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Obama officials present a strategic redefining of Homeland Security's mission

By Spencer S. Hsu
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, February 2, 2010; 2:58 PM

The Obama administration Monday delivered to Congress the nation's first Quadrennial Homeland Security Review, defining homeland security for the first time as including hazards beyond terrorism, in a strategic document intended to drive long-term budget decisions.

Congress mandated the high-level strategic review in 2007, two years after Hurricane Katrina exposed failings in the government's response and four years after the creation of the Department of Homeland Security. The initiative was modeled after the Quadrennial Defense Review, another congressionally mandated effort that directed the Defense Department to reset its strategies and budgets against evolving threats every four years.

Analysts said that production of the 88-page document marked a successful milestone for DHS, even though it is not as thorough as the Pentagon's version and will not be as influential.

"It is an incredible achievement," said James Jay Carafano, homeland security expert at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, noting that it came months after a Democratic administration's takeover of the department, that the Obama administration had never before run a quadrennial review for homeland security and that DHS lacked the Defense Department's resources.

"This study has given them a road map for how they are going to think through tough problems," including developing department human resources, analytical capabilities and research priorities, Carafano said.

Stewart Baker, former DHS assistant secretary of policy from 2005 to 2009, said that while the attempt to link DHS budget, strategy and threat information might be "lightweight compared to the Quadrennial Defense Review, it's heavyweight compared" to how, a couple years ago, officials in George W. Bush's administration had to make decisions based on "budget politics of the moment."

A copy of the review, obtained by The Washington Post, shows that the government's approach to homeland security continues to evolve away from a singular focus on terrorism.

The issue is still vexing because many experts still struggle to explain, "What is homeland security?" "How is the homeland best made secure?" and "What does it mean to be prepared?," the review notes.

In July 2002, nearly a year before the Homeland Security Department was created under former president George W. Bush, a handful of advisers hastily drafted in private a 90-page national homeland security strategy. That document was later criticized for weakening the response to Hurricane Katrina by overemphasizing terrorism at the expense of natural disasters, and in October 2007, the Bush administration updated it.

The 2007 strategy still defined homeland security as "a concerted national effort to prevent terrorist attacks within the United States, reduce America's vulnerability to terrorism, and minimize the damage and recover from attacks that do occur." However, the document stated that effective preparation for "catastrophic natural disasters and man-made disasters" was also important to increasing security.

DHS took that shift further in a September 2008 strategic document, setting out a mission statement that acknowledged other "threats and hazards" and the department's role in securing borders "while welcoming lawful immigrants, visitors, and trade."

The Obama administration's review focuses on terrorism as the foremost of many threats, defining homeland security as "a concerted national effort to ensure a homeland that is safe, secure, and resilient against terrorism and other hazards, where American interests, aspirations, and way of life can thrive."

The QHSR lists five missions, backed by 14 specific goals: preventing terrorism and enhancing security, particularly against chemical, biological, nuclear and radiological threats; securing U.S. borders; enforcing the nation's immigration laws; securing cyberspace; and ensuring resilience to disasters.

By comparison, the 2007 national strategy update set four goals: prevention and disruption of terror attacks; protection of the public and critical assets; response to and recovery from incidents; and strengthening the nation's homeland security foundation.

The review states that preventing terrorism remains the cornerstone of homeland security, while it identifies other hazards, including mass cyberattacks, pandemics, natural disasters, illegal trafficking and transnational crime. The review notes the danger of complacency and restores the strategic aim of mitigating risks before disasters occur.

In a two-page introductory letter, President Obama's homeland security secretary, Janet Napolitano, highlighted what she called a broad national homeland security "enterprise," of which her department is only "one among many components."

Key systems, such as computer networks and power plants, are privately controlled; state and local governments lead emergency responses to natural disasters; and other federal agencies investigate terrorism, Napolitano said.

"Homeland security will only be optimized when we fully leverage the distributed and decentralized nature of the entire enterprise in the pursuit of our common goals," Napolitano said.

Frank J. Cilluffo, director of the Homeland Security Policy Institute at George Washington University and a White House homeland security official from 2001 to 2003, said that although the new report raised important questions, "what I don't think it did is answer those questions in terms of brass-tacks priorities."

Cilluffo said a forthcoming "bottom-up" review by the department intended to direct its 2012 budget a year from now might move it "closer to the goal line."

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