Parallel Organizations

September 2006
By Clarence A. Robinson Jr.

Six decades of research, technical advances play major roles in communications, restructuring, revamping.

In the history of the U.S. Defense Department, no date is perhaps more infamous than that of September 11, 2001. On that day, al-Qaida terrorists slammed a jetliner into the Pentagon—exactly 60 years after the day the Pentagon’s construction began.

Considered synonymous with the Defense Department, the Pentagon also is the world’s largest office building with 6.5 million square feet of office space and 17.5 miles of corridors. With a work force of 13,000, construction took just 16 months to complete from groundbreaking on September 11, 1941, in Arlington County, Virginia, on marshland beside the Potomac River.

But today, the date 9/11 resonates as a much different symbol with the American public, ranking alongside December 7, 1941’s “day of infamy” attack on Pearl Harbor. Al-Qaida jihadists threw down the gauntlet, and the U.S. military quickly responded with invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq.

Defending the American home front became an immediate priority. Within a month of 9/11, President George W. Bush formed the White House Office of Homeland Security headed by an assistant to the president. The president subsequently authorized establishing the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) at the cabinet level. The DHS absorbed 22 disparate federal agencies with 180,000 employees within four major directorates.

The DHS represents the single largest government reorganization since the creation of the Defense Department in the late 1940s. DHS agencies include the former Immigration and Naturalization Service, Secret Service, U.S. Coast Guard, Customs Service and Transportation Security Administration, for example. New methodologies were necessary to redefine long-standing federal agency relationships, bureaucracies and operational modes.

Wherever applicable, the new department patterned its operations and infrastructure by drawing upon Defense Department expertise and experience. And, the challenges the DHS faces—both internally and externally—mirror many of those experienced by the Defense Department after it reorganized roughly 60 years ago.

Pennsylvania GovernorTomRidge, a former six-term Republican congressman and Vietnam veteran, was sworn in on January 24, 2003, as the first DHS secretary. Until the DHS, no single government organization had responsibility for homeland security as a primary objective. This new department quickly grasped the operational benefits of network-centric command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (C4ISR) demonstrated by the U.S. military in numerous combat campaigns.

On February 15, 2005, Michael Chertoff, a former U.S. Circuit judge, became the second DHS secretary. As an assistant attorney general he had helped trace the 9/11 attacks to the al-Qaida network, and he increased information sharing between the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and state and local officials.

Appointment of an assistant secretary of defense for homeland security continues to aid this process with the DHS. Additionally, the U.S. Northern Command was established on October 1, 2002, to provide command and control of the Defense Department’s homeland defense efforts and to coordinate military assistance to civil authorities—protecting people, national power and freedom of action.

The urgency in forming the DHS contrasts markedly with the establishment of the Defense Department. Flush with victory in World War II, the United States began scaling back for peacetime. With many of the 16 million Americans in uniform leaving the services, the president and the Congress realized that major military restructuring would be essential. Revamping and reorganization continued apace.

Awesome air power during the war left little doubt the U.S. Army Air Corps had come of age. The U.S. Air Force would form quickly as its own branch of service equal with the Army, Navy and Marine Corps.

AFCEA and SIGNAL Magazine witnessed the National Security Act of 1947 that combined the departments of War and Navy into the National Military Establishment. This act was amended in 1949 to form the U.S. Department of Defense. James V. Forrestal, who pioneered this reorganization, became the first secretary of defense. Under the act, the secretary of defense—appointed by the president with the consent of the Senate—supervises the entire military establishment.

As with the DHS, the Defense Department suddenly found itself the umbrella comprising a large and diverse organization. Operating under the secretary of defense is the Joint Chiefs of Staff, made up of its chairperson, a senior military officer, and the heads of the services, including the commandant of the Marine Corps. The secretaries of the Army, Navy and Air Force—made cabinet members by the act of 1947—were subordinated in 1949 to give the secretary of defense full cabinet authority over the department.

The newly established Defense Department received its first test during the 1950-1953 Korean War. With the onset of the Vietnam War in the 1960s, the department sought a more balanced military program and a stronger conventional capability. It also began importing civilian management techniques. The department’s national security strategy against the Soviet bloc made it a dominant force, along with major economic investments throughout the Cold War for massive research and development with industry. One example is the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).

Established in 1958 as a response to the successful launch of Sputnik by the Soviet Union, DARPA is one of many military research and development agencies. However, this agency has been crucial in developing key technologies such as the Internet, military computing and artificial intelligence. Other significant projects involve microelectronics, materials, unmanned aerial vehicles and behavioral science.

By 1997, the department embarked on a defense reform initiative to capitalize on information technology and network-centric operations to streamline and modernize one of the world’s largest organizations. At the heart of this transformation is the use of C4ISR to reduce battlefield mass. The concept is paying huge dividends in Afghanistan and Iraq. Tearing down service-specific communications stovepipes and fostering joint operations also are hallmarks—even establishing the U.S. Joint Forces Command towage virtual warfare.

So now the DHS also is opening the door to industry in a quest for innovative technologies that support homeland security. Modeled after DARPA, a parallel DHS agency seeks solutions to challenges in areas of biological and chemical agent detection; nuclear, radiological and high explosive attack; and information security. The DHS must coordinate the efforts of myriad federal, state and local agencies to locate, identify and neutralize terrorist threats on American soil.

After similar journeys encompassing vastly different time frames, both the Defense Department and the DHS are committed to relying on innovative technologies to stay ahead of a cunning enemy.