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ICYMI: Katko Discusses DHS Mission 21 years after 9/11 in The Washington Times

September 19, 2022

In Case You Missed It
Rep. John Katko in The Washington Times:
The Department of Homeland Security: 21 years after 9/11

September 16, 2022 |

In the aftermath of the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the U.S. government sought to move quickly to reform America’s sprawling national security apparatus to focus on counterterrorism and prevent the intelligence failures that led to the surprise attack from al Qaeda—the most devastating attack on U.S. soil.

First, came the creation of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) in November 2001, followed by the creation of the White House Office of Homeland Security. Ultimately, in 2002, Congress consolidated numerous federal agencies by creating the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS). This massive new department was charged with preventing another 9/11 while also mitigating essentially every other security threat facing the United States. It didn’t take long for the mission, budget, workforce, and scope of DHS to balloon as only a federal agency can.

Unfortunately, the story of DHS is not one of nimbly focused strategy, tactical resource allocation, or cutting-edge risk mitigation. What Americans have gotten instead is an $80 billion a year department which ambles bureaucratically from one crisis to the next. Surely, Americans assume, DHS is on the frontlines of counterterrorism investigations? Not so, as that authority remains with the Federal Bureau of Investigation within the Department of Justice. Well then, DHS must at least play a key intelligence role when it comes to what threats are facing the United States, right? Wrong. In fact, DHS’s Office of Intelligence and Analysis is widely known as the black sheep of the Intelligence Community, barely registering as a player in most circumstances and contributing little to our overall intelligence picture.

The clearest lines of authority for DHS come in the form of border security, though, of course, Americans continue to see a hamstrung federal effort on the Southwest border, leading to a completely porous system through which lethal drugs and undocumented migrants flow freely, among them criminals and known or suspected terrorists.

And while Congress took rare decisive action by standing up for the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) in 2018 to mitigate unprecedented cyber attacks on Americans’ way of life, a fledgling CISA continues to face bureaucratic turf battles from other federal agencies like the Department of Commerce and Energy that threaten to undermine its Congressionally mandated mission to lead the federal effort to manage and reduce risk to our cyber and physical infrastructure.

Although we all knew it would take time to stand up a new federal department, DHS has been far too slow in creating strategic value for the American people beyond the operational successes of its component agencies. The threats facing the country now are even more malignant than they were in 2001, and the Department has been slow to properly react and, more importantly, prepare. Cybersecurity is now front and center in the national security landscape; domestic terrorism threats have continued to grow and evolve; international terrorism has a renewed heft after President Joe Biden’s botched withdrawal from Afghanistan, and the FBI Director is openly acknowledging the national security crisis at the Southwest border.

How can this unwieldy department rise to meet the threats we face today?

For starters, the Department is far too politicized. Senior leadership fails to even acknowledge the seriousness of the border crisis, let alone use its massive frontline resources to secure the border. Instead, DHS made an errant effort to become the arbiter of truth with a Disinformation Governance Board headed by a known partisan. In a surprise to no one, that failed miserably. And it is unclear how the Department plans to ensure the success of CISA’s mission amidst agency competition, cyber workforce recruitment hurdles, and the overall challenges of a young agency. Congress, ever eager to prove itself unhelpful, continues to fail at consolidating DHS oversight due to committee turf battles that leave America less secure. Today over 90 committees and subcommittees claim jurisdiction over some elements of DHS.

The solemn anniversary of the terror attacks of September 11, 2001, is a timely opportunity to assess the scope and role of DHS.

I believe the Department could truly prove its worth to the American people if politics were set aside and our frontline law enforcement were allowed to focus solely on securing the homeland rather than delivering on a partisan agenda. Further, the Department has an emerging crown jewel in CISA, if it takes aggressive steps to solidify that agency’s role in the federal government and clearly articulate its benefits to Congress and the American people.

If it can better manage resource allocation and procurement challenges, DHS can be on the cutting edge of exciting new security technologies that leverage biometrics, automated threat detection, and advanced algorithms to improve trade, travel, and the reliability of our supply chains. These could have positive impacts on Americans and the U.S. economy.

Ultimately, Americans benefit from a strong, effective, and strategic Department of Homeland Security. We must remember that this sprawling agency is staffed by patriotic men and women, often our own neighbors, who are dedicated to protecting this nation. It is my hope that in the years ahead, DHS will work with Congress to streamline itself, become more-mission focused, and fulfill its role as a critical component of America’s national security.