Department of Homeland Security Unable To Define 'Homeland Security'

from the we-have-one-thing-to-do-and-that-is-[tbd] dept

The problem with large government agencies is "feature creep." If given a broad enough area to cover, years of territorial expansion and absorption of "related" entities will render the agency nearly unrecognizable from its original form. Not only that, but any stated directive or focus will have been lost, abandoned or hopelessly mutated as well.

If the government agency was crafted in "response" to a tragic event, the problem is both magnified and accelerated. As Wired reports, slightly more than a decade on from its formation, the Department of Homeland Security is having trouble defining the very thing it's in charge of.
What is “homeland security?” The federal bureaucracy doesn’t know, and that’s problematic for a government that has been fighting the ill-defined “war on terror” following 9/11, according to a new report from the Congressional Research Service.

In short, “homeland security” is whatever the government says it is.

Thirty federal entities — among them agriculture, education, labor, treasury and social security — are receiving “homeland security” funding. The actual Department of Homeland Security, created in the aftermath of 9/11, receives 52 percent of the “homeland security” money pie, according to the Tuesday report.

“Ten years after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the U.S. government does not have a single definition for homeland security,” the report said. “Currently, different strategic documents and mission statements offer varying missions that are derived from different homeland security definitions.”
The varied definitions given by the DHS and the White House still put the main focus on "terrorism," but others list "Homeland Security" responsibilities as including border/maritime security, immigration, natural disasters and "other hazards."

According to the Congressional Research Report, posted at Secrecy News, this lack of definition undermines the very "security" the agency is supposed to be providing.
“An absence of consensus about the inclusion of these policy areas may result in unintended consequences for national homeland security operations,” the CRS report [pdf] said. “For example, not including maritime security in the homeland security definition may result in policymakers, Congress, and stakeholders not adequately addressing maritime homeland security threats, or more specifically being able to prioritize federal investments in border versus intelligence activities.”

“The competing and varied definitions in these documents may indicate that there is no succinct homeland security concept. Without a succinct homeland security concept, policymakers and entities with homeland security responsibilities may not successfully coordinate or focus on the highest prioritized or most necessary activities.”
Part of the problem here is the large number of entities who receive funding under the "Homeland Security" banner. Trying to craft a unified front is nearly impossible as each entity has its own "mission statement" to justify its funding. Speaking of which, the report thinks the funding itself could be adding layers of fuzziness to the "homeland security" definition.
At the national level, there does not appear to be an attempt to align definitions and missions among disparate federal entities. DHS is, however, attempting to align its definition and missions, but does not prioritize its missions; there is no clarity in the national strategies of federal, state, and local roles and responsibilities; and, potentially, funding is driving priorities rather than priorities driving the funding.
Unsurprising, to say the least. This sort of normal government agency behavior does very little towards cutting through the vagueness surrounding it. This lack of clarity is the last thing you want to see in the DHS, either in its role as a "protector" or as a "respondent." This results in redundancy and inefficiency which hampers proactive and reactive measures, resulting in less of the safety and security the agency was created to provide.



Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
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    weneedhelp (profile), Jan 11th, 2013 @ 11:33am

    DHS is there to protect the government from... well... everything. Even its own citizens.

    Gotta have continuity of government at all costs.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2.  
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    That One Guy (profile), Jan 11th, 2013 @ 11:36am

    It's easy enough to explain...

    If they actually sat down and defined what exactly they were responsible for and supposed to be doing, then that would almost certainly cut down on the amount of funds they could grab, and affect how they were allowed to spend them.

    Why, if they had actual, listed goals, they might even have to show some real progress towards them!

    Much better, both financially and control-wise for them to keep it as vague as possible.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3.  
    identicon
    Michael, Jan 11th, 2013 @ 11:36am

    You have to look at this from the bureaucrat point of view

    A benefit of large government agencies is "mandate expansion." If given a broad enough area to cover, years of territorial expansion and absorption of "related" entities will render the agency far more efficient at funneling tax dollars into the pockets of bureaucrats and contractors. Not only that, but any stated directive or focus that they may not be accomplishing can be easily hidden, abandoned or hopelessly mutated without reprisal as well.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4.  
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    Zakida Paul (profile), Jan 11th, 2013 @ 11:37am

    Why does the US need so many agencies?

