Homeland Security – What Next?

By Doug Doan

So far, none of the presidential candidates have mentioned much about Homeland Security. With so many other problems, issues surrounding how best to organize, manage and lead the vast DHS bureaucracy are just not that important. Too bad. I would have liked to see the candidates talk about what they might do. Here is an agenda that I happily provide:

1. Need for New Leaders. The biggest problem at DHS is that the management team has never been forced to deal with serious budgetary constraints. In the past, the money has simply gushed into DHS, and there was no need to think more clearly and creatively about how to spread those resources more carefully. But the times of plenty are gone. The money spigot will no longer flow as before. Unfortunately, the entire current crop of career and political leaders at DHS learned the wrong lessons. Some might be able to make the transition to a more fiscally disciplined agency, but most will not. Therefore, a huge turnover is going to be required. Hire new leaders and don’t be afraid to promote younger and more innovative career employees. Most of the senior guys have to go.

2. End TSA. Let’s be honest: the experiment did not work. TSA is an intrusive, bumbling behemoth that burns through $8 billion a year and adds little to security. In fact, TSA lines have created new security problems by stacking people up in huge, exposed lines at airports. Armed pilots and stronger cockpit doors, coupled with angry passengers, have provided more improved airline security. TSA should be put out of its misery and downsized. Let the states handle the day-to-day screening, and let them capture the airport fees. Maybe they can find more creative and cost-efficient methods that have eluded the federal government.

3. Banish the Unions. Government employee unions were never supposed to be part of DHS but have managed to creep their way into the fabric of the agency. As a result, line managers now face new challenges and problems that have ossified the entire agency. Creative thinking and innovative solutions are, now, even more remote. The next DHS Secretary should revoke the charters for public service unions and do it quickly.

4. Downsize the Headquarters. Too many DHS employees serve at the Headquarters. Cut the HQ staff by 25%, and you might see a jump in efficiency, as redundant and meaningless meetings are eliminated and line officers actually stationed at the border are given more authority and input into national policy issues.

5. Get the Private Sector Back in the Game. The biggest challenges of DHS (cyber security, supply chain security, Ports of Entry, etc.) all require active participation of the private sector as a full and equal partner. Time to actually let the private sector off the chain and let them innovate and fill the gaps that the government cannot do alone. Our nation’s pitiful Ports of Entry (POEs) are crumbling and ill-suited to handle existing volumes of trade. Worse yet, the federal government withholds permits and erects bureaucratic hurdles on the privately-owned and managed POEs (i.e., Peacebridge in NY, Ambassador Bridge in Detroit, as well as other privately managed POEs in Texas). Many of the privately owned and managed POEs want to invest more of their own money to expand and improve existing facilities. They should be encouraged to do so.

6. Keep Cyber Security Ambitions in Check. DHS has been waging a bureaucratic war to try and emerge as the primary agency responding to cyber issues. That is a mistake. DHS does not have the technological brain pan that NSA and the CIA have available. Why take on a task that you cannot perform? Better, by far, to take on the Cyber responsibility for working with the private sector (something that no other agency can do) and do it well.

7. Expand role and responsibilities of the Targeting Center. The CBP Targeting Center is a diamond in the rough that could be a real jewel. Unfortunately, it spends most of its time duplicating work from other agencies, and not enough effort is spent going after counterfeiters, fraudsters, and smugglers. Best estimates indicate that U.S. manufacturers lose over $1 billion a day to fraudsters and counterfeiters (most often from China and other parts of Asia) that skillfully counterfeit everything (auto parts, drugs, software….you name it). The United States should go after these guys, and the CBP Targeting Center, with some creative leadership, could play a pivotal role in identifying sources of counterfeit goods. Once identified, the United States could then put the screws to anyone thinking that they can make an easy buck by pirating someone else’s products or work.

8. Downsize Public Relations. Though not widely reported, the fastest growth within DHS has been the mind-numbing expansion in public affairs. DHS has hired PR people, at every level, has co-opted small entities like the Private Sector Office, and issued huge contracts to outside firms to perform even more PR. So here is a final idea: instead of spending so much taxpayer funds trying to tell Americans just how great DHS leaders and programs are, maybe instead the Department could actually do great things and let the chips fall where they may.