by Joseph Jerome
Ten years ago this week, President Bush signed the Homeland Security Act of 2002, which established the Department of Homeland Security. Its formation involved the most extensive reorganization of the federal government since the creation of the Department of Defense in 1947. Throwing together 22 different agencies with the goal of analyzing threats, guarding our borders and infrastructures, and coordinating emergency response would take, in the words of President Bush, “time, and focus, and steady resolve. Adjustments will be needed along the way.”
A decade later, ACS and the Open Society Foundations brought together a panel of homeland security experts to discuss what adjustments had been made -- and what adjustments were still required to ensure DHS could protect both the security and the civil liberties of American citizens. According to Michael German, Senior Policy Counsel at the ACLU, DHS “rushed right in with an imperative to do something. Not do something effective.” Seth Grossman, Deputy General Counsel at DHS, cautioned that his department remained a young agency: “We’ve learned a lot of lessons and will continue to.”
With over 200,000 employees and a budget approaching $60 billion per year, part of the problem -- and opportunity -- that DHS presents is its sheer size and the scope of its work. Moderating the discussion, Professor Stephen Vladeck wondered whether there was any theme that linked together the agency’s diverse responsibilities. Grossman pointed to the Department’s reaction to the devastating earthquake in Haiti in 2010, arguing that having everything from FEMA to immigration services and the Coast Guard under one roof allowed DHS to have “a robust, active, and more coordinated role” in responding to the disaster.