Five years ago, I could have written that CBP was the worst agency in the federal government, almost hopeless. It was not responsive to stakeholders, seemed resistant to doing business new ways, and was being starved of resources by Congress. Fortunately, recent leadership at CBP has been much more open to new thinking. Old policies and staffing models remain a frustration, but the attitude has changed for the better.
The ongoing partial government shutdown and the looming debt ceiling debacle are the latest examples of the U.S. federal government’s perpetual dysfunction. The conflict between Congress and the Executive Office, as well as poor leadership all around, does not just impact budgets and deficits. Indeed, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has also suffered because of a federal government that can’t seem to get much done.
By Lora Ries
The House of Representatives is experiencing a burst of energy to encourage DHS to implement a biometric exit system. While we remain without a biometric exit system, the lack of such a system has not been for a lack of legislation. It has been the leadership of DHS that has declined to implement a biometric exit system. What will it take to actually implement biometric exit?
The House Committee on Homeland Security held hearings on yet another “biometric exit” mandate, which would require collection of biometrics from travelers departing the country and matching them to biometrics obtained at arrival. Yet, there are already several laws mandating entry-exit data matching. It’s almost like there is some sort of disconnect between the Hill and DHS.
At Wednesday’s Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs committee confirmation hearing for Stevan Bunnell as DHS General Counsel and Suzanne Spaulding as Under Secretary of NPPD, both Chairman Tom Carper and Ranking Member Tom Coburn decried the number of leadership vacancies at DHS. Senator Carper and Coburn’s comments are a positive development, even if the political headwinds are very strong.
Another 9/11 anniversary is upon us. Looking back over the last 12 years, the United States has made a lot of progress in securing the country, and much of this progress grew out of the 9/11 Commission recommendations. Yet, one of these recommendations has not received much action – indeed, no action at all. Congressional oversight of homeland security is as duplicative, wasteful and counterproductive as ever.
For all of the names being bounced around for DHS Secretary, a couple have caught me by surprise, but none of them was as jaw dropping as the news that the Congressional Black Caucus is encouraging President Obama to nominate Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee as a replacement for outgoing-DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano. I can only hope that others see her consideration for one of the toughest jobs in the world for what it really is – an unrealistic and unfunny joke.
Charles Kenny, a Fellow with the New America Foundation and the Center for Global Development, published an opinion piece in Bloomberg BusinessWeek called, “The Case for Abolishing the DHS.” He makes some powerfully accurate assessments on the return on investment from DHS, but as powerful as those arguments and examples may be, Kenny’s declaration that “closing the DHS is a small government solution that works” is a glass-is- half-empty summation that misses some important metrics.
The Center for International Policy recently released a report entitled “Drones Over the Homeland,” which provides an excellent analysis of CBP’s Unmanned Aerial Vehicle program from inception to the present. It adds significantly to the debate Congress should be having about the wisdom of using UAVs for surveillance. I hope congressional appropriators will take note.
When I attend various meetings around DC on cyber issues, I often see confusion and challenge – good people trying to resolve confusing issues, wrestling with individual – as well as the country’s – social and political demons. Cyber is a new kind of land. It has no physical dimension. There are no borders or boundaries, and everyone seems to be a part of something that no one can control. People in DC are bit lost right now, and there are some distinct cultural reasons why.