61 F
Washington D.C.
Friday, April 12, 2024

COLUMN: Maintaining a Strong Department of Homeland Security

The spirit of homeland security should transcend politics and there is strong tradition of senior political appointees staying above the fray to protect the Nation against terrorism, cyber attacks and to manage the consequences of natural disasters.  From within the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) the ethos of putting country first and staying out of political fights is the dominant value system and I have no doubt that the men and women of the Department who serve in uniform, work as sworn law enforcement officials, and serve in civilian security roles in agencies such as FEMA, CIS and CISA adhere to that standard every day they go to work.   

It is a troubling phenomenon, however, that some of our Nation’s political leaders seem committed to turning homeland security into a political issue (or maybe making sure it stays one).  The impeachment by the House Republicans of Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas is the most prominent example of this trend and it remains hard to comprehend that a good and loyal public servant is being impeached not for high crimes and misdemeanors but instead for a policy disagreement and trying to navigate how to balance enforcement challenges given constraints in law, policy, and resources.  As former Secretary Michael Chertoff, and fellow HSToday Board Member, wrote in The Wall Street Journal (https://www.wsj.com/articles/dont-impeach-alejandro-mayorkas-misuse-of-process-for-policy-differences-1f0ba02c), “I can say with confidence that, for all the investigating that the House Committee on Homeland Security has done, they have failed to put forth evidence that meets the bar.” 

In addition to the politically-motivated impeachment of Mayorkas, my attention was caught this week by an article in Politico about the political headwinds facing my former agency, CISA.  (https://www.politico.com/news/2024/02/12/dems-warn-of-grim-future-cisa-00140787).    The article recounts the possibility of retribution against CISA by a Republican administration based on its previously bipartisan-lauded election security work.  One of the principal sources of the article was a Mandate for Leadership report, which was produced by the Heritage Foundation’s Presidential Transition Project – Project 2025. (https://www.project2025.org/) 

That report deserves a read by those of us who care about the future of DHS because it paints a very different future for the Department than its current trajectory; it also deserves to be taken seriously as it will undoubtedly frame the transition period if there is a second Trump Administration.  (The author of the DHS portion is former Trump Acting Deputy Secretary Ken Cuccinelli.) Amongst the most salient points it proposes: 

  • Pursuing legislation to abolish DHS.  In doing so, it proposes moving CISA to the Department of Transportation, FEMA to the Department of the Interior, Coast Guard to the Department of Justice and merging border agencies; 
  • Privatizing TSA and eliminating several DHS Offices to include the Office of Intelligence and Analysis, and the Office of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties and the Privacy Office; 
  • Politicizing much of the senior Department staff by adding more political appointees to DHS, to include in the Office of General Counsel which is tasked with interpreting and advising on implementing DHS authorities and limiting interaction between Hill staff and the agency to political appointees.  At the same time it recommends several steps to disempower career staff with expertise in DHS programs; 
  • Changing the fundamental nature of DHS support to State and local governments by eliminating FEMA grants and mandating States share sensitive information with the Federal government as a condition for grants that remain. 

There are a series of other policy proposals that are based on instituting an enforcement-first approach for border and immigration, necking down the focus of many key programs, prioritizing national security and defense efforts for homeland security, cutting down on immigration flow, putting more responsibility on States and localities to fund disaster response, and emphasizing the defense mission of Coast Guard.  Many have merit while others seem to be largely based on a theory of government that limits a whole-of-community approach to homeland security that has been in favor the last 20 years. 

This is not a timid set of recommendations.  It is a mandate to try to eliminate much of the 2002 Homeland Security Act and, barring that, exerting more political control over DHS to implement the President’s priorities.  It would effectively redesign the Department’s authorities to be more responsive to presidential direction.    

Since the inception of DHS, there have been four presidents and seven confirmed Secretaries.  Throughout that period, homeland security has been a professional discipline conducted at the Federal level mainly by career staff dedicated to maintaining whole-of-community relations with State and local governments and the private sector and strengthening international sharing of information and risk mitigation efforts.  Strategies have largely been consistent and not hugely different across administrations of different political stripes.  The exception to this has been with border security and immigration enforcement and the country bears the scars of an incoherent approach that has not led to desired border security outcomes.  When other parts of the mission have bene politicized, they have suffered more than succeeded. 

With the release of the Heritage Foundation’s plan as well as the actions in the House of Representatives this week, it seems more and more likely that one of the major areas of disagreement between the presidential candidates in 2024 will be the future of DHS.  I continue to hope that it be a Department that prioritizes bi-partisan approaches to risk mitigation and national security.  I fear for the consequences if that changes.       

author avatar
Bob Kolasky
Bob Kolasky is the Senior Vice President for Critical Infrastructure at Exiger, LLC a global leader in AI-powered supply chain and third-party risk management solutions. Previously, Mr. Kolasky led the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency’s (CISA) National Risk Management Center. In that role, he saw the Center’s efforts to facilitate a strategic, cross-sector risk management approach to cyber and physical threats to critical infrastructure. As head of the National Risk Management Center, Mr. Kolasky had the responsibility to develop integrated analytic capability to analyze risk to critical infrastructure and work across the national community to reduce risk. As part of that, he co-chaired the Information and Communications Technology Supply Chain Risk Management Task Force and led CISA’s efforts to support development of a secure 5G network. He also served on the Executive Committee for the Election Infrastructure Government Coordinating Council. Previously, Mr. Kolasky had served as the Deputy Assistant Secretary and Acting Assistant Secretary for Infrastructure Protection (IP), where he led the coordinated national effort to partner with industry to reduce the risk posed by acts of terrorism and other cyber or physical threats to the nation’s critical infrastructure, including election infrastructure. . Mr. Kolasky has served in a number of other senior leadership roles for DHS, including acting Deputy Under Secretary for NPPD before it became CISA and the Director of the DHS Cyber-Physical Critical Infrastructure Integrated Task Force to implement Presidential Policy Directive 21 on Critical Infrastructure Security and Resilience, as well as Executive Order 13636 on Critical Infrastructure Cybersecurity.
Bob Kolasky
Bob Kolasky
Bob Kolasky is the Senior Vice President for Critical Infrastructure at Exiger, LLC a global leader in AI-powered supply chain and third-party risk management solutions. Previously, Mr. Kolasky led the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency’s (CISA) National Risk Management Center. In that role, he saw the Center’s efforts to facilitate a strategic, cross-sector risk management approach to cyber and physical threats to critical infrastructure. As head of the National Risk Management Center, Mr. Kolasky had the responsibility to develop integrated analytic capability to analyze risk to critical infrastructure and work across the national community to reduce risk. As part of that, he co-chaired the Information and Communications Technology Supply Chain Risk Management Task Force and led CISA’s efforts to support development of a secure 5G network. He also served on the Executive Committee for the Election Infrastructure Government Coordinating Council. Previously, Mr. Kolasky had served as the Deputy Assistant Secretary and Acting Assistant Secretary for Infrastructure Protection (IP), where he led the coordinated national effort to partner with industry to reduce the risk posed by acts of terrorism and other cyber or physical threats to the nation’s critical infrastructure, including election infrastructure. . Mr. Kolasky has served in a number of other senior leadership roles for DHS, including acting Deputy Under Secretary for NPPD before it became CISA and the Director of the DHS Cyber-Physical Critical Infrastructure Integrated Task Force to implement Presidential Policy Directive 21 on Critical Infrastructure Security and Resilience, as well as Executive Order 13636 on Critical Infrastructure Cybersecurity.

Related Articles

- Advertisement -

Latest Articles