The Department of Homeland Security (DHS), which came into existence on March 1, 2003, was the largest national government reorganization since the creation of the Department of Defense, the Central Intelligence Agency, and the National Security Council, all outcomes of the National Security Act of 1947. The new department, the result of the Homeland Security Act of 2002, was organized by bringing together 22 disparate organizations and entities from across the national government. Notable inclusions in the new department are the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Secret Service, the U.S. Coast Guard, the Border Patrol, the U.S. Customs, several entities related to immigration, and the new Transportation Security Agency. Also included in this array were several offices from the Department of Justice. Though the purpose of the department was clearly outlined in the legislation, over time the mission space was defined around preventing, protecting from, responding to, and recovering from incidents of national significance. Though the nation is perceived to be safer and expectations remain high for this new organization, the overall performance of the department has been disappointing and a chasm between the homeland security apparatus at the national level and that of the 39,000 general purpose jurisdictions at the state and local levels has remained problematic. This entry examines the development of the DHS and discusses challenges and future directions.
Following the devastating terror attack on the United States on September 11, 2001, the legislative and executive branches of the national government took swift action to form an organization that might address how to secure the nation from devastating acts of terror. Immediately after the attacks of 9/11, government entities at all levels began working together to ensure that “homeland security” would be a national effort, not just a federal one. However, this level of goodwill and cooperation would not last for long. Inside the new department, the various agencies were having difficulty sorting out roles and mission space. Many of the units brought into the new department were still performing duties that had little or nothing to do with homeland security. There were also clear disagreements over what should or should not be done in building national homeland security public policy. Over time, a bevy of national policy documents were issued that, unfortunately, could be characterized as top-down, one-size-fits-all, federal-centric, and focused on terrorism through weapons of mass destruction. This approach was not congruent with the evolution of homeland security thinking at the state and local levels of government.
After the initial shock of the attacks was absorbed and the first burst of grant funding had been dispersed to state and local governments, those jurisdictions below the national level absorbed homeland security responsibilities into the public safety and emergency management domains. Though terrorism was certainly a large concern for most of the larger metropolitan areas in the country, other concerns affected the judgments—and budgets—of smaller jurisdictions. Terrorism was but one of many “hazards” that concerned most local governments. Their orientation toward an “all-hazards” approach to protecting their constituents was galvanized by the far more common occurrences of flooding, wild fires, earthquakes, tornados, and hurricanes. Similarly, with each passing year, grant funding from the national government dropped off precipitously. At one point in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, some 19 grant programs were dispensing funds to state and local governments, of which only about half were controlled by the new department. To this day, special grant funding for emergency management, fire services, and law enforcement are still not controlled by DHS.
Many of the difficulties encountered in the new department can be assigned to institutional pathologies. For instance, though oversight in Congress of the Department of Defense is found in some 36 separate committees in the House and Senate, the DHS must answer to 80 committees, even though the Defense budget is 10 times that of DHS. All together, 412 of the 435 representatives and all 100 senators have committee assignments with DHS oversight responsibilities. Officials at the DHS are constantly being called to Capitol Hill to provide testimony. This intrusion into the daily workings of a nascent department has had a deleterious impact on retention and morale. Furthermore, each of the secretaries charged with running the department has conducted extensive studies and has led countless attempts to reorganize.
Apart from the issues related to state and local budget, revenue, and tax constraints, perhaps the greatest shortfall in developing cooperation with Congress and state and local governments has been the resistance at DHS to engage elected officials in the policy development process. In a host of initiatives that include the development of public policy documents dealing with national preparedness, officials representing the executive branch have been remiss in reaching out to elected officials, particularly at the state and local levels. The face of an incident is not that of the local emergency management director or police chief. The face of the incident is likely to be a mayor or a governor. State and local executives and legislators have not been included in the development of homeland security public policy.
In summary, the instability caused by the constant organizational upheaval and institutional conflicts have only exacerbated the problems facing the Department of Homeland Security. Matters were not helped by the perceived weak performance of the new department during Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in the late summer of 2005.
Hurricane Katrina was a late summer storm that came ashore near the city of New Orleans, Louisiana. Though significant warning was available, a host of problems arose that left the most vulnerable elements of the population of the city in harm's way. After the storm made landfall, several of the protective dikes around the city gave way, flooding the lowest, and poorest, neighborhoods and destroying nearly all real and personal property in the area. The vivid pictures of people stranded on rooftops and huddled together in the Superdome broadcast on the news left the impression that government at all levels had abandoned those most vulnerable. Though the reality was quite different, the perception and narrative were set. The new department, given its first test, had failed. In particular, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the president were to take most of the blame. When Hurricane Rita came ashore in Texas a month later, things were not much better. In the area around Houston, individuals who had escaped Katrina were again asked to evacuate to avoid the devastation of this newest storm. Again, DHS did not cover itself with glory.
