Transition Planning at Homeland Security


Department of Homeland SecurityHere’s an update on my earlier blog on national security transition. 


Today’s Washington Post reports that a study by the National Academy of Public Administration concludes that the Department of Homeland Security is lagging in its planning efforts to prepare for the presidential transition.  However, even given this conclusion, the Department’s efforts far outpace efforts underway in other agencies.


There has been a high level of concern in Congress that there be a smooth transition, in part because of a fear of a terrorist attack during or after the presidential election.  This concern has been heightened by reports that the Department has undergone a number of internal reorganizations in recent years and that, as a new department, this will be its first transition. As a consequence, Congress requested the Academy to conduct this study late last year. 


The Academy said in the introduction to its report: 


“. . .  the President must have in place a cadre of leaders and advisors whom he or she trusts and who:

·      Are politically empowered to act.

·     Can fully grasp the significance of the available intelligence

·      Have the experience and mettle necessary to act on that intelligence

·     Are intimately familiar with the National Response Framework and the roles and responsibilities of the many players

·      Have established relationships with relevant private sector partners and government officials (both career and political) in their own department, in other federal departments, at the State and local level, and internationally who will need to mobilize resources to prevent or respond to a terrorist attack.


Having these foundations established and experience in place cannot be imparted by a briefing book; there will be no time for “on-the-job” training.”


The report addresses several issues:


·     The adequacy of DHS executive resources, including the mix of career vs. political appointees (on par with other agencies)

·     An assessment of gaps in the DHS senior leadership structure (over a quarter of the 248 senior executive positions are vacant)

·     DHS training initiatives for transition readiness (balanced efforts underway)

·     An assessment of the DHS transition plans to date (comprehensive strategy still needed)


The report offers a series of recommendations, stretching from pre-convention to post-inauguration.  For example, designating a full-time transition director in the Department now, reaching out to presidential candidates to encourage them to name a homeland security transition team early, and conducting comprehensive scenario exercises after the election to acquaint the new designated-appointees with the operational capacities of the Department.


The Academy’s expert panel that prepared the report concluded with several broad insights, which begin to set the stage for the next Administration:


“First, the Panel believes that there is more work to do to overcome resistance to DHS headquarters’ role in integrating the work of the individual components. This was one of the founding goals for the department. Second, the Panel notes the problems created for DHS by the multiple congressional oversight committees to which it reports. The Panel found that this oversight has stretched DHS resources, made it difficult to enact important legislation and created a potential for policy disarray.”


A separate effort to assist the Department in its transition planning effort is being undertaken by the Council for Excellence in Government.  The Council was asked to map out the “national response framework” for how the federal government would respond in an emergency, especially one that reaches across organizational boundaries within DHS, across other federal departments, and state and local governments.  According to a story in Government Executive magazine, the Council assembled a bipartisan blue-ribbon panel to help guide the work.  In addition: “The council will run 30-person, interactive workshops beginning next July, at which federal officials and other experts will go through potential scenarios and discuss a curriculum of what they need to know to make the transition smooth.  At a minimum, incoming appointees should know what information they need in an emergency, the people with whom they need to communicate and the method of communication,” according to Council President Patricia McGinnis.


The Council will also sponsor workshops for incoming political appointees so they can understand their roles and the capacities of their organizations as well as what goes on at the local and state levels during an emergency response.


Like the Academy, the Council will provide its insights in coming months as well.


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2 Responses to “Transition Planning at Homeland Security”

  1. Kyle Stone Says:

    Is it not the case that there are several quite recent developments which make the transitioning presidency more burdensome that it has to be – including certain provisions awarded to Iraq which are quite difficult to reverse? It’s not that the GI Bill isn’t an extremely important provision to award to our soldiers, it’s the fact that the Bush administration won’t be counter-budgeting heavyweight bills such as this – the next administration will be.


  2. John Kamensky Says:

    Kyle — You’re right. In fact Dr. Martha Kumar’s advice to candidates’ pre-election teams is to start compiling a list of the incumbent president’s commitments that will come due in the next president’s term. . . especially those that could have an impact in the first year. Historically, that’s largely been done via administrative or regulatory actions. President Bush’s chief of staff has sent a memo to agencies telling them to not issue “midnight regulations,” those regs that are implemented in the last remaining weeks of an administration. However, keeping an eye on things probably isn’t a bad idea.

    The Congress sometimes adds to that agenda, as well. The new GI Bill provision has a timetable that will affect the next president’s agenda at the Dept. of Veterans Affairs. There are other legislative provisions that have deadlines in the first few months of the next president’s administration, as well. The biggest challenge, however, may be the fiscal year 2009 budget — to take effect this October 1st — may not be enacted and that could cause a sense of crisis (or opportunity) when the next president takes office.

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