I recently wrote about DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson’s “State of Homeland Security” talk. My post prompted a passionate response from Christian Marrone, former Chief of Staff to the Secretary. You can see his comment in full below.

I am grateful for Mr. Marrone’s thoughtful and thorough commentary. I’ve long admired people who devote the majority of their professional lives to public service, and Mr. Marrone served in multiple roles at the state and federal levels. His efforts were especially significant at the Department of Defense during the Bush Administration, and at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in the Obama Administration. His reputation for serving with great distinction is well deserved. That is why I appreciate his observations. He makes some excellent points.

While not to diminish the consideration his comments deserve, two of the points he raises require a direct response.

First, while he does not say this directly, Mr. Marrone infers that those of us who do not have inside knowledge or who have imperfect information (as he characterized my post as “devoid of fact or insight”) are not really competent to comment on policies, procedures and personnel at DHS. I may not have had access to the same facts or insight that he does, but he should not presume to belittle what facts and insight I do have. Whether intended or not, the impression it leaves is one of elitism.

To counter his (mistaken or intended) impression, it seems to me the solution is for DHS to provide greater transparency and better communication across the board and especially to those of us in the “un-informed” category. Strangely, I didn’t find that recommendation in Mr. Marrone’s commentary, in spite of all the other things he notes that were “missing” from my piece.

Let’s be clear: I’m not in favor of DHS releasing classified information, nor the sources and methods of fighting the very real terrorist threats America faces. But a far cry from releasing sensitive information is minimizing communications with private sector stakeholders, who in a sense are some of DHS’ most important clients, doing so by treating the Private Sector Office (PSO) as an afterthought (which is how it appears to me and others.)

We have seen the PSO shrink in size. Perhaps that is because leadership (like Mr. Marrone) has wanted it this way. But leadership has mostly been within DOD and DHS, and so it is difficult to advocate as fiercely for the private sector when you are advocating for defense or for homeland security. I contend that the best ideas evolve from having a diversity of thought and treating the PSO as an afterthought eliminates the likelihood.

Perhaps good work is going on at the headquarters in the Office of Policy (I’m a long-time fan of Alan Bersin by the way) and in other offices at DHS. I continue to believe that the “Unity of Effort” initiative is a positive move to help address some of the problems that have been around since Congress established DHS in November 2002. Not one of my comments were critical of the intent of the Secretary’s goals.

But if Mr. Marrone were to talk with the career DHS employees who I have talked with – the very people who are tasked with making the “Unity of Effort” initiative work – I believe he would likely hear the same skepticism and reticence that led me to conclude that it is being viewed largely as a series of approved talking points (a “Unity of Rhetoric”). What I hear DHS employees saying is something akin to the cultural reputation of residents in the State of Missouri: “I know what you are saying, but SHOW ME!”

Second, Mr. Marrone makes reference to the work being done by the Joint Requirements Council and how the private sector was engaged in the process of reforming the acquisition process. I’m well aware of those private sector listening sessions and have even participated in a couple of the working group meetings. One of the consistent requests to DHS was that there should be more communication and transparency with the private sector stakeholders. To be certain, acquisition reform at DHS is still a work in progress, but DHS Chief Procurement Officer Soraya Correa is exactly right when she says that greater communication is the key to avoiding misunderstandings and procurement-related frustration.

Sadly, this does not seem to be a message that resonates with the operation of the Joint Requirements Council (JRC.) Should one want to find out who the members of the JRC are, you will not find it by searching on the DHS website. Should you want to read the minutes of JRC meetings, a requirement of the JRC Charter (the most recent version of the Charter I could find on the DHS website is from 2003), you will not find them. Should you want to find out what specific topics the JRC has and will discuss at an upcoming meeting, you will not find them either. What one can find is a general purpose slide deck from an Industry Day in August 2015 with no contact names, contact information or calendar of meetings. From what I hear, the JRC is doing good work, and I have no reason to dispute Mr. Marrone’s comment about them. But there is no way of verifying whether that is accurate, at least as of today, and that is where I continue to have a problem.

So I conclude where I started. I sincerely appreciate Mr. Marrone responding as he did and helping build on the conversation of homeland security issues that Security Debrief is designed to facilitate. Thoughtful discussions help sharpen our thinking and analysis. They provide context to the observations we have. I hope many voices will arise on this and other subjects. Let us hear from you—whether you agree with what one of us has said or not.

Original Comment from Christian P. Marrone, Former Chief of Staff to DHS Secretary Johnson from January 2014 to January 2016, posted on Feb. 17, 2016, in reference to “The Business of Homeland Security – Sec. Johnson’s ‘State of Homeland Security’ Talk.”

As a public servant for nearly 19 years serving two Presidents and three cabinet secretaries, I always found it amusing to read columns or blogs written by those that claim to know a particular subject matter but, in reality know very little. So when I stumbled upon this blog post that same level of amusement came back to me and I could not resist responding now that I am no longer in government.

The central tenant of the post – that Secretary Johnson’s Unity of Effort initiative is just a “Unity of Rhetoric” initiative – is more indicative of the content of the blog then the Secretary’s efforts. Devoid of fact and insight, the author points to the fact that two positions within the Department are vacant and a recent hearing on an acquisition program that is nearly as old as the Department itself.

Yet, missing from the blog is the fact that nearly every senior position within DHS has been filled for the last two years. Missing from the blog is any discussion on how the Department’s budget process has been transformed into a mission orientated not component stovepipe driven process. Missing from the blog is any discussion about the joint requirements council or how Department has sought industry’s advice on how to continue to make meaningful and lasting reforms to its acquisition process. Missing from the blog is how the Department’s operations have been transformed under the Southern Border and Approaches joint task forces where the for first time since its creation components are operating together in a joint environment against a common mission. Missing from the blog is any discussion how the Office of Policy has been transformed into the needed strategy and planning arm of the Department. All of these critical efforts and many more that I did not mention are transforming how the Department more effectively functions and were all a part of the Secretary’s Unity of Effort initiative.

It is also important to provide insight into the vacant positions referenced in the blog. The Assistant Secretary Policy, which does not interact with industry on a daily basis, has been occupied by for nearly the past two years with one of the most capable public servants in government today, Alan Bersin – certainly not an empty chair. The Assistant Secretary for the Private Sector, while a position that has been vacant for the past several months, is not the only person in the Department that interacts with industry. To the contrary, the components themselves along with the Under Secretary Management have undertaken a whole series of engagements with industry, which include the first Department-wide industry day. Those that interact with the Department would know this.

To be clear, I not am not suggesting that the Department is perfect and Secretary Johnson’s work is complete. There is still much work to be done as he outlined in his State of DHS speech last week. However, Secretary Johnson in two years has made tremendous progress under the Unity of Effort initiative. To suggest otherwise is not only devoid of fact but ignores the widely held opinions of those that matter in Congress, industry and most importantly the Department’s employees.

David Olive focuses his blogging primarily on the “business of homeland security” — the interaction of the private sector with the Department of Homeland Security and other national security agencies. Read More