The Department of Homeland Security: An Organization in Transition

By King, Charles B.,, III | Joint Force Quarterly, October 2009 | Go to article overview

The Department of Homeland Security: An Organization in Transition


King, Charles B.,, III, Joint Force Quarterly


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On November 25, 2002, the Homeland Security Act of 2002 became law, and 60 days later, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) became the newest Cabinet-level organization in the U.S. Government. Over the following 5 months, DHS merged elements of 22 agencies from 9 departments into its structure. (1) In the nearly 7 years since, the Department has undergone one major internal reorganization (the 2005 Second Stage Review), two externally driven reorganizations (prompted by the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004 and the Post-Katrina Emergency Management Reform Act of 2006), and several smaller, agency-specific reorganizations.

The transition from the George W. Bush administration to the Barack Obama administration provides an opportunity to review these changes and to examine the extent to which it would be advisable to make further modifications to DHS. In that spirit, this article represents a synthesis of a series of 19 interviews with current and former career and noncareer DHS officials, staff members of both the House and Senate Homeland Security Committees, academic observers of the Department, and staff members who supported the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States (the 9/11 Commission). The 19 interviewees made suggestions for the Department in four areas: changes to policy, modifications to oversight, management and integration improvements, and areas in need of additional focus.

Policy

Interviewees had few policy-related suggestions for the Obama administration. There was, however, one policy issue that many interviewees felt warranted significant attention: immigration.

The key test of a successful immigration reform package is how well it addresses several interrelated issues:

* provision of temporary work visas

* path to citizenship for noncitizens currently illegally working in the United States

* means by which the United States will enhance border control

* expansion (numbers and eligibility) of the work visa program

* establishment of a reliable system for employers to validate the citizenship (or visa status) of prospective employees

* provision of work and training opportunities for current U.S. citizens.

This list is similar to those that underpinned President Bush's 2006 immigration reform proposal--unsurprisingly, perhaps, neither the numbers of migrants nor the Nation's interest in addressing their presence has changed significantly. The United States still has between 12 and 20 million illegal aliens in the country, far too many to have a "reasonable expectation [to] send ... back home." The United States still has an interest in welcoming and retaining immigrants (particularly those who are smart, creative, and industrious). And the United States still has an interest in promoting the employment of citizens over noncitizens for both high- and low-skill jobs.

The consensus view of the interviewees is that a reform package would consist of three elements, each requiring positive and negative inducements to change both individual and corporate behavior. The first of those elements is enhancing penalties for employers who knowingly violate the provisions of the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 as they apply to hiring illegal immigrants. Establishing a straightforward safe-haven process for validating worker credentials would complement those enhanced penalties.

The second element is facilitating a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants who have been in the United States for a period of years and have been net contributors to the Nation's well-being. Complementing this element would be some form of noncriminal penalty (a requirement for community service or a fee) in order for the program to avoid the "amnesty" label. The third element is enhancing border control efforts aimed at stopping illegal migration, a task that would be linked to easing temporary and permanent work visa requirements. …

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