Organizing for Homeland Security

By Hillyard, Michael J. | Parameters, Spring 2002 | Go to article overview
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Organizing for Homeland Security


Hillyard, Michael J., Parameters


In their best-selling 1994 business text, Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies, Professors James Collins and Jerry Porras identify common fundamental principles at the heart of the world's premier lasting corporations. (1) Similarly, in Bureaucracy: What Government Agencies Do and Why They Do It, (2) renowned public policy expert James Wilson identifies the principles shared by leading public organizations. Common among both corporate and government successes is a focus foremost on the institution and only secondarily on the specific mission, product, or service provided by the institution. The message these organizations send is that while missions, products, and services may change, institutions endure. Another common theme is people; specifically, people matter in leading institutions. What people believe as core ideologies generation after generation upholds and advances the organization as an institution. Second-tier organizations, both public and private, focus on issues other than the institution--a specific mission to perform, a key product to deliver, a special service to render, a target profit to make. With ideology affixed to other factors and not the institution, a change in any of the factors sends shock waves through the institution, and over the long haul substantial change leads to instability, if not chaos.

The distinction between the institution as what endures, and mission, product, or service as what may someday change, is important as the nation addresses its structure for homeland security. Contemporary missions--border security; coastal protection; counterterrorism; biological, chemical, and nuclear defense; emergency management; among many others--dominate the focus of current policy discussions. How do we defend against this? How do we prepare for that? How do we respond to x? How do we recover from y? In the wake of a national crisis, the immediate threats rightly take center stage over discussions of long-term institutional design. But when the national discussion of homeland security starts with specific threats for which the nation is unprepared, answers that produce long-term institutional consequences quite naturally follow. Unfortunately, in first asking the specific questions, and then searching for their subsequent answers, the institutional principle of successful organizations is violated. Answers built on czars, realignments of bureaucracies, creation of new bureaucracies, and facilitation of existing federal, state, local, and nongovernmental organizations address the immediate. When framed as answers for threats against which the nation has no coherent response, all such answers hold a certain logic. But all such answers logically solve the wrong question.

Just as leading organizations do, both the federal and national organization for homeland security must provide an enduring answer to a question that most Americans know will never go away: How can the security of the American people and their way of life be institutionalized through its many national capabilities to mitigate, prepare for, respond to, recover from, and learn from threats known and unknown?

If this question is answered with the appropriate institutional response, then the nation can rest assured that its homeland security apparatus will be enduring and effective. Reflecting the enormity of the homeland security challenge, the question itself lacks focus, and justifiably so. The answer's breadth spans a wide variety of contemporary targets, including geography at home and abroad, technology, national symbols, and people; human response resources, including federal, regional, state, and local authorities, non-profit and voluntary organizations, businesses, specialists, and citizens; functional assets, including legal, intelligence, safety, law enforcement, public health, and others; and threats, including foreign and domestic terrorist groups and individuals, foreign conventional powers, rogue regimes, mother nature, disease, and technological disaster.

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