Be patient with DHS, advisory group advises next president

The next presidential administration should not reorganize the Homeland Security Department until at least six months after taking office because of potential vulnerabilities caused by the transition, said a group that advises DHS.

The Homeland Security Advisory Council’s Administration Transition Task Force (ATTF) presented the recommendation to DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff today along with other recommendations for how the department should navigate through its first administration change.

The council is an advisory group composed of state and local government leaders, first responders, and representatives from the private sector and academia.

Officials say a smooth transition for DHS is particularly important because recent terrorism incidents in the United States, United Kingdom and Spain all occurred around political transitions. ATTF, which was formed in September 2007 to help guide that process, submitted recommendations described as politically neutral that will be presented to the presidential nominees. The report makes suggestions for how the current and future administrations in addition to members of Congress should handle the transition.

“We understand this is the first transition this department has undertaken, and it’s a matter of priority that everybody in the senior leadership…make this a seamless transition and one of which we can all be proud,” Chertoff said after hearing an outline of the recommendations.

Besides pledging to work with the incoming and current administrations to facilitate the process, Chertoff emphasized his priorities for the next year.

He re-emphasized his four major priorities for 2008 that he first laid out last month: increasing border security, securing identification documents, beefing up cybersecurity and institutionalizing the department's functions.

Chertoff said that although DHS made progress improving security through building fences and using technology to secure the borders in 2007, cybersecurity still lagged.

“There is a tremendous asset that we have frankly not made enough progress in protecting, and that is the asset of our cyberenvironment,” he said. “And protecting that is something that we are going to take a giant step forward with this year—we are working on a governmentwide strategy for cybersecurity,”

Chertoff added that Congress had granted his request in its 2008 budget for funding to make the improvements. He also emphasized succession planning as a key aspect of his plans to institutionalize the department before leaving his post.

ATTF recommends:

  • That the new administration name a new DHS secretary immediately upon taking office.

  • That lawmakers reduce the number of congressional committees and subcommittees with oversight jurisdiction over DHS.

  • Continuing to to ensure that all key DHS positions filled by political appointees have backup from senior level career personnel.

  • Continuing work to reduce the number of senior-level DHS officials who are political appointees.

Other council committees also advised DHS to work on emergency response and suggested ways the department could better work with the private sector, academics, and state and local officials.

About the Author

Ben Bain is a reporter for Federal Computer Week.


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