Department of Homeland Security

Strengths and Weaknesses of the Department of Homeland Security

When terrorists struck the United States of America in September 2001, the then government had to urgently develop measures and strategies to protect the country against future attacks. As part of these efforts, the Department of Homeland Security-DHS-was formed (Rudman et al., 2021). The core mandate of the DHS is to coordinate as well as unify homeland security policies and efforts in the US (US Department of Homeland Security, 2019). As such, the Department handles a variety of topics such as border security, cyber security, and citizenship together with immigration among others.

Strengths

Since its formation, the DHS has attained notable progress in core mission areas. For example, security in the US is more enhanced than it was prior to the Department’s formation. By launching a number of initiatives, the Department has managed to reduce incidents of terrorism and insecurity within the country’s borders. At the same time, America’s borders are more secure and well managed than they have ever been, thanks to the better staffing of the Border Patrol that has been facilitated by the DHS. A third achievement of the DHS is excellent enforcement of immigration laws, which have led to massive removal of unlawful aliens (Homeland Security Office of Public Affairs, n.d.).

Weaknesses

The above achievements notwithstanding, the DHS seems to have serious limitations that affect its ability to deliver its purpose. According to Rudman et al. (2021), many places have taken place between the time the DHS was created and today. Specifically, the authors state that “what America needs from DHS today is different from when it was founded” (Rudman et al., 2021 para.1). This means that unless the Department reviews and redefines its mission together with priorities, it may soon become an obsolete entity in as far as safeguarding security is concerned.

One of the criticisms raised against the Department of Homeland Security is that it hires inexperienced personnel. Giermanski (2006) observes that the DHS has performed rather poorly because of lack of competent personnel to execute its mission. The authors argue that the Department largely relies on management appointees who lack adequate experience and skill in critical areas such as supply chain operations, security tradecraft, and technology. As a result, the DHS has been characterized by a treacherously high degree of amateurism, which compromises the Department’s capacity to maintain safety as the seaports as well as land ports.

With regard to new security technology, the DHS is criticized for hiring academics and tasking them to do testing of these technologies. While this is not wrong, the problem with this approach is that academics tend to lack real-world know-how and experience in conducting effective assessment of practical technologies (Giermanski, 2006). Because of this, the DHS has installed ineffective technologies- an example being the smart container doors- that have not prevented terrorists from entering the country.

Another weakness of the DHS is an ill-defined mandate. So broad is the Department’s purpose that it has often found itself in conflicts with other entities. Besides overseeing a wide variety of activities and services, the DHS has to work in coordination with multiple external agencies such as the FBI and CIA (Kahn, 2009). With the DHS and these two agencies executing the same responsibility of gathering intelligence, turf battles become inevitable. Likewise, the DHS is not the only entity with responsibility for cyber security, the NSA- National Security Agency- also has the mandate to oversee cyber security, specifically in the military context (Kahn, 2009). With such an overlap, interagency problems are bound to emerge.

There is also a concern that the Department of Homeland Security is not doing anything new in the US. Precisely, allegations are that “DHS was a mistake [and that] instead of solving the coordination problems it was supposed to solve, it simply duplicated efforts already happening in other federal departments” (Lind, 2015 para.4). Much as the Department is putting efforts towards developing security capacity, most-if not all- its programs already exist in other government entities (Lind, 2015). As a result, management of national security apparatus has been hard to achieve. Such an allegation creates the impression that the DHS is an unnecessary entity, a waste of government money; it also creates unnecessary problems for the government.

More interestingly, it is claimed that the Department has been politicized to the extent that it is unable to function smoothly. At such a point, critics consider the DHS a threat to national security (Lind, 2015). In a bid to set itself apart from government agencies that do similar work, the DHS has become extremely politicized, not only internally but also in the way it deals with the Congress. The result of this is that the DHS’ productivity has badly been affected by excess congressional oversight. Officials at the Department have to spend a lot of time getting ready for congressional hearings as well as preparing and presenting reports to Congress members. Eventually, the DHS finds itself with insufficient time to manage its operations or direct its strategy (Lind, 2015). It is for these reasons that critics say that the Department is unnecessary and a waste of money.

Recommendations

In light of the above criticisms and weaknesses, a number of suggestions are offered that would enable the Department of Homeland Security to function more effectively. Firstly, in reference to the interagency problems the Department frequently faces, the only workable option would be to quit participating in intelligence matters and focus on the other specific areas in which it is mandated. This would confer sole obligation for gathering, analyzing and sharing intelligence to the FBI and the CIA. As stated by Rudman et al. (2021), the time has come for the DHS to stop competing with other agencies in executing shared responsibilities; the Department should focus on those activities that only itself is capable of executing.

It is also proposed that the Department of Homeland Security critically reviews its mission and strategy especially within the context of today’s highly dynamic environment. Here, it would be wise to buy the suggested by Rudman et al. (2021) of reforming the Department around a purpose that goes beyond the Department’s conventional protecting roles, spanning to safety. Whichever the approach, it is time the DHS refined its mission together with priorities in line with current needs.

With concerns that the DHS does nothing except duplicating other government agencies’ programs and efforts, it would be logical to call for the abolition or disbanding of the Department altogether. However, the truth is that there is need for a government agency that is solely tasked to maintain citizens’ safety together with wellbeing. Despite allegations that DHS staff is inexperienced and that the entity is seriously flawed, the fact remains that “there is no other department with DHS’s range of flexible authorities and unique capacity to respond to [safety] issues that fall between the gaps of responsibilities of other federal departments” (Rudman et al., 2021 para.11). In other words, the DHS is the only agency capable of pursuing and achieving its stated objectives. For this reason, the recommendation is that the government should give the DHS the resources it needs to fulfill its mandate; the government should also firmly and clearly delineate the DHS’s responsibility and protect it against excess interference by external parties such as the Congress.

References

Giermanski, J. (2006). Homeland Security’s fundamental weaknesses. www.csoonline.com/article/2119781/homeland-security-s-fundamental-weaknesses.html#:~:text=DHSs%20apparently%20inexperienced%20management%20appointees,gathering%20and%20analysis%20of%20intelligence).

Homeland Security Office of Public Affairs. (n.d.). Homeland security starts with hometown security. https://www.dhs.gov/xlibrary/assets/dhs-accomplishments-fact-sheet.pdf

Kahn, L. (2009). The problems with the Department of Homeland Security. https://thebulletin.org/2009/06/the-problems-with-the-department-of-homeland-security/

Lind, D. (2015). The Department of Homeland Security is a total disaster. It’s time to abolish it. Vox. www.vox.com/2015/2/17/8047461/dhs-problems

Rudman, M., Martinez, J., Mathema, S., Schmitt, A., deLeon, R.,… & Wolgin, P. (2021). Redefining Homeland Security: A New Framework for DHS to Meet Today’s Challenges. www.americanprogress.org/article/redefining-homeland-security-new-framework-dhs-meet-todays-challenges/

US Department of Homeland Security. (2019). Department of Homeland Security strategic framework for countering terrorism and targeted violence. www.dhs.gov/sites/default/files/publications/19_0920_plcy_strategic-framework-countering-terrorism-targeted-violence.pdf

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