Monday, August 20, 2012


While Executive Order 13228 had created the Office of Homeland Security to focus solely on terrorism, the Homeland Security Act of 2002 (“HSA”) established the Department of Homeland Security ("DHS") to focus mainly on terrorism. The plain language and structure of the Act made this priority clear: the first three clauses describing the new agency's primary mission referred solely to terrorism, whereas other “natural and manmade crises and emergency planning” were mentioned only once, subsequently, as part of “all functions of entities transferred to [DHS].”

That transfer of entities resulted in the largest and most complex reorganization of the federal government since the Defense Department was created in 1947 (Brook and King, 2007; Moynihan, 2005). With an annual budget exceeding $36 billion, DHS would bring together 180,000 employees from twenty-two originating agencies with very different tasks, cultures and management systems into a coherent whole (Government Accountability Office [GAO], 2007; Donovan, 2005).

Among those agencies were newer organizations, including the Transportation Security Administration (“TSA”), which had been recently created under the Department of Transportation to remedy airport security failures attributed to state and local airport owners and operators (Haynes, 2004). There were also old, well-established or otherwise “independent” organizations such as the Secret Service, the Coast Guard, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (“FEMA”) and the Immigration and Naturalization Service (“INS”). Some of those agencies, such as INS, were broken up into separate entities, while others acquired new functions, sometimes stripped from outside agencies, in order to form new entities like Customs and Border Protection (“CBP”).

This vast collection of agencies was bound to create internal problems.

First of all, mammoth agencies are almost impossible to coordinate and can only function as decentralized systems signaling their intent and making sure that information is shared (see Perrow, 2006). In this regard, it is unclear whether the reorganization of homeland security into DHS has really overcome more coordination problems (as it was also created to do) than it has produced. But, counterfactuals being what they are, we will never know if, as Perrow (2006, p. 13) suggests, "the improvements made in border security, airline security, immigration checks, and a small beginning in port security, all could have been made without any reorganization.”

Second of all, and on a related point, the reorganization produced conflicts of priorities. HSA did provide that DHS would ensure that the non-homeland security functions of its component agencies are not diminished or neglected--except by explicit Act of Congress. (It also provided that DHS would ensure that the civil rights and civil liberties of persons are not diminished by homeland security efforts.) However, in practice, arguably those "secondary" functions were quite often diminished and neglected. For example, many observers have explained FEMA’s mismanagement of Hurricane Katrina (at least in large part) as a consequence of the disproportionate amount of attention it was expected to direct to terrorism after 9/11, as part of DHS' mission (Bellavita, 2008; Brook & King, 2007). Meanwhile, other component agencies were expected to take on new homeland security tasks with no significant budget increases (Brook & King, 2007; Cohen et al., 2006). Overall, in truth, the HSA gave insufficient guidance as to the specific tradeoffs that would need to be made routinely between legacy missions and new security missions (Cohen et al., 2006).

Third of all, beyond problems of structure and priority, the new agency also produced a new clash of cultures. Wilson (2000, p. 91) defines organizational culture “as a persistent, patterned way of thinking about central tasks and human relationships within an organization,” and, again, taking FEMA for example, Cigler (2008, p. 62) observed that “ways to find and kill terrorists and eliminate their sources of funding sharply contrast with the predominant state and local focus on the most common threats to life and property, those stemming from natural hazards.”

Furthermore, these internal problems were only enhanced by DHS' external constraints.

First of all, the massive bureaucratic change was not matched by changes in existing congressional jurisdictions: legislators insisted on preserving the power of their particular committees over one or another component of homeland security functions (Cohen et al., 2006). In 2004, there were an estimated total of eighty-eight congressional committees and subcommittees with jurisdiction over issues related to homeland security (Haynes, 2004). Top agency executives reported having to testify as many as 160 times before congressional committees in their first year, while their staff had to issue as many as 1,300 briefings and respond to hundreds of GAO inquiries (Perrow, 2006, p. 22). (Congress' ability to control the budget and mission of full-blown departments, as opposed to some smaller executive agencies, may also explain why it favored DHS over its predecessor Office of Homeland Security. And, while, in creating DHS, the President was able to obtain a number of key early concessions from Capitol Hill, notably in the areas of personnel management, taking advantage of those concessions would prove politically difficult [Moynihan, 2005; Riccucci & Thompson, 2008].)

