DHS: Five Steps to Self-Improvement

David Inserra /

Zhang Yan/ZUMA Press/Newscom

Amid a slew of resignations from the Obama Administration, Janet Napolitano recently announced that she will be remaining in her post as Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) for President Obama’s second term.

The news shouldn’t have come as a surprise to many, as Napolitano had long been signaling that she planned to say. The decision, however, is a crucial one for the homeland security enterprise.

Committed to a second term, Napolitano now has the opportunity to help better shape DHS and bring about key changes to greatly enhance its efficiency, credibility, functioning, and overall reputation on Capitol Hill.

Broad, sweeping changes are not needed, nor is a major reorganization or dismantling of DHS. Instead, five key steps are needed:

  1. Recapitalize the Coast Guard. Additional resources should be allocated to modernize and maintain Coast Guard assets, particularly its aging vessels.
  2. Strengthen intelligence, counterterrorism, and information sharing. DHS should work with its partners in the counterterrorism enterprise to set forth a national domestic counterterrorism and intelligence framework and ensure that state and local players have a seat at the table.
  3. Rethink aviation security. The Transportation Security Administration should pursue risk-based screening procedures and broaden private-sector participation in efforts such as the Security Partnership Program to improve screening and security.
  4. Reform FEMA to focus on catastrophic events. To be fully prepared for major disasters, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) needs to defederalize disaster response and restore its focus on truly catastrophic events.
  5. Drive institutional reform to create centralized management authority. DHS has increasingly mature capabilities but lacks a centralized, thoughtful coordination mechanism that can put those capabilities to use and, more importantly, redirect those capabilities.

Secretary Napolitano has an opportunity to reform and improve DHS. Acting on these five key steps would make DHS a more effective organization that can better protect the U.S. homeland.