The Department of Homeland Security: Goals and Challenges

The Department of Homeland Security: Goals and Challenges

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Jennifer Mitchell

Graduate Research Assistant, WMD Terrorism Project

Jason Pate

Deputy Director, Chemical and Biological Weapons, Nonproliferation Program


On September 20, 2001, in response to the devastating 9-11 terrorist attacks, President George W. Bush proposed the creation of the Office of Homeland Security (OHS), which came into existence on October 8, 2001. The homeland security budget was to be distributed among four policy initiatives: emergency preparedness and response; weapons of mass destruction countermeasures; border and transportation security; and information analysis and infrastructure protection.

On June 6, 2002, President Bush announced his plans to create the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), and in July 2002, his administration released the national strategy for homeland security. Unlike OHS, the DHS is a permanent agency and has budgetary authority over its mission. It also has a more comprehensive national strategy. However, the creation of this department entails the largest reorganization of the federal government since World War II and will likely take several years to implement fully. This brief outlines the evolution of the DHS and identifies some challenges the new department faces.

Homeland Security Defined and the National Strategy

According to the "National Strategy for Homeland Security," the definition of homeland security is "a concerted national effort to prevent terrorist attacks within the United States, reduce America's vulnerability to terrorism, and minimize the damage and recover from attacks that do occur."[1] Accordingly, the DHS' mission mirrors this definition and addresses the six focal points of the national strategy, which are (1) Intelligence and Warning; (2) Border and Transportation Security; (3) Domestic Counterterrorism; (4) Protecting Critical Infrastructure and Key Assets; (5) Defending Against Catastrophic Threats; and (6) Emergency Preparedness and Response.[2] In order to implement these six objectives, the DHS has created four directorates: Border and Transportation Security; Emergency Preparedness and Response; Science and Technology in Support of Homeland Security; and Information Analysis and Infrastructure Protection.

Organization of the Department of Homeland Security

The 22-agency reorganization began on March 1, 2003, when federal agencies such as the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the Secret Service, U.S. Customs, and Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) were brought "under one roof," although the new agency lacks a permanent residence at this time. It will be organized in phases, with completion scheduled for September 30, 2003.[3]

Border and Transportation Security

The following agencies are to be brought together in the Border and Transportation Security Department: the Coast Guard, Customs Service, INS and Border Patrol, Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) of the Department of Agriculture, and the Transportation Security Administration. This department is responsible for protecting America's borders, territorial waters, and transportation systems by centralizing information-sharing and databases that track and monitor all aspects of border control and America's transportation systems. Charged with controlling all ports of entry, this department will track all commerce into the country through initiatives such as the Container Security Initiative (CSI), which inspects sea containers before they leave their country of origin. In addition, this department will tighten the visa system and improve security on the domestic transportation system through enhanced training.[4]

Emergency Preparedness and Response

FEMA, the FBI's National Domestic Preparedness Office, and multiple Health and Human Services Offices will be transferred into the Emergency Preparedness and Response Department. This department will create one emergency response plan to be used at all levels of government and will ensure that first-responders, from the federal government level down to local levels, receive proper training and equipment. Additionally, it will manage federal government assistance to first-responders for domestic disaster preparedness training and coordinate the government's disaster response procedures. FEMA will take the lead in this department and will control and coordinate grant programs for firefighters, police, and emergency personnel.[5]

Science and Technology in Support of Homeland Security (Chemical, Biological, Radiological, and Nuclear Countermeasures)

Some of the departments transferred to the Department of Science and Technology in Support of Homeland Security include the National Biological Weapons Defense Analysis Center (Department of Defense), the Plum Island Animal Disease Center (Department of Agriculture), parts of the national laboratories (Department of Energy), and the Public Health Service (Department of Health and Human Services).[6] The responsibilities of this department include coordinating and integrating research, development, and testing of scientific and technological objectives; furthering nonproliferation programs and activities; and protecting the homeland from attacks using weapons of mass destruction by implementing countermeasures such as vaccinations and smuggling-prevention programs. This department will also conduct exercises and drills to test federal, state, and local response plans for chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear attacks.[7]

Information Analysis and infrastructure Protection

The FBI's National Infrastructure Protection Center, the Department of Defense's National Communications System, the Department of Commerce's Critical Infrastructure Assurance, and the Department of Energy's National Infrastructure Simulation and Analysis Center will be transferred into the DHS' Information Analysis and Infrastructure Protection Department. This department will coordinate information-sharing and intelligence analysis with the FBI and CIA. Moreover, this department will be charged with evaluating weaknesses in critical infrastructure, including food and water systems, agriculture, health systems, and emergency services, banking and finance, and other systems.[8]

