PERSPECTIVE: DHS Is Out of Whack and Needs People in the Trenches to Bring Balance

If you are ever hanging a picture in your home, or even building something that needs to be straight, it’s not uncommon to use a level to bring things into balance. By getting the bubble of the level to line up exactly between the two lines, you’ve got things where they to be. In this type of circumstance, they’re balanced, pretty much straight and right where they need to be.

If you were to apply a level to today’s DHS, to assess where it’s at, I think it’s safe to say that even a blind carpenter using the most rudimentary of levels could see that things are increasingly “out of whack” with the department.

Regardless of the type of measure, there is no balance, no sense of evenness and certainly no feeling of stability when it comes to DHS. With increasing numbers of persons serving in “acting” leadership roles, a Congress that is failing to legitimately and urgently address the humanitarian crisis at the southern border, and a White House generating tweet-driven policies with no thought of impact or consequence, it’s hard to look at DHS and say, “Yeah, I feel confident.”

Fortunately, we have thousands of dedicated DHS employees from the Coast Guard, FEMA, Secret Service, CBP, ICE and elsewhere that faithfully do their jobs and keep their eyes, ears, hearts and minds focused on their homeland-securing roles. By that measure, my confidence in our homeland security is on solid ground. But it is the leadership environment – or rather the lack thereof – that is really giving me pause for increasing concern.

The pathetically drawn out and needlessly cumbersome fight that took place in the Congress to pass the most recent disaster assistance bill is symptomatic of this increasing dysfunction. Three congressional Republicans essentially took the recently enacted disaster aid bill hostage over their own concerns over how to pay for it – which is ironic given these members’ support for the recent tax-reform bill and other federal spending measures that added trillions of more dollars to our national debt.

Additionally, congressional leadership for the homeland, especially within the House, has never been more lacking as evident from the recent hearings chaired by Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) in his second go-round as House Homeland Security Committee leader. The committee’s membership on both sides of the aisle have shown they’re more interested in creating their own YouTube moments than asking intelligent questions or shoring up the strengths and capabilities needed to secure every community in America.

From the lack of decent (and regular) pay raises across the federal landscape, protecting the pay of U.S. Coast Guardsmen from further budget follies, stopping government shutdowns that achieve nothing but generating angst for everyone, confirming nominated leadership in a timely up or down manner, nominating leaders who are competent, capable and confirmable to do the jobs for which they’ve been selected (and not solely on their ability to polish the boss’ ego on cable TV) – this list could go on and on, but I think you see the point I am trying to make.

Things are seriously out of whack and getting worse for the homeland security enterprise. The national homeland picture is not hanging with the balance it needs to give us real the clarity of our needs, risks and wants to be a risk-resilient republic.

It should not be lost on anyone that the executive branch and the Congress all swear fealty to the Constitution and vow to protect it. While I don’t doubt the intent of hearts and minds of those who take those oaths, I am seriously beginning to wonder if they possess the competencies and capabilities to perform their jobs. The current crop – both sides of the political aisles and both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue – do not inspire much, if any, hope.

It would be easy to blame these conditions on a particular side of the political aisle or incumbent administration. But the truth is it’s not that easy. Like the national mission homeland security serves, the faults and problems are national in scope and owned by both political parties as well as current and past administrations. The dissolution of the Homeland Security Council within the Executive Office of the President (by the Obama administration); the failure to streamline, amend, and improve congressional oversight (by both political parties); rampant DHS leadership vacancies (both Obama and Trump administrations); atrociously drawn-out confirmation times and procedures by Senate Democrats and Republicans and more are indicative of a system that values process (or lack thereof) over real output.

The saving grace, and what holds today’s homeland security environment together, is the people in the trenches – the federal, state, local, tribal and private-sector members who do the jobs that need to be done, despite the leadership they have at the top, or that provides them with oversight. That is certainly a measure of comfort, but it is not a recipe for long-term sustainability or endurability.

Which is why with the real national and bipartisan leadership fractures widening, it is incumbent on the people in the trenches to raise their voices as much as they can about what needs to be happening in the homeland. As much as leadership is about directing an action to occur, it is also about making things happen when leaders are not doing the jobs they are supposed to be doing.

And in this environment, I’m expecting the people in the trenches will be the ones who put us in a more level position than we’ve had in some time. Our homeland’s security is depending on it.

The views expressed here are the writer’s and are not necessarily endorsed by Homeland Security Today, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints in support of securing our homeland. To submit a piece for consideration, email HSTodayMag@gtscoalition.com. Our editorial guidelines can be found here.

Rich Cooper is Editor-at-Large for HSToday. A former senior member of DHS’ Private Sector Office (PSO), Cooper has been a frequent writer and contributor to numerous media outlets. He is Vice President for Strategic Communications & Outreach for the Space Foundation and a Principal with Catalyst Partners, LLC. Cooper is also a former Senior Fellow with GWU’s Cyber and Homeland Security Institute and has also served in senior positions at NASA, the US Chamber of Commerce Foundation, SAS and several other profit and not-for-profit enterprises.

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