A few days ago the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) published the first Quadrennial Homeland Security Review (QHSR). Like its older cousin, the Department of Defense’s Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR), the QHSR was intended to be prospective in character, to lay out a theory of the problem of protecting the homeland, a strategy for addressing the problem and specific action steps needed in order to ensure that DHS has the requisite capabilities to pursue the aforementioned strategy. The QHSR was also tasked to address issues pertaining to the homeland security enterprise defined as “the Federal, State, local, tribal, territorial, nongovernmental, and private-sector entities, as well as individuals, families, and communities who share a common national interest in the safety and security of America and the American population.”
The first QHSR presented DHS and the Obama Administration with a unique opportunity to shape the character of DHS, perhaps even the entire homeland security enterprise, towards a new vision of homeland security. With so much potential and promise, including an administration that firmly believes in a “wholeness of government” approach to complex security issues, it is beyond sad that the document just released is, for want of a better term, banal. Or to use a time worn but very apt cliché; what’s new isn’t interesting and what’s interesting isn’t new. The timing of the QHSR is particularly ironic as it comes in the aftermath of a series of successful and near-miss terrorist attacks at Fort Hood and Detroit which have led at least a once vociferous proponent of DHS, outgoing Senator Kit Bond, to wonder if his vote in favor of creating that department was miscast.
The QHSR is basically a rehash of the strategy, missions, and objectives set down in the various documents and directives written during the Bush Administration. There is the same foci as before on terrorist threats, particularly the possibility of terrorists armed with weapons of mass destruction, securing transportation methods and the borders against illegal crossings and illicit traffic, protecting critical infrastructure (to include cyber space), and mitigate effects of man-made or natural disasters. The methods proposed have not changed: deter, detect, disrupt, prevent, protect, deny, secure, render resilient mitigate and recover. Then there is lots of fluff about creating common mindsets, sharing more and fostering a national culture of cooperation and mutual aid.
For all its faults, the Department of Defense’s QDR provided an assessment of the current security environment, identified significant changes in the threat, developed a rationale for prioritizing military responses to different threats and defined specific force structure packages and capability requirements for both the near-term and far-term threats. QDR makes an argument for changing the way the defense department does business, the investments it should make and the actions it should take.
The QHSR does none of these things. It provides no rationale for DHS continuing to do what it has been doing. There are no metrics for success. The report lacks any sense of prioritization whether it is with respect to threats, mission, programs or technologies. It is quite the appropriate document to be signed out by a Homeland Security Secretary who described the chaos of the Christmas Day bombing as “the system worked.”
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