Improve Long-Range Planning at DHS

DHS has to create its vision of the future and a path to get there.

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The Pentagon has a system in place that assesses the nature of warfare 10-15 years in the future, identifies the military’s requirements, budgets several years at a time, and then develops and deploys appropriate systems and technologies to enable mission accomplishment. The system is far from perfect, but it is broadly effective. On a smaller scale, DHS has to create its vision of the future and a path to get there.

Just as the military is adapting its forces trained for large conventional battles to complete urban counterinsurgency operations, the federal government must decide how much of homeland security’s resources should be devoted to terrorism, natural disasters, or pandemics. If we have a dollar to spend, do we protect an airport, subway, or water system, or reinforce a levee? Is the next attack likely to involve a improvised bomb or malicious computer code? Difficult choices must be made, and DHS must stay ahead of evolving threats. Political extremism represents a danger, but so does global warming, which is expected to amplify the kind of extreme weather conditions we have seen in recent years.

Central to this analysis will be execution of the first Quadrennial Homeland Security Review, a major interagency and intergovernmental assessment led by DHS and due to Congress by the end of the year. Through the QHSR, the Obama administration must redefine homeland security, and then identify specific missions, policies, programs, and tools necessary to succeed.

DHS currently preaches an all-hazards approach to risk management. In the future it must practice what it preaches. Terrorism remains our most immediate concern, but is only one of several challenges DHS should address. Secretary Napolitano seemed to imply this direction when she did not include the word “terrorism” in her opening statement at a House hearing last month. Structuring DHS as an all-hazards agency also means that the Federal Emergency Management Agency should remain part of the department, and not split off as some have proposed.

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