Deputy Homeland Security Secretary Elaine Duke said the “Unity of Effort” initiative at the DHS is maturing through supporting Customs and Border Protection in their mission to secure the U.S. borders.
“It’s amazing, it is a wild ride, but I think a wonderful time for men and women of DHS, and of the country – that we’ve been given a platform to do many of the things we have to do,” Duke said at the Border Security Expo in San Antonio on Wednesday. “Our priority is, I’ll call it, the border security system.”
The “border system” includes not only the physical security at the border, but immigration strategy, vetting for concerns such as fraud and criminality and disaster mitigation and preparation. The DHS’s holistic strategy addresses the moment an illegal immigrant crosses the border through their process in the United States.
Duke is working to ensure that the massive department – the collection of more than 22 agencies at its inception – is working to support each of its components by easing bureaucratic and other barriers that impede the efficiency and efficacy of the mission.
“What we’re looking at is how do we build DHS headquarters, which really, in my opinion, has never had enough attention to be a joint enabler of the operating components,” she continued.
Under her leadership, the department is looking at how several agencies working across a specific initiative can prep more collaboratively, therefore bringing them forward as a whole system.
In April 2014, then-Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson issued a leadership memorandum calling for strengthening DHS’s “Unity of Effort” meant to “transparently incorporate DHS Components into unified decision-making processes and the analytic efforts that inform decision-making.”
Citing organizational challenges and the difficult budget environment faced by the department, the effort acknowledged that even after more than a decade since the creation of the department the organization needed strengthened planning, programming, budgeting, and execution processes and the analytic efforts to inform decision making. The effort resulted in a new mission statement for the 22-component, 232,000-person workforce: “With honor and integrity, we will safeguard the American people, our homeland and our values.”
Duke’s extensive experience is extremely well-suited to improving and enhancing the DHS headquarters operation with common-sense solutions, deep understanding of the component missions, and a career of leadership on management and budget within the federal government.
“When you look at immigration reform as it is now, the necessity for Customs and Border Protection, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Coast Guard, our Joint Terrorism Task Forces, to all work together more, we have to have that enabling joint function at the borders,” she said.
Duke acknowledged DHS is “not going to change Congress and the way they appropriate, so we need to build budgets somewhat jointly.”
When discussing procurement and RFPs, she proposed “moving the dialogue back further in the process.” By this, she meant before specific RFPs have been released so as to better enable honest dialogue between government agencies and those providing products for homeland security.
“As an example, next month we’re meeting with the airline industry to talk about the aviation threat so we can jointly own the problem, develop requirements and find out the state of technology,” the deputy secretary said. “We want to tell you [industry] where we’re going and the risks we’re facing and how we’re prioritizing them, so you can better make smart business decisions.”
Duke touched on the weighty topic of President Trump’s promised “big and beautiful” wall system, which has demonstrated through the success of the first 650 miles built that it does, in fact, help with border security.
Prototypes of eight different kinds of walls are now being tested. “That would be a fun job – breaking down the wall,” she quipped. Testing involves trying to breach the walls, similar to testing performed to prevent cyberattacks. They’re looking for attributes such as strength and durability and must consider on-the-ground factors such as topography.
She acknowledged the controversial nature of the wall. “We have to balance the urgency of the mission versus people and the environment,” Duke said.