Manage Vacancies, Make the Case for DHS: Priorities for Homeland Security Secretary Johnson – Norma Krayem, Clark Kent Ervin

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    A January 1, 2014 CQ Homeland Security (subscription required) “Experts Weigh In” article, the first installment in a three-part series, asked DC Partner Clark Kent Ervin and Senior Policy Advisor Norma Krayem what incoming Secretary Jeh Johnson’s first move should be upon his arrival at the Department of Homeland Security. The CQ series brings homeland security experts in the public, private and academic sectors to weigh in on the lessons of 2013 and what’s in store for the country in 2014.

    Mr. Ervin offered the following thoughts:

    Johnson’s top priority in my view should be working, through speeches, interviews, and op-eds, to “make the case for the Department of Homeland Security, again.” A variety of things recently, including war weariness and increasing isolationism; budget crises; the Snowden revelations; and, the absence of another 9/11-scale terror attack, have called into question DHS’ raison d’etre. People on the left and right are beginning seriously to question whether terrorism remains the nation’s top security threat, or, even, whether it’s much of a threat at all nowadays. This, in my view, is wrongheaded, and dangerous. Given how al-Qaida has metastasized and morphed over the years, and how the number of safe havens has grown (Syria, Libya, and to some degree, Iraq and Afghanistan, with the withdrawing of American forces as a counterweight), it may be only a matter of time before a terror attack is again launched on the homeland from abroad. Someone needs to make the case for the centrality of counterterrorism to national defense, and for the centrality of DHS to countering terrorism on the homeland. And, that someone should be the secretary of Homeland Security. In my view, the face and voice of counter-terrorism for the nation (next to the president, of course) should be the DHS secretary, not the White House homeland security and counter-terrorism adviser or the CIA director.

    Ms. Krayem shared the following comments:

    Any new Cabinet secretary will want to get the “lay of the land” before they move out aggressively on key issues. However, in the case of DHS, if you wait too long to do that you could end up with the “whack-a-mole” approach to crisis management. First, the secretary needs to manage the vacancies in the department, work to keep agency morale up and make sure everyone is rowing in the same direction. Second, it will be important to lay out an agenda that is both achievable and includes “stretch goals” — and to make sure they are in sync with the White House on all these issues. Those agenda items will necessarily include border security, immigration reform and, of course, cybersecurity, along with a host of pending regulations. Like any DHS secretary, he will also have to manage the challenges that come from the multiple oversight committees in Congress that claim a piece of the agency — and on major initiatives, it will be important for him to build bipartisan support in Congress to help him get those things done.

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