At the Core of a Mission

February 2006
By Vice Adm. Herbert A. Browne, USN (Ret.)

A former boss used to remind all of us, “Security is like oxygen. You never think about it until you don’t have it. And when you don’t have it, you don’t think about anything else.” But this brings to mind the question, security of what?


Many people think of homeland security in terms of physical entities—infrastructure elements such as railroads, power grids or even the World Wide Web. But in fact, the centerpiece of any security system is people. We safeguard physical plants to provide effective security for the people they serve, not just to preserve hardware.


Yes, people must be the centerpiece of any security approach. It is necessary to have personal security to have effective homeland security. Infrastructure is a support element, and securing it is a means to an end, not an end in itself.


And, of course, the groups responsible for ensuring homeland security must place people at the top of the pyramid. But do they?


To learn why a large government organization exists and the direction in which it is heading, turn to its mission statement. A mission statement is a forward-looking document that gives basic direction that guides strategic operations.


And, a mission statement is for both internal and external consumption. It should allow all of the organization’s employees to get on the same page, while the people the organization serves should have an idea of what to expect from it.


With that in mind, I visited the Web to view the mission statements for the U.S. Defense Department, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the Director of National Intelligence (DNI). Two statements were relatively easy to find; the third was not. In this search, I sought to discover two points: whether each mission statement included the U.S. public as a reason for the organization’s existence and whether the statement discussed the organization’s mission in terms of the U.S. Constitution.


I believe the Constitution is an important element because each of the officers and employees of those three major U.S. government organizations has sworn an oath to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution as well as the American people. A government group’s mission statement ought to convey that.


But instead, I found these three mission statements lacking. Two of them mention the American people, but none of the three mention the Constitution, although the DNI site refers to respecting “the civil liberties and privacy of all Americans.”


Every mission statement should discuss the American people early—right up front, as close to the beginning as possible. Ours is a government that is granted rights by the people, not the other way around. While few would dispute that point, many people tend to overlook it amid the complex activities of government.


And, it is vitally important for every U.S. federal agency to remind itself that the Constitution is the foundation of all of those activities that government undertakes on behalf of its citizens. It is the document that legitimizes our government.


So, I have taken it upon myself to write new mission statements for those three organizations. Each of the mission statements would begin with the same preamble: “To ensure the security and constitutional rights of the American people by …” The Defense Department’s mission statement would continue, “providing military forces needed to deter and/or win wars.” The Department of Homeland Security’s would follow with “preventing deadly or even catastrophic terrorist attacks …” The statement for the DNI would proceed, “collecting and sharing foreign and domestic intelligence … ,” and it would emphasize integrating intelligence “in defense of the homeland and of U.S. interests abroad.”


That common preamble reminds all readers that the key to security is personal security and that this nation has a constitution that is the governing document for providing security. Government agencies should acknowledge both that document and the people they serve in any mission statement—and they should do this as far up front as possible.


This approach to mission statements dedicates each governing body to focusing on the ideals that are found in the Constitution. And, these organizations would be emphasizing that although they are protecting the physical plant of the country, their real focus is on protecting the people.


A mission statement such as this portrays an organization that will provide for the security of the ideals of freedom, of individual rights and of other benefits that the Constitution guarantees to all citizens. Protecting these ideals encompasses protecting the people as well. Never have our enemies attacked us to offer us greater rights; instead, they have threatened to take away our precious rights and freedoms one way or another.


Homeland security is about more than securing infrastructure. It is about safeguarding people and their freedoms. Emphasizing the public and the Constitution, which imparts its own form of homeland security, should be front and center in these mission statements.

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