The United States continues to face security threats while the new administration and Congress remain in an ideological war with no end in sight. Regardless of political affiliation, there are three areas vital to national security where we can — and must — work together over these next four years.
First is bolstering our country’s cyber security defenses. Cyber threats are a transnational challenge that blur the traditional lines between national security and homeland security. The critical infrastructure that the country depends on, including the election systems that underpin our democracy, are vulnerable to attacks. Both Democrat and Republican party organizations were hacked this campaign season in which criminals stole and revealed salacious email conversations that violated the privacy of Americans. US defense and banking records are also being stolen with increased sophistication and frequency, while trade secrets vital to our economic competitiveness are being sold to the highest bidder on the dark web.
Hostile entities can now remotely control cars and traffic control systems, with implications for civilian safety. Power grids or dams can be commandeered from 6,000 miles away by nefarious actors armed only with a laptop. Everything from home electronics to medical devices are connected to the internet, creating a serious risk to every American. These issues must be addressed now with unified political action — or our nation will remain exposed.
Second, we must better prepare our society for extreme weather events. Disasters strike both Republicans and Democrats, and responding to natural disasters requires both a local and national effort, no matter where one stands on the climate change issue. We must agree to invest in common sense mitigation measures to prevent further record-setting fatalities and economic damages to the American taxpayer.
Furthermore, we also must recognize that our changing environment is becoming a “clear and present danger” to the national security of the United States. Many of our military bases and critical infrastructure facilities, such as shipping ports or power plants, are in low lying areas along US coastlines. It makes them extremely vulnerable to rising oceans and coastal flooding. It is not a matter of “if,” but “when,” these vital security lifelines are knocked offline, leaving our defenses vulnerable. Gridlock on this issue can be broken by developing bipartisan legislative solutions, such as mandating resiliency into a city’s urban planning, especially in disaster prone areas.
Third, we have to fix our crumbling infrastructure. America’sglobal superiority was once a result of “first mover advantage” in the construction of world-class bridges, ports, canals, dams, roads, trains and airports. But we no longer hold this position due to a lack of adequate investment. Europe and Asia have lapped the US in the construction and maintenance of state-of-the-art transportation systems. Board a train or use an airport within these regions, and you’ll see how far their investments have taken them beyond the US. Our lack of focus on this issue has not only resulted in fatal bridge collapses and train derailments, but have raised the cost of delivering goods to market and have wasted millions of hours as commuters endure routine road and airport delays.
Providing Americans with relief from this bleak picture should be a first priority for President Trump and Congress. One idea that both parties should embrace is the creation of the “National Infrastructure Reinvestment Bank” that provides financing for energy, telecommunications and transportation projects throughout the US. The shared goal of Republicans and Democrats is that our national infrastructure is second to none.
Homeland security is one imperative that should be non-partisan. Tom Ridge, the nation’s first Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security was right when he stated shortly after the attacks on September 11, 2001 that “homeland security is neither a Republican or Democrat issue, but an American one.”
Brad Belzak is a recent Director of Legislative Affairs at the Department of Homeland Security headquarters within the Obama administration. He previously served as a Senior Advisor to US Sen. Tom Carper (D-DE) on the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, and then as a career official within DHS under all previous secretaries.