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New Congressional Report: Homeland Security Still Not Defined

2013 January 28
by Jason Nairn, CPP, CISSP

We have said here that we are not quite sure what “Homeland Security” is, particularly at the local level.  Now a new report from the Congressional Research Service (CRS) says that ten years after the 9/11 attacks the federal government still does not have a concise definition for homeland security. The brief report is unambiguous as it points out the strategic repercussions of the lack of agreement on the scope and function of homeland security. Consider this passage from the report’s summary:

“Varied homeland security definitions and missions may impede the development of a coherent national homeland security strategy, and may hamper the effectiveness of congressional oversight. Definitions and missions are part of strategy development. Policymakers develop strategy by identifying national interests, prioritizing goals to achieve those national interests, and arraying instruments of national power to achieve the national interests. Developing an effective homeland security strategy, however, may be complicated if the key concept of homeland security is not defined and its missions are not aligned and synchronized among different federal entities with homeland security responsibilities.” (p. 2)

The report discusses the evolution of the homeland security enterprise in the various strategies and reports that have been published since 2001 and discusses the implications of the lack of consistency on the nation’s overall homeland security strategy. A highlight of the report is a useful table on page 8 entitled “Summary of Homeland Security Definitions”. It provides an overview of the pertinent homeland security strategic plans and their associated definitions for “homeland security”. This table should be required reading in every Introduction to Homeland Security course.

An opportunity exists to augment this report by discussing the implications of homeland security ambiguity to state and local governments, universities and the private sector. States and local governments must implement programs related to homeland security in support of the national effort. State and local government officials need a thorough understanding of the stated goals of homeland security in order to provide that support. Further, colleges and universities are developing programs that provide degrees in homeland security. Without a clear understanding of what homeland security means, it will be difficult to fully prepare the next generation to fill strategically important roles in the enterprise. And businesses across the country are developing products and services to serve a discipline that could stimulate the economy. But to be successful these businesses need clarity of the mission.

The essential problem is summarized very concisely in the following passage from the analysis section of the report:

“Homeland security is essentially about managing risks. The purpose of a strategic process is to develop missions to achieve that end. Before risk management can be accurate and adequate, policymakers must ideally coordinate and communicate. That work to some degree depends on developing a foundation of common definitions of key terms and concepts. It is also necessary, in order to coordinate and communicate, to ensure stakeholders are aware of, trained for, and prepared to meet assigned missions. 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.” (p. 13)

Our compliments to the CRS and analyst Shawn Reese for a hard-hitting report that doesn’t mince words. We at Homeland Security Roundtable hope it gets the attention it deserves.

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