The Director of National Intelligence James Clapper tells the story of long-time, overburdened government workers – the“we-be’s” – dealing with the ever changing politically appointed leaders in the Executive Branch. Simply put, the government workers always remember – “we be here before you, and we be here after.” The same “continuity” goes for at least five issues outgoing-Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano’s successor will face at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).
First, and foremost, we are not stopping homegrown terrorism. The cellular levels of “one and twos” now engaged in the process make a most dangerous game of cat and mouse. That game is not going to be helped by the case of NSA leaker Edward Snowden. He has simply made everyone’s life harder by making our enemies aware of our sources and methods. Terrorists learn. We must be faster and smarter. It is a never-ending cycle.
The second challenge at DHS remains the level of coordination it takes to deal with terrorism in the United States. We have 17,620 state, local and tribal law enforcement authorities. While cooperation between Washington and these authorities has gotten much better, getting relevant and timely information back and forth has not improved. A sad indicator was the comment of a senior Boston police office that the local Joint Terrorism Task Force – set up to provide this information – did not give the local police useful information about the Boston Bombers.
A third challenge is a mirror image of the previous one – how can DHS assure rights of individuals to their privacy in the cyber-surveillance age. If the Snowden case has done anything, it has stirred the civil liberties sector in the United States and made the common citizen even less trusting of government. DHS has become a major portion of our de-facto “Interior Ministry.” Can they collect their information, write their reports and still keep Americans safe, yet guard their rights? There is a trade-off between security and civil liberties. DHS is on the cutting-edge of that issue.
The fourth problem is more DC centric but crucial to how the game is played and who can get what done. On the issue of cyber, DHS has yet to firmly establish itself in the firmament of “cyber players” in Washington. While looking to hire 500 “hackers” for domestic “protection” efforts from who knows where, it has also been tasked to reach out to the private sector and share information. While partial efforts have been made in that direction, the fights over information security and who gets what information and when will continue to need to be hashed out.
Finally, in a time of budgetary decline, DHS has to answer the difficult question all in DC now must address – what are we spending our homeland security budget of $40 billion a year to get. The “head shed” as DHS has grown by leaps and bounds – what do they provide? Billions of dollars in grants have been given to state and local authorities. How useful have they proven and should they be continued? Congress will ask questions; answers must be provided.
In the final analysis, no cabinet job is ever easy. However, DHS has been one of the most difficult positions from the day it was created in 2002. The problems are not going to change – whoever is in charge.