Other Changes

In addition to the creation of the above-mentioned four departments, the Homeland Security Bill requires the following:

  • the separation of immigration services and enforcement functions, with a separate director for immigration services;
  • cooperation between the government and the private sector in protecting civilian infrastructures;
  • the implementation of the Arming Pilots Against Terrorism Act, passed in conjunction with the Homeland Security Bill, allowing pilots to carry guns in the cockpit;
  • the recognition of the Coast Guard as a member organization of the DHS, while retaining its ability to carry out current missions; and
  • the protection of workers' rights by unions, yet allowing the president to terminate employees rapidly to protect national security.[9]

Homeland Security Budget

The budget allotted for homeland security is rather ambiguous and was not included in H.R. 5710. On February 3, 2003, the Fiscal Year (FY) 2004 Requested budget for the DHS was introduced at $36.2 billion, representing an increase of 7.4 percent over the FY2003 budget and an increase of 64 percent over the FY2002 budget. However, at this time, the FY2004 DHS budget is pending approval.[10]

Gaps in Homeland Security

Defining Roles, Making the Transition, and Funding the Department

Significant gaps exist in the national strategy for homeland security. Even though it articulates ideas for protecting the homeland, it is vague, lacks a clear, concise plan for implementation, fails to define specific missions for the agencies being absorbed, and does not clarify each agency's relationship to the DHS. For example, the DHS website contains links to agencies being absorbed; however, some of these agencies do not have a mission statement related to their roles in the DHS, nor an acknowledgment of their subordination to the DHS. Uncertainty exists not only regarding the roles of the individual agencies, but also that of the local and state governments. For the department to be effective, clarification of the roles and responsibilities within and among the different levels of government, as well as the private sector, needs to take place.

Similarly, the effectiveness of some agencies may decline under the DHS. Of concern is the possibility that FEMA's role in providing assistance to local authorities during natural disasters would diminish because it is required under the DHS to manage grants to first-responders and assist local authorities with training and response planning. This new set of responsibilities could undermine FEMA's ability to fulfill its traditional mandate because it may not have sufficient personnel and resources. The Customs Service is another agency that will take on an additional role under the DHS. In addition to monitoring commerce, the Customs Service will also combat terrorism, to the dismay of businesses, which fear that commerce will be hurt because additional duties for it translate into more expensive transportation costs due to longer wait times for inspections.

Another point of adversity facing the DHS is the major time constraints placed on it. Although it could take at least 5-10 years before the department is completely organized, some worry that the transition period from the OHS to the DHS will potentially lead to a duplication of efforts, misallocation of resources, and a sloppy accounting of expenditures due to improper monitoring of their allocation.

Concerns have been voiced that the creation of the DHS may cause a false sense of security among the public, leading it to believe that the DHS will provide 100% protection against terrorist attacks. To counteract this impression, various government officials have pointed out that although the DHS is a critical part of homeland defense, it alone cannot protect America.

The DHS cannot function effectively without sufficient funding, which is currently one of the main concerns. Even though Congress passed funding legislation in February 2003, this funding appears simply to be diverted from previous initiatives, implying that there is little "new" funding for these programs. For example, the current smallpox campaign has caused concerns that money and time previously spent on routine doctor visits has now been reallocated to preventing and responding to chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear (CBRN) attacks. Throughout the United States, hospitals have reduced or eliminated many everyday services, programs, and departments in favor of CBRN preparedness, creating a vacuum in health care.[12] State and local officials have also begun to voice concerns over receiving financial assistance in order to implement CBRN attack response plans. For example, Boston Mayor Thomas Menino recently noted that many cities continue to wait for even the first round of funding under the DHS' new budget.[13] Even the U.S. Senate has begun questioning the distribution of funding. Wisconsin Senator David Obey recently pointed out that the Bush administration had initiated tax cuts but had failed to secure funding for domestic security and the DHS.[14] This apparent contradiction undermines the administration's credibility. These concerns, combined with the recent defeat of an amendment that would have provided more funding for first-responders and port security, raise doubts about the DHS' ability to fulfill its objectives.[15]

Privacy Concerns

Another concern about the DHS is its potential to invade the privacy of U.S. citizens. One interpretation of the wording of H.R. 5710 suggests that the legislation amends the Privacy Act of 1974, allowing the government access to private information such as e-mail, credit card and banking records, and travel documents. Thus, the DHS might be able to combine personal information, such as data from phone companies and Internet service providers, with information from the FBI, CIA, law enforcement, and private companies in order to search for terrorist activity. To address possible privacy-related issues, the bill also creates the position of privacy officer. This officer, in theory, will act to ensure that privacy protections remain intact, but at this time, little is known about how such a position will be filled.

