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If you work in the homeland security arena, you’d literally have to be under a very large rock or on another planet to not know that DHS is in the midst of its first ever, Quadrennial Homeland Security Review (QHSR).  The QHSR is a statutorily required process by which the nation every four-years (through DHS) looks at its duties in homeland security, pulls out the yard stick, and takes measure of what we are doing in these areas and what we should be doing in the future.

It may seem strange to be having a conversation about what we’re doing in homeland security nearly eight-years after 9/11, especially after creating one of the government’s largest Cabinet departments with over 220,000 employees and operations that impact nearly every facet of American life.

For as much as we all love to talk about everything under the sun, as Americans, we’re more doers than we are talkers.  We just go do things and that’s how we got started in this thing we call, “homeland security.”

If you think back to the weeks and months following the 9/11 attacks we never spent a lot of time talking about what we should do to secure the homeland.  Instead we just started taking action like creating the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) to safeguard air travel and other transportation systems from further attack, passing the Patriot Act and other measures to combat terrorism, creating DHS and so on.

As such we really skipped having any type of substantial or thoughtful conversation related to this thing we call “homeland security.”

Nearly eight years after 9/11, we are finally making time to have some long-overdue conversations and defining what it means to make the homeland secure.

Under the umbrella of the QHSR, DHS is attempting to do something that Republican and Democrat led Congresses have been unable to do with this issue – facilitate an open, civil, non-politically charged, transparent conversation on these issues.

Beginning, August 3rd and going for the next several weeks, DHS, in a partnership with the National Academy on Public Administration (NAPA), is facilitating this “National Dialogue on Homeland Security” via the Internet and new media.  With a dedicated site (www.homelandsecuritydialogue.org) focusing on core mission areas and openhanded outreach to national and international stakeholders, DHS has been pulling out all the stops to get the word out that they want to hear what people have to say about what they do.

Making these efforts even more dramatic is the fact that DHS has been able to carve its own path with doing this quadrennial review.  Rather than stick to the conventional playbooks of its older Cabinet department siblings (e.g., Departments of State, Defense, etc.) that also have their own quadrennial review processes, DHS is making full-use of the Internet and new media to post questions and issues for public feedback.

In a monumental step that I can only compare to Neil Armstrong’s first footprint on the Moon, DHS initiated on its own, outreach to fifty or so stakeholder groups seeking their inputs and comments into what the Department’s vision and mission should be rather than seek their feedback after their work is basically complete.

This, ladies and gentlemen, is what we call fastening the horse to the cart rather than the conventional and standard government practice of placing the cart before the horse.  It is an extra-ordinary exhibit of common sense where you would least expected it – the government where common sense is not common at all.

For as much as DHS has been derided (appropriately and inappropriately) by its government peers, Congress, media, general public and others for their missteps and mistakes, they are putting themselves at the forefront of the new, virtual and very vibrant public square for civic engagement, information and empowerment.

Rather than just go through the motions of pretending to care what the public thinks or the outmoded and overly cumbersome Federal Register process to get inputs on its future, the Department and its leadership have rather boldly put themselves in the middle of the virtual town square, put up their white board for everyone to see and stated rather loudly, “Tell me how you think I’m doing and what we should be doing better.”

That takes guts because some of what they hear will not be nice.  Some of the feedback they get will be given by the informed as well as the ill-formed citizen or organization.  No doubt some of the posted comments they get will look like the raging rants of the angry, 9/11 conspiracy-believing, Michael Vick hating, PETA crowd that fill countless on-line chat rooms.  Other inputs though will provide some new insights to the vision, mission, and operation of the country’s homeland security activities.

By taking these steps, DHS is facilitating in the words of DHS Assistant Secretary for Policy, David Heyman, “a fresh look at homeland security.”

“Fresh” is not a word we often hear when talking about homeland security and “dialogue” is one we’ve not heard or used a lot of either.  The QHSR as DHS leads it is looking to offer both.

Given that we’ve been doing this homeland thing now for several years, we’re more than due for some fresh perspective on what we’re doing, how we are doing it and what we should be doing in the future.  We were never afforded the time or luxury after 9/11 to answer those questions with any real measure of substance because very frankly we never had time to and we didn’t make the time either.

We now do and if we are going to get better in securing the homeland, we have to do some other things as well.  Thinking, listening, learning and respecting one another come to mind and if DHS can facilitate such a process in the QHSR, just imagine what else it could do.

Rich Cooper blog 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