    DHS, FBI, CIA, DEA, ICE, NSA.... the list goes on.
    Couldn't their functions be rolled into just 1 or 2 agencies? It just seems so inefficient to me.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5.  
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    Zakida Paul (profile), Jan 11th, 2013 @ 11:37am

    Re:

    Also, what's with all the acronyms?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6.  
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    That One Guy (profile), Jan 11th, 2013 @ 11:38am

    Re:

    I'd say 'especially it's own citizens' actually, considering how the government tends to treat and view them.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7.  
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    Michael, Jan 11th, 2013 @ 11:40am

    Definition

    home·land
    /ˈhōmˌland/

    Noun
    1) A person's or a people's native land


    So, other than native americans (and that can be argued), their mandate seems to be something about security for other countries.

     

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  8.  
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    Lord Binky, Jan 11th, 2013 @ 11:46am

    Load Watson back up with Urban Dictionary, and then let Watson come up with a working definition.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9.  
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    maclypse (profile), Jan 11th, 2013 @ 11:53am

    It's pretty interesting really... I just saw the film "Breaking the Taboo", which deals with the war on drugs. Feels much the same as the war on terror really, or the war on copyright infringement. They all have a few similarities: they all work towards the creation of police states, cost billions, hurt a lot of people - and in the end seem to have no measurable positive effect what-so-ever.

    It's taken 40 years to even begin to question the effectiveness of the war on drugs. I wonder if the politicians will learn from this, and rethink the approach they take on terrorism and copyright infringement. I really hope we won't be stuck with these issues for 40 years as well.

    Waging war on your own population, and treating everyone as a criminal until proven innocent, is never a functional solution.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jan 11th, 2013 @ 12:09pm

    Re: Re:

    I'd say 'especially it's own citizens' actually, considering how the government tends to treat and view them.


    Reaching for the analogy:
    That's because if someone's hands are repeatedly caught in the cookie jar, sooner or later they will have to incriminate and hunt down the baker. It just looks bad for the cookie-thief otherwise. Then you force them to bake cookies for free in confectionary "economic recovery" camp.

     

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  11.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jan 11th, 2013 @ 12:15pm

    Just rename it the "Department of Bureaucracy" and be done with it.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jan 11th, 2013 @ 12:30pm

    The more agencies there are the easier it is to spread the blame when something bad happens.
    The problems that give rise to Brooks law applies to any problem of co-ordination. For the problem of security it can be restated as adding another security agency makes it more likely that intelligence will not be passed to the right person in time to be of use.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13.  
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    John Fenderson (profile), Jan 11th, 2013 @ 1:15pm

    Re: Definition

    I was born in the United States, therefore I'm a native.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jan 11th, 2013 @ 1:37pm

    Emotional based legislation should be struck down from the get go. It's never good for the people and in the long run it almost always leads to very severe unintended consequences.

    Yeah it might make me sound like a cold hearted jackass but such decisions need to be made with a clear head.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jan 11th, 2013 @ 1:50pm

    'years of territorial expansion and absorption of "related" entities' plus years of non-monitoring or 'do what you want' attitudes from government, no one would have a clue what is legally covered and what is disputed

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  16.  
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    Canadian, Jan 11th, 2013 @ 2:29pm

    I just thought that their scope was anything that made the lobbyists in the homeland insecure. Keep the money rolling, right?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  17.  
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    maclypse (profile), Jan 11th, 2013 @ 4:00pm

    Re:

    Can't we make it the Bureau of Bureaucracy instead? "Bob" just sounds so much friendlier, and it's all about soothing the general public and making them feel safe after all...

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  18.  
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    maclypse (profile), Jan 11th, 2013 @ 4:03pm

    Re:

    If you do that and ask for a definition, Watson would revert to one of it's former answers: "Bullshit"

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  19.  
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    Anonymous Monkey (profile), Jan 13th, 2013 @ 9:27pm

    Re: Re:

    Welcome to the Land of Alphabet Soup! Get your bowl now!

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  20.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jan 18th, 2013 @ 2:38pm

    why did DHS buy 1.6 billion rounds of ammunition in the past 9 months? Are they preparing for a war or something? hmmm

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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