The Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) newly released strategic priorities for the next four years differ little from its vision in the Quadrennial Homeland Security Review (QHSR) of 2010, though officials recognize the need for tweaks to mission points as it works to address emerging threats to national security.
The department’s in-house assessment, mandated by Congress, spotlights its five security missions as combating threats of terrorism, both foreign and domestic; securing and managing U.S. borders; enforcing immigration laws; safeguarding cyberspace; and strengthening national preparedness and resiliency.
Cyberthreats are becoming more decentralized and harder to detect and “pose even greater concern to our critical infrastructure systems as they become increasingly interdependent,” reads a portion of the report. The threats are “illustrated by the real, pervasive and ongoing series of attacks on our public and private infrastructure,” which provide services such as energy, telecommunications, water, transportation and financial.
Through the report, however, DHS leaders fail to place the proper emphasis on cybersecurity threats, opined Stewart Baker, former assistant secretary for policy at DHS, in his June 20 testimony before the U.S. House of Representatives’ Homeland Security Committee.
“From my perspective, it is not clear that areas like cybersecurity or nuclear terrorism were approached with the same level of care as other forms of terrorism,” Baker testified. “With respect to cybersecurity, the 2014 QHSR has little new to say about the need to recruit and develop a skilled cybersecurity workforce, for instance. It also does not appropriately prioritize the importance of protecting critical U.S. infrastructure from espionage.”
Additionally, the United States’ increasing reliance on network technology has made the country more vulnerable to cyber attacks rather than less. “A hacker can today cause a level of damage from his living room that would have been inconceivable as recently as 10 years ago,” Baker testified.
The department, created after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, integrated 22 federal departments and agencies with the mission to protect the United States.
“More than 12 years after the attacks, … the United States is poised to begin a new era in homeland security. Long-term changes in the security environment and critical advances in homeland security capabilities require us to rethink the work DHS does with our partners—the work of building a safe, secure and resilient nation,” reads a portion of the report.
Challenges that could define the forthcoming “new era” are punctuated by the rise of fiscal challenges, increased volatility around the globe, instability in major energy-producing regions, resource constraints in more densely populated regions and rapid technological change that impacts how people live, work, communicate, travel and access knowledge.
The department remains guided by the five basic homeland security missions spelled out in the 2010 review, though tailored to address emerging threats and hazards such as the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010 and Hurricane Sandy in 2012. “Natural hazards are becoming more costly to address, with increasing variable consequences due in part to drivers such as climate change and interdependent and aging infrastructure,” the report states.
And while the department maintains that the leadership of al-Qaida leadership in Afghanistan and Pakistan have been degraded, a rise since 2009 in splinter al-Qaida affiliates exhibited “repeated attempts to export terrorism” to the United States, making it a new challenge to protect the nation. Additionally, the United States remains vulnerable to domestic-based radicalized “lone offenders,” who can present multiple forms of threats, and because they act independently, are harder to detect. To address the issue, the DHS has floated public service campaigns such as, “If you see something, say something,” and closer collaborations between federal, state and local law enforcement.
The assessment’s release was met by congressional criticism because it was delivered six months late to Congress, and the department’s programs are “unaffordable,” according to Rep. Jeff Duncan (R-SC).
“DHS currently plans to spend 30 percent more on its major acquisition programs than it has planned for in its five-year funding plan,” Duncan writes in a blog posted on The Hill’s website. “Some of these programs support critical missions in protecting U.S. borders, screening travelers, improving disaster response, and securing critical infrastructure. Yet, DHS’s refusal to hold its acquisition programs to high fiscal discipline directly impacts their ability to meet its mission to secure the homeland.”