Understanding could breed homeland security cooperation

"Managing Intergovernmental Relations for Homeland Security"

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Common understandings of functions, goals and roles are critical for intergovernmental work on homeland security, according to a report from the National Academy of Public Administration.

The report, "Managing Intergovernmental Relations for Homeland Security," is the result of a December 2003 forum in which 11 academy fellows met with six high-level officials from the Homeland Security Department to advise them about moving forward with the department's mission. Everyone at every level must understand the big picture, according to the academy report.

"Unlike other fields — environment, housing and defense, to name a few — homeland security has no common culture or language widely understood by stakeholders in the system," the report states. "There are separate approaches for law enforcement, emergency services, intelligence, security and intergovernmental relations."

Unlike other areas in which government collaborates across traditional boundaries, there is often a lack of trust between the different levels of government when it comes to homeland security. Identifying controversial issues will make a difference, according to the panel. DHS officials must also learn when to foster collaboration and when to assert control.

Officials need to clearly establish roles and responsibilities to set up a regional structure within the department, academy officials said. Most agencies and departments have a headquarters with outreach in field offices. By also placing a regional office into the structure, DHS officials must make sure that those offices only focus on truly cross-jurisdictional issues. "Otherwise the possibility exists that the decision-making of three entities — headquarters, regions and field — will conflict," the report states.

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