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Long-Term Sustainability in Homeland Security

DHS must move past its perpetual state of emergency and shift its emphasis to long-term sustainability.

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DHS must move past its perpetual state of emergency and shift its emphasis to long-term sustainability. This means shifting its priority from containing the crisis of the moment—first terrorism, then hurricanes, and most recently illegal immigrants—to implementing a strategy of genuine risk management. What is important? What improves our security and resiliency? And what can be done at a reasonable social and financial cost?

DHS must not only have the right policies, but it must also execute them sensibly. As an agency formed in the wake of 9/11, the department’s approach to security thus far has been to prevent bad things from happening, regardless of the costs. Success in meeting new challenges will require DHS to promote smart security that can be sustained over the long term, and to become less risk averse.

One recent incident reveals how far the agency has to go. In his inaugural address, President Barack Obama proclaimed “a new way forward” in U.S. relations with the Muslim world. And yet, less than a week later, a Pakistani citizen with a valid U.S. visa who was affiliated with the non-profit Search for Common Ground was denied entry at Dulles Airport in Chantilly, VA. Customs and Border Protection agents judged him to be an “intending immigrant” despite having a spouse and three children in Pakistan. The practices of DHS’ Customs and Border Protection contradicted the stated policies of the United States—to support Islamic moderates and build stronger relations with a critical ally, Pakistan, in the battle of ideas against political extremism.

To help avoid further incidents, DHS must define its purpose in positive terms—facilitating trade, travel, and legal migration; building resiliency within vital global networks and systems; improving community-based preparedness and information-sharing; and promoting global health. Strictly defining success as the absence of the negative—there hasn’t been a terrorist attack in seven years so we must be doing something right—will blunt any efforts to adapt to a changing risk environment. And the security we have will come at too high a cost.

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