By most objective measures, 2014 was not a good year for the Department of Homeland Security. As we enter 2015, I sense there is a slight bit of subjective optimism that, under the leadership of DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson, things are getting better. Here are the opportunities (and potential challenges) for the Department in 2015.
On Tuesday, Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson announced steps to enhance security at more than 9,500 U.S. federal buildings amid the ongoing threat of attacks from extremist groups. The Federal Protective Service is challenged to secure thousands of buildings where some 1.4 million people pass through each day, and the new steps highlight growing public concern over how ready the United States is to halt threats large and small – and in what way.
The long list of recent security breaches around the Executive Office are inexcusable. Secret Service Director Julie Pierson seems more interested in defending her inept agency than she is in protecting the most powerful person in the world. In short, shame on you, Pierson. Be sure to let the door hit you on the way out.
Today marks the first anniversary of the Boston Marathon bombing. One year later, Boston is preparing for the marathon, and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev awaits trail on murder and terrorism charges. The country may be healing but the threat from domestic terrorism remains.
There are a host of questions Congress ought to be asking about DHS’ use of Predator unmanned aerial vehicles to provide border surveillance. Congressional staff should know how the Predator’s cost stacks up against other alternative means of surveillance. Perhaps the problem is that decisions on what platform to use for border surveillance are not being made on the basis of risk-reward or cost-benefit.
One of the challenges when a tragic event occurs is communicating to the public about it. What do seasoned professionals cite as most important in responding to devastating incidents? I reached out to two friends and former colleagues to get their take on how people should look to respond to “bad days.”
Paul Anthony Ciancia, the 23-year-old who shot TSA agents at LAX, made his first court appearance this month. Since the shooting, news outlets have reported on the attack itself, on Ciancia’s mental state and on methods for improving security. Yet, in the extensive coverage of the shooter’s actions, there is one word that is conspicuously and erroneously absent: terrorist.
The recent attack at the Washington Navy Yard, where Aaron Alexis killed twelve people and injured three others, was the latest example of mass shootings that continue to plague the country. Attacks in public areas have precipitated discussions on emergency response, facility security and even gun control. One element in this tragic phenomenon that deserves more attention, however, is the role of mental illness.
There is no conclusion yet on who President Obama will nominate to take over at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) when Janet Napolitano leaves next month. While Tom Ridge and Michael Chertoff (both former governors) and Napolitano (a Federal judge) did an admirable job leading the Department, perhaps the next Secretary should bring a stronger law enforcement background. A top cop – like a police chief or commissioner – could be just what the Department needs.