Editorial: DHS 2.0

In November, just weeks after the presidential election, the Homeland Security Department will mark its sixth anniversary.

The formation of DHS represented the largest government reorganization in 50 years and created the third-largest federal agency, behind only the Defense and Veterans Affairs departments. The reorganization pulled 22 organizations together into a single department.

The new president will have an opportunity to guide this still-young organization — to chart a course for DHS 2.0, if you will. The presidential election is an opportune time to ask whether the reorganization has been effective.

The results are clearly mixed. A Government Accountability Office assessment in February 2007 found that DHS failed to meet 78 of 171 objectives, including those set when the department was formed in response to the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and in 2005 after Hurricane Katrina exposed weaknesses in the government’s ability to handle emergencies. DHS’ implementation and transformation has been on GAO’s high-risk list since 2003. That is understandable given the complexity of bringing the disparate agencies under a single umbrella and because many of those agencies were already facing their own management and mission challenges.

DHS, at its fifth anniversary last year, stressed the work that has been accomplished. Officials said then there is no parallel in government to DHS’ start-up or the maturity it achieved in its first five years.

The fact is that there has not been an attack on this country since 2001. But nearly six years after the agency was created, we believe it is time to assess DHS. We further believe the presidential candidates should share with DHS’ more than 200,000 employees their vision for the agency if they win the White House.

Unfortunately, the candidates have all but ignored the agency. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, places DHS under the topic of national security on his Web site but makes only a brief reference to the agency. He offers no vision for what the department should accomplish in the coming years.

Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) says even less about DHS on her site.

Sen. Barack Obama’s (D-Ill.) site has a category that highlights homeland security and even offers a fact sheet detailing his plans, including implementing the 9/11 Commission’s recommendations.
But not one of the candidates offers a vision for DHS, and now is the time to do so.

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