Second of all, other federal agencies with homeland security functions, such as the FBI and the Drug Enforcement Administration, remained outside DHS. Flanked by such powerful agencies, it seemed unlikely that the new agency could emerge as a leader in any major federal government efforts to arrest terrorists on US soil (see Lehrer, 2004).

More broadly still, Lehrer (2004) (categorizing homeland security functions into the three main areas of territorial access control, law enforcement and disaster mitigation) points out that a majority of people involved in law enforcement functions related to homeland security do not work for DHS--and, furthermore, while fewer than 15% of all law enforcement personnel in the US work for the federal government, less than half of these work for DHS. Meanwhile, most of the work related to disaster mitigation tends to fall on state and local governments.

In other words, given DHS' lack of control over key aspects of its mission, its effectiveness would have to depend on close cooperation, not only with other federal agencies but also, with state and local governments--an uphill battle, considering that many local officials have reported feeling neglected and made to bear a disproportionate fiscal burden in their homeland security partnership (Eisinger, 2006).

It is only over access control tasks—i.e., immigration services and enforcement—that DHS has been able to display noticeable control and record early “victories” (Lehrer, 2004). In fact, Cohen and others (2006) report that one of the few notable successes of the Office of Homeland Security was helping to obtain a $1.2 billion increase in the immigration enforcement budget. After all, the importance of immigration enforcement in the US government's broader approach to counterterrorism became clear very quickly after 9/11, when the first place the Bush administration went looking for potential Islamist terrorists was the US immigrant community--as it authorized federal agents to use their immigration authority aggressively to detain scores of people.

Accordingly, for better or worse, one could argue that, at least in practice, immigration functions were bound to become (as they may have) the most important part of DHS' work.

Bellavita, C. (2008). Changing Homeland Security: What Is Homeland Security? Homeland Security Affairs, 4(2), 1-30.

Brook, D.A., & King, C.L. (2007). Civil Service Reform as National Security: The Homeland Security Act of 2002. Public Administration Review, 67(3), 399-407.

Cigler, B. A. (2008, December). Emergency Management and the New Administration. The Public Manager, 61-65.

Cohen, D.K., Cuellar, M.-F., & Weingast, B. R. (2006). Crisis Bureau: Homeland and the Political Design of Legal Mandates. Stanford Law Review, 59(3), 673-759.

Donovan, T. W. (2005). Immigration Policy Changes After 9/11: Some Intended and Unintended Consequences. The Social Policy Journal, Vol. 4(1), 33-50.

Eisinger, P. (2006). Imperfect Federalism: The Intergovernmental Partnership for Homeland Security. Public Administration Reviw, 66(4), 537-545.

Haynes, W. (2004). Seeing around Corners: Crafting the New Department of Homeland Security. Review of Policy Research, 21(3), 369-395.

Lehrer, E. (2004). The homeland security bureaucracy. The Public Interest, 156, 71-85.

Moynihan, D. P. (2005). Homeland Security and the U.S. Public Management Policy Agenda. Governance: An International Journal of Policy, Administration, and Institutions, 18(2), 171–196.

Perrow, C. (2006). The Disaster after 9/11: The Department of Homeland Security and the Intelligence Reorganization. Homeland Security Affairs, 4(2), 1-32.

United States Government Accountability Office. (2007). Homeland Security: Progress Has Been Made to Address the Vulnerabilities Exposed by 9/11, but Continued Federal Action Is Needed to Further Mitigate Security Risks. (GAO Publication No. 07-375). Washington, DC: Author.

Wilson, J. Q. (2000). Bureaucracy. USA: Basic Books.

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