Obama Team Cautious on Homeland Security Appointment
Monday, November 17, 2008
As Democrats for the first time take over the five-year-old Department of Homeland Security, the watchword for Obama transition aides is caution.
The next secretary will inherit the politically perilous tasks of securing the nation's borders against illegal immigration, as well as leading the federal response to natural disasters. He or she will take the helm of a $40 billion, 200,000-worker bureaucracy still in the throes of the most complex government merger since World War II, while contending with more than 80 congressional oversight committees and subcommittees.
Above all, the new secretary must help prevent the next terrorist attack on American soil, whatever form it might take.
Little wonder that Democrats are treading carefully.
"Not since the Eisenhower Administration took over the Department of Defense or the Reagan Administration assumed leadership of the Department of Energy have the stewards of our nation's security . . . been wholly or mostly replaced for the first time," analysts David Heyman and James Jay Carafano wrote in a September report, "Homeland Security 3.0," that noted the turmoil, distraction and delay caused by repeated reorganizations since the department's creation in 2003.
"The first priority of the next Congress and administration should be to end such unwarranted tinkering," wrote the pair, based at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and the Heritage Foundation, respectively.
President-elect Barack Obama seldom discussed homeland security during the long campaign, giving himself room to maneuver. His team has launched about a dozen experts on a broad policy review, paralleling the department's first Quadrennial Homeland Security Review, a major long-range planning study due in December.
Still, Obama's personnel choices, more than any other factor, will dictate the direction of the chronically troubled Cabinet agency. With so many of DHS's unwieldy responsibilities in flux, Heyman said, "the decision that matters is who you get in place. They will make the decisions on what the future of the department looks like."
Helping lead Obama's Homeland Security review is Rand Beers, a National Security Council staffer and Bush counterterrorism adviser who left the White House to advise 2004 Democratic presidential nominee Sen. John F. Kerry (Mass.).
In 2006, Beers and former Clinton and Bush counterterrorism adviser Richard C. Clarke recommended that Homeland Security concentrate on securing major cities and coordinating the private sector to protect critical facilities and computer networks.
Other advisers include former DHS inspector general Clark Kent Irvin and P.J. Crowley, an analyst at the Center for American Progress, the Democratic think tank founded by Obama transition chief John D. Podesta. Along with others, Crowley has urged the next president to abolish the Bush White House's Homeland Security Council, merge it into the more powerful National Security Council, and make the president's homeland security adviser a deputy to his national security adviser.
Obama has vowed to appoint a national cyber adviser to report directly to the president, strengthen a White House privacy and civil liberties board, and allow about 60,000 Transportation Security Administration screeners to form a union, which President Bush stopped by issuing veto threats in 2002 and 2007.