Worker's Rights and the Hidden Issue

The fall 2002 battle that flared over the rights of DHS workers to unionize may have been a signal of underlying issues plaguing homeland security, hindering its ability to be effective. For months Democrats and Republicans fought over giving the president flexibility to bypass civil service rules in hiring, firing, and promoting DHS workers. A major impasse ensued, which resulted in deadlines being missed, and the creation of the DHS delayed. The administration felt it necessary for collective bargaining to be waived when national security was at stake, but the Democrats, in defense of their constituency, refused to come to agreement. Finally, a compromise was reached: government unions get some role in settling disputes over work rules and limited collective bargaining rights, but the president maintains the authority to terminate employees should national security require it. However, it is unclear what circumstances would necessitate the use of this power.

Hope for the Future

The DHS was designed to improve coordination and reduce redundancies among the agencies involved with protecting the U.S. homeland. In theory, the establishment of one all-encompassing agency should result in improved information-sharing and accountability among the various players. For example, before the DHS initiative, more than 40 agencies were responsible for border security. This plethora of agencies with identical responsibilities increased both the lack of communication and the possibility of redundancies, wasting time and money and decreasing the chances of detecting terrorist activities before an attack occurred. Such lack of coordination and cooperation could have played a role in the failure of the U.S. government to prevent the September 11th attacks. The DHS was designed to reduce and eliminate these problems. However, an organization this large and this complex will take time, probably several years, to fulfill its mandate.

To facilitate the smooth transition of 22 agencies into the DHS, the department must have a well-defined, unfettered authority over all personnel, functions, and responsibilities. While OHS at times appeared powerless, the DHS must take command of homeland security and quickly and efficiently implement the national strategy. When creating the DHS secretary position, the administration hoped the secretary would have the ability to make budget decisions and initiate other procedural moves without the approval of Congress. However, it is far from clear whether the secretary will actually have this authority.

As of this writing, several problems have surfaced. Many DHS employees have yet to receive their first paychecks; at least one sexual harassment lawsuit was not investigated; employees have been working lengthy shifts beyond their normal duty; employees are not able to voice their concerns due to the lack of a labor union for the DHS; and morale is plummeting. Clearly, something must be done to rectify these problems. It is critical that the DHS develop and implement a system through which these concerns can be addressed.


  • Department of Homeland Security,
  • National Strategy,
  • DHS Overview,
  • DHS Re-organizational Plan,
  • DHS Organizational Chart,
  • DHS Budget,
  • News, Resources, and Reports Related to DHS,


[1] Office of Homeland Security, National Strategy for Homeland Security, July 2002, p. 2.
[2] The White House, Executive Summary, July 16, 2002,
[3] Jennifer Loven, "Bush Outlines Homeland Security Overhaul," Associated Press, November 26, 2002.
[4] The White House, Executive Summary, July 16, 2002,
[5] Ibid.
[6] The Department of Homeland Security, What is the Mission of the New Department of Homeland Security?,
[7] The White House, Executive Summary, July 16, 2002,
[8] Ibid.
[9] "Transforming Government for the 21st Century: Summary of What's New in H.R. 5710, a Bill Establishing a Department of Homeland Security," November 13, 2002,
[10] DHS, "Fiscal Year 2004 Budget Fact Sheet," February 3, 2003.
[11] DHS, "Department of Homeland Security Budget in Brief," February 3, 2003. Although these figures do not appear to add up correctly, they were taken directly from the text of the DHS document cited. This issue reflects some of the problems associated with the reorganization.
[12] Ceci Connolly, "Smallpox Campaign Taxing Health Resources," Washington Post, March 10, 2003.
[13] Brock N. Meeks, "States, Cities Struggle with Security," MSNBC, 4 March, 2003.
[14] Jeffrey Hipp, "OMB chief questioned on homeland funding, TSA staffing," GovExec, March 20, 2003.
[15] William New, "Senators Vote to Raise Cap on Homeland Security Spending," GovExec, March 21, 2003.

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