Beyond the secretary and the deputy secretary (who has the task of running the day-to-day DHS operations) what are the 10 most critical jobs for the next administration to fill to get DHS up and running under new management quickly and with as little transition shock as possible?
We asked a wide assortment of lawmakers, former homeland security officials and outside experts to give us their lists. They were surprisingly consistent, with almost everyone agreeing on which were important enough to make it into the top 10.
Security Debrief’s Rich Cooper writes below about all 10 positions he considers to be the most critical:
I was recently asked by CQ what were the Top 10 appointed positions the new Administration will have to fill at DHS, outside of the positions of DHS Secretary and Deputy Secretary. The following is my take:
Top 10 Positions to Fill at DHS
1. FEMA Administrator – No selection, outside of the actual Secretary position, will generate more interest by Members of Congress; state, local and tribal government leaders; the news media and the general public. This individual will be subject to intense scrutiny of their qualifications and ability to handle the off the-scale disasters such Katrina as well as the smaller ones (floods, tornadoes, etc.) that occur every week. The prospective nominee will also be put on the spot about their thoughts on whether FEMA should remain inside DHS or be removed – the incoming Administration’s pick will likely dovetail that decision.
2. Under Secretary for Information & Analysis (Chief Intelligence Officer) – The successor to Charlie Allen will be who the next DHS Secretary looks to about what color day it is going to be? “Are we still at Code Yellow, or are we an Orange today?” Their guidance as a senior intelligence professional plays a central role in how the DHS Secretary starts to position the Department to respond to incoming threats and changing conditions, as well as what counsel the Secretary can impart to the President. Furthermore, the U/S for I&A will be the starting point for critical information that goes out to the Fusion Centers as well as other key components (state and local law enforcement agencies, private sector members, critical infrastructure, etc.). The way they share that information will say a lot about the future of our capacity building in these key areas.
3. Under Secretary for National Protection & Plans Directorate – While the position is one often overlooked (and forgotten), this is the part of the Department that will have huge influence over the biggest challenge the new Administration will face. NPPD, or the ‘Protectorate’ as it has been dubbed by many, oversees cyber security for DHS. By directly overseeing the Assistant Secretaries for Cyber and Infrastructure Protection, the U/S for NPPD will be the person on the hook for management and execution of cyber initiatives, and will be tasked with managing the related turf battles. Accompanying all of these responsibilities will also be a very big checkbook and a host of overseers (Congress, GAO, IG, other federal agencies, private sector, media, etc.) ready to shine a light on every investment and expenditure.
4. Assistant Secretary for Infrastructure Protection – The next A/S for Infrastructure Protection (IP) will be handed the keys to a number of tools that their predecessors did not have. With formal processes in place and a number of other new working components, the A/S for IP will be able to engage all of the facets of our nation’s critical infrastructure. The new A/S will also have the responsibility for making sure we are ready for any number of threats and scenarios. This person will have to be not just the champion of the private sector, but also their coach who is pushing them to take more aggressive steps to protect themselves and improve resiliency. To do that, they will have to forge relationships of trust and respect with a range of public and private sector interests that are almost always at odds with one another. It will require balance, perspective and perseverance to manage it all in what are often highly charged political and operational environments – but the job has to be done.
5. Assistant Secretary for Cyber – This person may have the toughest challenge of any of the new appointees. With so many competing interests in the public and private sectors all jockeying for money, authority and attention, this person will have to be the one to bring the cyber circus to order. Whether through bullwhip or chair, the unenviable person in this seat will require the full backing of their immediate boss (the U/S for NPPD) as well as the DHS Secretary to be taken seriously. Without that support, the proper credentials to prove they know what they are talking about and the personality to tame the various lions and tigers and bears running around the circus tent, this person will have an empty title and no ability to succeed in protecting our most interdependent infrastructure.
6. Administrator, TSA – Every traveler who has gone through an airport since 9/11 has a personal stake in this selection. Whether it is taking off their shoes, putting their shampoo in a clear quart bag for inspection or finding a note in their luggage that someone took a look at their stuff, Americans want to know if someone running this particular DHS operation has shared their frustrations with this process. All travelers understand the need for the post-9/11 security measures, but they also want to know that the person helming these efforts will bring common sense to their operations. In balancing those desires, the next TSA Administrator will also have to look for new methods to screen passengers and cargo (living up to the Congressionally enacted demands for 100% screening) while not adversely impacting the flow of commerce or incurring excessive costs. Like their other DHS senior colleagues, they will be asked to do the impossible: contend with constant oversight and criticism, an over extended budget and strained personnel all to make sure nothing bad ever happens.
7. Commissioner, Customs and Border Protection – The next Commissioner of CBP will have to complete the border fence project and determine the future of the Secure Border Initiative. In addition to that Herculean feat, they will also have to fulfill the 100% cargo screening mandates enacted by Congress and secure the border from illegal incursions by both those seeking a better life for themselves and those who have more nefarious interests. Their job will never be popular, especially in those places where border enforcement and fence construction efforts intrude upon property rights or community desires. Nor will they be popular for putting forward processes and programs that cause costs and delays to rise in cargo scanning and impede the flow of commerce.
8. Under Secretary for Management – While it is not an immediate front-line position in the minds of the American public, the U/S for Management is responsible for the Department’s personnel, its books/acquisition and daily operations. While that may not nearly as exciting as patrolling the border or sharing intelligence information with Fusion Centers, it is every bit as challenging, dangerous and thankless. Regardless of the fact that the Department is over five years old now, it is still in need of a personnel system that works; books that can be audited; acquisitions that occur without hassle or havoc; and a whole lot more. Keeping track of over 200,000 employees, thousands of contractors; billions of dollars in taxpayer funds and more falls to the U/S for Management. This person is accountable for what happens in these areas and often has no easy answers to present.
9. Assistant Secretary for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) & Director, US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) – Immigration may not have been a debate issue in the 2008 Presidential Campaign but it is an issue that cannot be ignored for long. The new President is going to have to deal with it at some point, and the Assistant Secretary for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the Director of USCIS will be the operational points for whatever the Administration and Congress end up doing. US citizenship remains the goal for millions of people here in the US as well as around the world, but how those persons become citizens and what enforcement mechanisms are used to remove those here illegally are radioactive issues. ICE’s enforcement actions have been branded by a few Congressional Members and other politically notable individuals as ‘terrorism’ and cruel. Whatever feelings people may have about ICE’s role and the methods they use, the Assistant Secretary is enforcing laws enacted by Congress and approved by President. It will be up to the new President and Congress to decide how to act and the judgment of the American people whether they approve of it or not come Election Day 2010 and 2012.
10. Assistant Secretary for Policy – Policy may only be interesting and exciting to the creatures of the Beltway, but if you want to know why something is the way it is, you just need to look to the underlying policy. DHS’ Office of Policy branch has the responsibility for coordinating policy across the expanse of the Department. From dealing with matters associated with CFIUS (Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States); immigration reform; REAL ID; Secure Flight; employment verification; private sector engagement, international affairs, strategic planning and so forth, the Policy Office is tasked with coordinating the Department’s approach and engaging the interests of outside stakeholders. Every word has meaning, but policy often lends itself to being executed. Ill-informed, ill-prepared and ill-advised policy can lead to disaster as DHS experienced with the Dubai Ports World controversy in 2006. The next A/S for Policy will have the challenge of trying to tune the DHS band of instruments into some sort of harmony. If they can’t, they risk the noise and dissonance that come from everyone not being on the same sheet of music – a problem that will only make the Department’s job that much harder to do.