Chuck Brooks serves as vice president/client executive for DHS at Xerox. He served as the first director of legislative affairs for the Science & Technology Directorate at DHS. Chuck was an Adjunct Faculty Member at Johns Hopkins University where he taught homeland security and he also spent six years on Capitol Hill as a senior advisor to the late Sen. Arlen Specter. (Courtesy of Chuck Brooks)
Since its creation, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has strived to implement a “One DHS” vision of having its varied component agencies be centrally accountable and coordinated. Although that vision has encountered obstacles inherent in the startup of a major federal agency, it needs time to assimilate multiple cultures and formally structure processes, missions and operations.
Despite its growing pains, DHS has accomplished its primary counterterrorism mission to secure the homeland during the first decade of operations. Now fixing agency operational functions under the umbrella of “One DHS” is a major priority and is being revisited and articulated by the new DHS Secretary, Jeh Johnson.
The secretary has made leadership and accountability his mantra since being nominated to the role this past year. On Feb. 26, 2014 during testimony before the House Committee on Homeland Security, Johnson concisely spelled out his visions for the department. Among his top stated priorities was injecting new energy and focus into the DHS leadership and management roles.
As follow-up to that testimony, on Johnson sent an official memorandum letter in April titled “Strengthening departmental unity of fffort” to 31 key members of the DHS leadership. The letter noted that the DHS must “operate with much greater unity of effort” and “must have better traceability between strategic objectives, budgeting, acquisition decisions, operational planning and mission execution, in order to improve both departmental cohesiveness and operational effectiveness.”
Reactions among current and past employees have been positive to the planned undertaking and the memo is boosting low morale for those who work day to day to try to rectify strategic gaps between the component agencies of DHS. Christian Beckner, deputy director of George Washington University Homeland Security Policy Institute and former Senate Homeland Security Committee staffer characterized the memo as “a good first step for the DHS leadership at tackling a set of critical issues that have a direct impact on the department’s effectiveness and its stewardship of taxpayer dollars.”
Johnson’s memo also received accolades from those on the other side of the political aisle including Sen. Tom Coburn, the ranking member of the Senate Homeland Security Committee. In an interview with Albuquerque Journal, the Senator said that he was encouraged by Johnson's letter and his overall leadership of the agency four months into his tenure.
Coburn also stated that “[Johnson] wants to get his hands around the decision-making process because most of the waste at Homeland Security, and most of the stupidity, is because people aren't being held accountable. I think Jeh Johnson is going to hold people making critical decisions accountable."
The timing of Johnson’s memo coincides with the introduction of new Congressional legislation, H.R. 4228, the DHS Acquisition Accountability and Efficiency Act that is designed to provide practical reform via transparency and accountability. The legislation also promotes the “One DHS” goal of centrally improving efficiency in the department’s budgeting, procurement, strategic decisions and missions.
It is very important that DHS and Congress are on the same page since 108 committees and subcommittees have oversight over the agency’s time and resources. With a clear plan to address the DHS’s workforce, management gaps and weaknesses, and strong bipartisan support, it appears Johnson may be on his way to the “One DHS” objective. Johnson’s initiative will likely bring dividends of less oversight from Congress, more fiscal accountability, and increased strategic efficiency to the DHS’s next decade of operations, both at the overall agency and the component levels.