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What is Homeland Security: Do “Homeland Security Professionals” Exist?

2012 June 15
by Jason Nairn, CPP, CISSP

I believe the answer is a resounding “maybe”, at least at this point in history.  However this question might be better answered by looking at two related questions.  These are:

  1. What is a professional?
  2. Are homeland security practitioners professionals?

What is a Professional?

Max Weber, a German sociologist and philosopher addressed the concept of professionalism in an essay examining politicians that provides a uniquely appropriate corollary to the homeland security professionalism issue. Weber described “occasional” and “part-time” politicians, as persons who engaged in politics occasionally (such as voters) or slightly more often for personal gain. For Weber, a “professional politician” was one that “lives for” or “lives off” of politics. In a 1978 translation of Weber’s essay entitled, Politics as a Vocation provides the context for the term professional:

…the prince could not make do, of course, with these merely occasional or part-time assistants. He had to seek to create from himself a staff of assistants wholly and exclusively dedicated to his service, thus professionals. (Gunlicks, 1978, p. 500)

Using the Weber criteria, homeland security practitioners that are “wholly and exclusively” dedicated to service in homeland security could be “professionals”.

Federal employees of the Department of Homeland Security operate in an environment in which homeland security activities comprise 100% of their daily activities.  In the federal department, homeland security is well-defined by statute.  Congress has passed laws creating, defining and specifying the role and activities of homeland security via the department.

At the state and local level the homeland security practitioner is less obvious.  HLS is often practiced at the state and local level by individuals with a variety of duties whose background, education and experience are related to one or more of the homeland security disciplines.  We will identify and discuss these disciplines in an upcoming post.

Are Homeland Security Practitioners Professionals?

Based on the Weber criteria, federal employees of the Department of Homeland Security may well be homeland security professionals.  But outside of the department of the national government homeland security is not clearly defined.  As a discipline, it is unclear that homeland security is, in fact, a profession. It is certainly not on par with one of the “learned professions” which are generally defined as the practices of Law, Medicine and Theology. Are references to “homeland security professionals” outside of the federal government appropriate?  Does one understand clearly a person’s expertise when they are described as a homeland security professional?

Part of the difficulty with the vagueness of homeland security is the inability to understand what qualifications or skills homeland security professionals possess. This difficulty is enhanced by two major factors.  First, homeland security is a U.S.-based term and concept, and second that there is a lack of recognition that other enterprises have resolved vagueness within their own disciplines by emphasizing the core disciplines of their enterprises, as exemplified by the healthcare industry.

Homeland security is a largely American development, used to describe an element of U.S. national security policy and strategy. It is not common to find the term “homeland security” in regular use by countries other than the U.S. To reinforce this point, a simple internet query can be conducted.

The following screenshots represent internet job search results on’s sites related to several English-speaking countries.  Note the results when a keyword search is conducted using the term “homeland security”:

Source: (US)

Source: (Canada)

Source: (UK)

As indicated, the US-based search provides thousands of returns while the Canadian and UK searches yield only a handful of returns which are often from US-based companies.  Homeland security is a US term, and may not mean the same thing in the rest of the world.  What does this mean for individuals getting homeland security degrees at US universities?  Can they only work in the US?  This should be considered by any university or student considering involvement in homeland security degree programs.

The “Healthcare” Example

The term “healthcare” describes the large and diverse array of services related to the maintenance and restoration of the health of people. All persons and jobs that have a nexus to the health of humans are healthcare professionals. One can be in healthcare and not be a doctor; however, there is no way to be a medical doctor and not be in healthcare. There are no “healthcare” degrees at colleges, but there are degrees in healthcare administration and nursing. Because of the broad meaning of the term “healthcare,” there is not sufficient specificity to develop a degree specialty—one has to study the particular discipline or specialty within the broader category.

It might be said that homeland security is a general term and not a specific discipline. Just as there are healthcare professionals, it might be possible to be a homeland security professional if one has expertise in a related discipline.


It is interesting to consider that, as a homeland security professional, one might be an emergency manager, but to be an emergency manager, one does not necessarily have to call oneself a homeland security professional. This dichotomy indicates that homeland security is a term that may be used, or not, depending on individual preference.  I have interviewed emergency managers that call themselves homeland security professionals because it “sounds like a better job”!  Conversely, I know emergency managers that feel that homeland security is not a real discipline.

“Homeland security professionals” do not exist in the same way that “professional engineers” exist. In most states professional engineers must meet a set of standards and pass state-administered examinations before being certified a “professional engineer” or allowed to use the initials “PE”. The current lack of standards or certification is not meant to imply that homeland security officials are unprofessional or lacking abilities. It is important to recognize that homeland security is a field that requires specialized knowledge and expertise.

Based on my experience and research, federal level employees of the Department of Homeland Security might be defined as “homeland security professionals”.   At the state and local level, the term is largely a matter of preference and does not have significant meaning in today’s environment.  Internationally, the term is not commonly used.  These issues must be resolved by the further development and institutionalization of homeland security as a specific discipline, otherwise homeland security is destined for the same fate as Civil Defense.

Gunlicks, A. (1978). Max Weber’s typology of the politicians: A reexamination. Journal of Politics, 40, 498–509.
2 Responses leave one →
  1. October 18, 2012

    Or perhaps a “professional” is one who receives a payment for doing that program, function, or activitiy?

    • Jason Nairn permalink*
      October 26, 2012

      In my opinion, simply receiving payment cannot be the standard for a professional, as anyone that receives payment could call themselves a professional, even if the activity is engaged by a hobbyist or as a whim. A professional must have a higher standard of determination if one is to be infer a certain amount of knowledge and expertise from that title. Since at the state and local level most of those engaged in homeland security do not derive their primary sustenance from their HLS work, they do not necessarily meet Weber’s criteria for a professional. So the question is “Is there such a thing as the HLS professional at the state and local level?” I think not. I believe HLS professionals exist at the federal level only. Maybe.

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