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.

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Comments on “Department of Homeland Security Unable To Define 'Homeland Security'”

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Anonymous Coward says:

Re: 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.

That One Guy (profile) says:

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.

Michael (profile) says:

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.

maclypse (profile) says:

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.

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