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DHS secretary emphasizes strategic planning, southern border

May. 29, 2014 - 04:40PM   |  
By MARC PEARL   |   Comments
Marc Pearl is president and CEO of the Homeland Security & Defense Business Council.

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The Department of Homeland Security’s industry partners should welcome and applaud Secretary Jeh Johnson’s recent “Unity of Effort” April 22ndmemo to his senior leadership. The memo not only demonstrates his stated commitment to building, maturing, and uniting the organization, but also provides important insights into his priorities and ambitions for the agency.

The secretary’s vision for DHS is one that should please industry and Congress, as he stresses the need for accountability and connectedness between strategic objectives, budgeting, acquisition decisions, operational planning, and mission execution. Johnson not only recognizes the significance of the upfront development of strategy, planning, and joint requirements to the execution of the mission, but he is also calling for prompt action to get these capabilities developed and coordinated within the agency. Specifically, his call for action demonstrates his seriousness about the department working together to figure out how to best meet mission responsibilities in a constrained resource environment.

While the memo is too long to cover all of the action items in detail, there are a few critical points that industry will be eager to follow over the next few months.

First, Johnson emphasizes the need for strategic planning, which has long been considered lacking at the department. Strategic planning is a critical step in the ability to develop technology roadmaps and long-term strategic investment plans. Industry relies on this strategic planning information to make investment decisions and to drive innovation and R&D towards the government’s greatest needs. In order for industry to develop and deliver the technologies, products, and services that DHS needs now and in the future, it must have greater insight into the agencies challenges and long-range acquisition and procurement plans. Better strategic planning is an important and positive step in making this happen.

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In this regard, the secretary has directed DHS to stop work on the current version of its FY14-18 strategic plan until the newly-created Senior Leaders Councilsets the vision and specific, mission-focused outcomes for the next five years. This suggests Johnson is not interested in just checking the box that DHS has completed a strategic plan, but rather, by having the goals set and plan developed under his leadership, he wants his senior leadership and the entire agency to “own” the resulting plan. Johnson is making himself accountable for ensuring that the final product is meaningful and actually used to guide DHS’ future budgeting, acquisitions, and operational planning.

Second—in addition to an overall strategic plan for the agency—the secretary specifically calls for the development of a strategic framework for the security of the U.S. southern border by August 1st of this year, along with a set of nested “campaign plans” for specific geographic areas or problem sets. This directive is significant for a number of reasons, one of which is that of all of DHS’ many mission areas, border security is the only one specifically called out for action in the memo. Whether this is in part a response to political pressure from the Hill or a necessary first step in the administration’s ability to tackle immigration reform, it indicates that Johnson is making the security along our southern border among the highest priorities for DHS. Though billions of taxpayer dollars have been spent trying to “secure” the southern border, this overdue strategic planning effort should help guide future spending towards achieving more clearly defined objectives and targets.

It is my hope that what results from these planning efforts will also serve as the basis for an open, transparent, and comprehensive dialogue with industry – separate and apart from any particular acquisition or procurement plan. The secretary’s memo, both on strategic planning in general, and the southern border initiative in particular, creates an opportunity for government and industry to jointly discuss the best ways to strategically align their resources, minimize duplicative efforts, and leverage existing technology, expertise, and dollars towards the most critical needs of the department.

If industry is included in such discussions, we will be in a better position to assist Secretary Johnson in promoting the type of effectiveness and efficiencies that he is seeking through his “Unity of Effort” memo.

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