Last week Secretary Napolitano gave a very good address to the Council on Foreign Relations. She highlighted the critical role of international partnerships in advancing homeland security and the commendable progress that DHS has made in that regard.

But it could be much better. My colleague Marc Frey and I previously have suggested that several DHS “trusted traveler and trade” programs (e.g., the Visa Waiver Program, Global Entry, and C-TPAT mutual recognition arrangements) could be packaged together and formalized as a more comprehensive set of instruments for simultaneously improving security, the economy, and diplomacy. As we noted, DHS’ efforts to expand these programs have been ad hoc, leading to less expansion of these programs than warranted. A nugget from Secretary Napolitano’s address last week is illustrative.

The Secretary noted that within the last few weeks, DHS signed deals to create a Global Entry partnership with the airport in Doha, Qatar, and a Pre-Clearance arrangement with the airport in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. Both of these programs are geared toward the same ends: to facilitate legitimate travelers’ entry into the United States. But why was one program chosen for Doha and another for Abu Dhabi? What do other countries need to do to qualify for Global Entry? For Pre-Clearance? Do the foreign governments simply need to have the right connections in Washington? Will DHS push to increase the number of these partnerships, or is it incumbent upon the foreign governments to push DHS?

No doubt DHS has its internal reasons for selecting some countries over others, and using one program in one place while using a similar program in a different place. But the opacity to external audiences suggests an ad hoc, less-than-robust effort to capitalize on the broad range of potential international partnerships.