it comes at the cost of reducing opportunities to gain partisan political advantage on homeland security issues.