Left to its own devices, every bureaucracy has its own set of priorities which it would like to pursue, if only the world would leave it alone. A famous saying among military professionals is “Soldiers hate war. It ruins the training schedules.”
For the Department of Homeland Security, preferred priorities includes reviewing the Quadrennial Homeland Security Review (QHSR) and using that activity to set a new vision for the next four years.
The origin of the QHSR is found in the history of the Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR) at the Department of Defense. The QDR itself was the product of concerns by a newly elected Republican Congress (in 1997) that the Democrat-led DOD was not focusing its resources on the proper strategic priorities. The QDR (now due each year after a presidential election) requires DOD to conduct an internal review and publicly explain how its resources are aligned with its concerns, priorities and programs. (As an aside, the first QDR, released in 1997, added the terms “transformation” and “homeland defense” to our daily lexicon.) The requirement to conduct and release a QHSR was established by law in 2007.
The QHSR of 2010 (it was released a bit late) identified five major mission areas and a variety of subordinate goals for DHS priority effort over the next four years:
Mission 1: Preventing Terrorism and Enhancing Security
Goal 1.1: Prevent Terrorist Attacks
Goal 1.2: Prevent the Unauthorized Acquisition or Use of Chemical, Biological, Radiological, and Nuclear Materials and Capabilities
Goal 1.3: Manage Risks to Critical Infrastructure, Key Leadership, and Events
Mission 2: Securing and Managing Our Borders
Goal 2.1: Effectively Control U.S. Air, Land, and Sea Borders
Goal 2.2: Safeguard Lawful Trade and Travel
Goal 2.3: Disrupt and Dismantle Transnational Criminal Organizations
Mission 3: Enforcing and Administering Our Immigration Laws
Goal 3.1: Strengthen and Effectively Administer the Immigration System
Goal 3.2: Prevent Unlawful Immigration
Mission 4: Safeguarding and Securing Cyberspace
Goal 4.1: Create a Safe, Secure, and Resilient Cyber Environment
Goal 4.2: Promote Cyber security Knowledge and Innovation
Mission 5: Ensuring Resilience to Disasters
Goal 5.1: Mitigate Hazards
Goal 5.2: Enhance Preparedness
Goal 5.3: Ensure Effective Emergency Response
Goal 5.4: Rapidly Recover
(This list is from the 2010 QHSR at http://www.dhs.gov/xlibrary/assets/qhsr_report.pdf )
Until the DHS completes its own internal review of its success at implementing the 2010 QHSR, it is impossible to predict how these missions, goals and priorities will change in the 2013/14 report. The General Accountability Office (GAO) conducted a review of the 2010 effort in 2011, in which they identified two areas for improvement in the process of conducting the review itself. (http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-11-873 ) These were:
1. Include more stakeholders in the conduct of the review.
2. Better incorporate risk information into the review and subsequent evaluation of priorities.
DHS plans to address point 1 are unknown at this time. But given their emphasis on “Whole of Community” planning, preparedness and response, it would be characteristic of this Administration to mount an extensive effort to reach out to stakeholders for comment on the draft document.
The incorporation of risk information (point 2) is more problematic. The use of risk in the field of homeland security is a complex undertaking which may be doomed to bad publicity (if not outright failure) by its very nature. The issue deserves a longer explanation in a subsequent post. But here is the problem in short:
· Because there is not enough money, time or resources to protect against every possible bad event, a system for categorizing risk and prioritizing efforts is essential for rational homeland security.
· But by the very nature of risk management, some events which are “low risk” but INEVITABLE receive scant attention and support.
· When these inevitable events do take place, no one will want to hear “But we prevented or prepared for an even worse event.”
Instead, officials will seem dense and out of touch for their failure to prepare for and respond to a disastrous but unlikely event – like Hurricane Sandy. And politicians will race before cameras with promises to “cut the red tape” for which they themselves are responsible. They will castigate the slow response and recovery plans which they themselves approved. This is exactly what happened after Sandy.
DHS has one major new tool available for the 2013 QHSR report – a National Strategic Risk Assessment (NSRA), released in late 2011. The idea is to establish an accepted rubric and formula to assess risk, and use it to formulate better priorities. DHS efforts in this area have been admirable. But the formula, process and outcome of risk calculation are classified, so those conducting the analysis will never be able to defend their choices by saying, “Yes but look at the worse situation which we prepared for or forestalled.”
A great example of this disconnect is playing out in public right now. The only unclassified chapter of the NSRA includes a score of identified high risk concerns and priorities. But the list does not include a story like Hurricane Sandy, even though the 15 National Threat Scenarios which the NSRA replaced identified and described an event that looked much like Sandy.
So where does this leave us in trying to anticipate major homeland security issues in 2013?It leaves us guessing about the future of homeland security this year, precisely because of the issue raised in the first sentence of this posting. Ready or not, the world will intervene on DHS’ plans this year, especially in the form of political responses to unexpected events.