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DHS: Policy Changes & Congressional Criticism

Two things happened recently of interest to people who follow the Department of Homeland Security. Frankly, neither should be a surprise.

The policy change was the announcement by Secretary MIchael Chertoff that under new regulations, senior officials -- including the Senior Executive Service and others who earn more than 86.5% of Executive Schedule II pay - $145,320 in Pay Year 2007 - will have to wait a full year before lobbying anyone within the Agency. This is a change from the previous policy whereby "retired" DHS executives were only barred from lobbying their "component agency." In making this announcement Chertoff said:

"There should be no doubt about the integrity of our leadership and the motivation for their service to our country. The American public rightfully expects and deserves that the mission focus be job-one."

As Congress is now moving toward greater transparency in lobbying and Appropriations, this makes sense. Of course, this would not stop non-DHS "consultants" representing companies to also influence policies favorable to their clients. Since this new ruling takes effect on June 7, 2007, only DHS employees who leave after that date will be affected.

Maybe of greater eventual importance was the criticism lodged by Representative David Wu (D-Oregon), Chairman of the House Science Committee’s Subcommittee on Technology and Innovation on March 8th. The issues seem to revolve around S&T's continuing management problems, lack of focus on important research and development priorities and the losses of many of the top people in the Science and Technology Directorate. Making the situation worse is that S&T is facing a a 9.5 percent budget cut for fiscal year 2008.

When we seem to still be struggling with the deployment of new technology solutions for the security issues presented following September 11th, the lack of focus and guidance in what should be the braintrust of the DHS is a great concern. At the hearings, Congressman Wu commented that he was concerned "about the lack of a strategic plan or risk assessment that should be the basis for research priorities within [Homeland Security] ... I strongly encourage you to carry out a detailed, scientific risk assessment soon."

While not minimizing the importance of arming our first responders with the best possible capabilities, nor suggesting any dimunition of effort for the Domestic Nuclear Detection Office (FY'08 budget increase of 17 percent over 2007, to $569.1 million), questions still remain about other critical programs. All one needs to do is look at the recent issues relating to identification for immigration, and you can understand the concern in some circles.



I have to say that this seems little more than window-dressing to me. So they take a year off and do something else, and then become lobbyists. Of course, this only applies to senior officials.

Living in the DC area I've run into several people who have worked for periods at DHS, and others who know people who have, and without exception they say that DHS is totally unorganized and incompetent - I've heard multiple stories of people just sitting around doing nothing, having to take the initiative just to find productive work to do. One acquantance, reflecting on the post-Katrina response, said he was surprised they were able to do anything at all.

Of course, Kirk, to an extent, its "window dressing." But I've avoided some of the more obvious recent instances of how and when "insiders" have made strong pitches on behalf of known (or at least in one case, a publiczed case of not so known) self-interests. Examine, if you will, the selection of certain port security capabilities.

One of my associates found the restrictions of post-employment from his "legacy agency" position difficult enough that he went and "re-upped" and joined DHS.

Nonetheless, lobbying transparency is still a big issue, both on Capitol Hill and in the agencies. Just experiencing some of the new "hoops" I've just gone through for '08 are small examples.

Also, the question of S&T's strategic focus (or myopia) could fill pages.