In the aftermath of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, Congress passed legislation that was intended to correct perceived shortfalls at the national level, particularly when DHS would be called on to assist state and local governments in the future. Though many of the post-Katrina recommendations have been adopted, there remain significant disconnects between the national government and those charged with protecting citizens at the state and local levels.
Between 2007 and 2010, DHS has issued a host of documents that were intended to broaden the outreach to state and local government stakeholders and to expand federal government support of all hazard policies that dominate actions at the lower levels of government. Regardless of the rhetoric used to socialize these new documents, the policies within are still focused predominantly on terrorism and are even more federal-centric than in the past. This approach to homeland security national public policy has resulted in some interesting outcomes across the country. Making matters worse has been the devastating impact of a stressed economy, felt hardest at the state and local levels.
Over the past decade or so, jurisdictions seeking support from the national government through presidential disaster declarations have increased dramatically. Because of the 24-hour news cycle, most administrations have yielded to the pressure of showing some activity, particularly in the form of advancing support through financial means to victims of natural disasters. The tendency of the national government to grant these declarations has had some significant unintended consequences. Though cooperation and mutual aid have become more common among jurisdictions, there are some interesting dynamics occurring. When jurisdictions share common borders, the governments have a greater inclination to build formal mutual aid agreements. This interlocal cooperation is most prevalent in metropolitan areas where the core city holds a significant fraction of the population. Cooperation among jurisdictions occurs even in smaller metropolitan areas that have several distinct governments sharing a common regional interest. However, as has been identified in several studies, some smaller urban areas that are some distance from major urban centers have underfunded various responder functions knowing, or anticipating, that larger jurisdictions will come to their aid if catastrophes occur. The risk calculations associated with this pathology are reflected in public budgets. Though formal agreements dominate arrangements in urban areas, such is not the case in less populated regions of the country.
Small urban centers and rural areas form mutual aid arrangements based on personal relationships and informal agreements. Most of these jurisdictions lack the administrative and operational capacity to develop their own source capabilities, and because resources are scarce, governments are incented to find partners with whom they might form support bonds. One need look no further than the events in Greensburg, Kansas, or Parkersburg, Iowa, both devastated by tornados in recent years, to see how this type of cooperation plays out. Furthermore, emerging research seems to indicate that political culture may influence the willingness of governments to cooperate in homeland security preparedness efforts.
Since the beginning of the economic downturn in 2008, state and local jurisdictions have been faced with extraordinarily difficult policy decisions related to revenue and spending priorities. Any expectation on the part of the national government that these government entities would change funding levels to enhance public safety, emergency management, or homeland security is misguided and uninformed. Nearly every state has had to find ways to balance budgets without affecting areas such as education, economic development, public health, job training, and transportation infrastructure. Often, rather than enhancing public safety capacities, elected officials must reduce funding to this area to meet the expectations and preferences of local and state constituents. Though the disconnect between the national government and the rest of the country may be profound, there are initiatives being considered that may someday close the distance between levels of government in homeland security public policies.
One of the most significant changes in national-level policy has been the merging of the Homeland Security Council with the National Security Council. The concept that national security encompasses homeland security seems a step in the right direction. Furthermore, programs such as those outlined by the Project for National Security Reform, a bipartisan research effort focused on revamping the entirety of the national security apparatus, offers organizational, legislative, and administrative options that will enhance interagency cooperation that is currently functioning at less than efficient levels.
Though the DHS has yet to fulfill its promise, the future seems brighter. As the number of homeland security professionals at the national, state, and local levels increases, policy options offered by DHS are more likely to be sensitive to and considerate of the vagaries of governing at the state and local levels. Similarly, as the economy begins to recover, more revenues flowing into public coffers will most certainly lead to increased cooperation among jurisdictions and expanded administrative and operational capacities in each jurisdiction around the country. Perhaps of greater significance is the advancement of new concepts of community resilience that reflect a more holistic approach to the protection of constituents that better reflects the preferences of citizen-voters. Through the interdisciplinary study of the social intelligence of a community, elected officials and responder professionals can identify at-risk populations, develop policies that mitigate risk, and focus on those factors that unnecessarily divert resources from safe, secure, and self-sustaining neighborhoods and communities.
See Border Patrol; Civil Defense; Natural Disaster, Military Response to; 9/11 (2001); Terrorism
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