DHS gets recommendations for transition

A new study has laid out a series of steps the Homeland Security Department should take to ensure its first transition to a new administration is seamless and minimizes security vulnerabilities.

Congress had requested an independent study to examine the department’s staffing structure to ensure that it would be ready for the transition. DHS subsequently asked the National Academy of Public Administration (NAPA) to undertake the investigation. A panel of NAPA fellows recommended that incoming staff members be in place on Inauguration Day or shortly thereafter.

Experts have said times of political change represent periods of vulnerability, as shown by the terrorist attacks in Madrid in 2004 and London in 2005.

The report found that DHS needs to further integrate the roles of its 22 component agencies, many of which still operate as “stand-alone” entities. The report noted that the current chain of command at the department’s components will remain largely intact during the transition, but coordination between component agencies could be hampered if gaps in management appear at DHS’ headquarters.

In addition, the panel also called for the consolidation of oversight over the department. which is now handled by numerous congressional committees and subcommittees. Over the past year, DHS officials and lawmakers frequently cite multiple oversight committees as a problem during congressional hearings.

The report also concluded that the total number of DHS executives and the percentage of political appointees were normal by government standards. However, the department should shift more executives to field operations and make deputy positions that are politically appointed career positions, according to the report, which was released in June.

A DHS spokesman said the department was pleased with the recommendations and had already implemented some of them, including appointing a full-time transition director and identifying career employees to backfill non-career appointees.

NAPA interviewed 81 officials from both inside and outside DHS and analyzed information on the department's executive resources.

The Homeland Security Advisory Council’s Administration Transition Task Force (ATTF) also gave advice regarding DHS' transition planning in a report released in January.

The department’s transition plans have concerned lawmakers who oversee DHS. Lawmakers have been displeased with the amount of information DHS was willing to share with them.

NAPA recommended 22 steps for establishing a comprehensive transition plan.

The panel said from June through the Democratic and Republican conventions DHS should:

  • Appoint a full-time transition director.

  • Develop a comprehensive transition plan, enhance current transition initiatives and a transition training plan.

  • Fill vacant senior executive service positions quickly.

The panel also said between the conventions and the election, these steps should be taken:

  • The executive branch should ask the presidential candidates to name a potential Homeland Security transition team.

  • DHS should secure that all transition team officials receive prompt security clearance.

It also recommended that between the election and the inauguration, these steps should be taken:

  • The president-elect should designate, and Congress should vet, a new DHS secretary so that person can be sworn in on Inauguration Day and identify other key political appointees in December.

  • DHS should have training for potential executive appointees.

And, finally, it recommended that after the election:

  • DHS should continue joint training exercises with career and non-career executives.

  • Fill all deputy positions and other key positions with career officers.

About the Author

Ben Bain is a reporter for Federal Computer Week.


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