DHS - The Presidential Transition Plan
With the 2008 Presidential election upon us, the Nation also faces the first ever transition of the Department of Homeland Security from one Administration to another. Staying totally apolitical, that this is the first election in over 50 years where there is no incumbent Vice President running for the higher office presents an even greater challenge. A few weeks ago, I noted that Congressman Bennie Thompson, Chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security had sent a memo to the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, Michael Chertoff. The memo contained a “to-do” list that included developing a plan to deal with the "mass exodus" that would occur with the change in Administration.
A new task force, a subgroup of the Homeland Security Advisory Committee, just published what they describe as "politically neutral" recommendations to deal with the transition, a period of heightened vulnerability that they define as one month prior and six months following the change in Adminstration. Seeking to achieve a seemless transfer to a new President, the recommendations include:
• Any "credible threat reports" should be disseminated to all presidential and vice presidential nominees in a "timely and reliable" fashion;
• Nominees should be encouraged to issue "one joint statement" in the event of a heightened threat level;
• DHS, the presidential nominees, their staffs and the Senate should develop an "expedited process" to handle appointments and nominees to top departmental posts "that goes far beyond the top three or four senior positions";
• Current appointees in the Bush Administration should be "incentivized" with financial bonuses to remain in their posts and overlap the new administration;• A bipartisan group of senators should set a goal of confirming all incoming DHS nominees for national security posts "by the start of the August 2009 recess."
The mission of the Department of Homeland Security is to "Prevent, Prepare, Respond, and Recover." Considering the difficulties experienced by DHS during its first six years coordinating the activities and integrating the staffs of 22 legacy agencies, the need to plan for and deal with the potential loss of a significant number of senior level key people is obvious and essential. According to the report, there are 177 "Senior Executive" positions at DHS Headquarters, including 12 presidential appointments who require Senate approval, 33 political appointments and 107 career employees (25 positions are currently vacant, 3 of which would be political appointees). Aside from the transition to a new Administration, one of the more significant challenges facing the next DHS Secretary is to figure out how to streamline and integrate the activities of the disparate agencies.