Reauthorizing DHS: The Case for Reauthorization


Oct 20, 2017

A Homeland Security Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) bus is seen parked outside a federal jail in San Diego, California, U.S. October 19, 2017

A Homeland Security Immigration and Customs Enforcement bus is seen parked outside a federal jail in San Diego, California, U.S. October 19, 2017

Photo by Mike Blake/Reuters

This commentary originally appeared on The National Interest on October 19, 2017.

This commentary is part of a series on the reauthorization of the Department of Homeland Security. Other topics include: improving operational control of the department; aligning of requirements, research, development, and contemplating major DHS organizational realignments.

The House recently passed H.R. 2825, the Department of Homeland Security Act of 2017, the most comprehensive effort to reauthorize the department since the original Department of Homeland Security Act of 2002, which established the department. The Senate, too, is preparing to consider reauthorization.

The question really is not whether such legislation is needed. After fifteen years, comprehensive legislation would be helpful in codifying the roles and functions given to and assumed by the department since its inception. However, are there other necessary reforms to the Department of Homeland Security that could be addressed?

Sixteen years have passed since 9/11, which was the defining event that led to the creation of a department dedicated to the security of the homeland. With the initial authorizing legislation, twenty-two disparate organizations with unique authorities and constituencies were combined to create the third largest cabinet-level agency in the U.S. government. Each came with different lineages, operating styles, contracting mechanisms and cultures. Some had overlapping authorities that had to be addressed. Others, such as the Transportation Security Administration, were cut from whole cloth.

Over time, missions and structures were developed to better respond to the challenges of the day. Many of the original structures from the original legislation have been replaced through legislative and administrative restructuring. The cybersecurity mission saw significant growth throughout Department of Homeland Security. The realization that radicalization within the homeland had come to represent a major terrorism threat to the United States led to the establishment of a program and later an office within the headquarters for countering violent extremism. Failures identified during Hurricane Katrina led to the Post-Katrina Emergency Management Reform Act, which “provided substantial new authority to remedy gaps in response, and included a more robust preparedness mission for FEMA (the Federal Emergency Management Agency).” After a shaky start with the U.S. Visitor and Immigration Status Indicator Technology program, the Office of Biometric Identity Management was established within the National Protection and Programs Directorate.

Successive secretaries attempted to add structure and processes, but in most cases changes were imposed in reaction to specific incidents and the management style of the principal, and not with a view towards building long-term institutional strength. With each lesson learned, new processes and organizational structures were developed. But these changes addressed specific issues, incident by incident, and not comprehensively.…

The remainder of this commentary is available at

Daniel M. Gerstein works at the nonprofit, nonpartisan RAND Corporation and is an adjunct professor at American University. He was the undersecretary (acting) and deputy undersecretary in the Science and Technology Directorate of the Department of Homeland Security from 2011–14.