The First Quadrennial Homeland Security Review

  • photo courtesy of U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Los Angeles District www.flickr.com/photos/51640646@N04/4910928280
    Feb 4, 2010

    Q1: What is the Quadrennial Homeland Security Review?

    A1: The Quadrennial Homeland Security Review (QHSR) is a congressionally mandated assessment of the strategy and policies of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). The report, released earlier this week, is the first in DHS’s short history. Subsequent QHSRs will follow every four years.

    Its fundamental goal is to articulate a program and agenda for DHS over the next four years and into the future. The QHSR looks to do this by first identifying the major threats facing the country. Based on this assessment, it recommends steps DHS, its partner agencies, and the private sector should take to achieve America’s strategic homeland security objectives.

    Q2: What are the report’s basic themes?

    A2: This initial QHSR, like DHS itself, addresses a wide range of subjects affecting the security of the United States. The report identifies five “core missions”: counterterrorism, border security, immigration enforcement, cyber security, and “resilience” to natural disasters and attacks.

    Beyond these broad categories, the QHSR states its goal of building “the homeland security enterprise itself.” By this, the department means an effort to make DHS and its partner organizations more effective in carrying out their core missions. This goal has four major components: establishing a framework for sharing information on risks and threats; improving the capacity of communities to respond to disruptions; building a unity of effort between DHS and its federal, state, and local partners; and increasing the use of science and technology to prevent terrorism.

    Q3: What should we pay attention to behind the headlines?

    A3: Any document as far-ranging and ambitious as the QHSR—or its counterpart for the Department of Defense, the Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR)—is bound to contain some level of ambiguity. The report released earlier this week was no exception to this rule. But there are several key aspects of this year’s QHSR that, while unlikely to grab headlines, will figure prominently in DHS’s agenda over the next four years.

    Two, in particular, center on improving local capabilities in times of crisis. The first is the emphasis on enhancing “community resilience,” or the ability of cities, towns, and neighborhoods to respond to terrorist attacks, natural disasters, and other perturbations. The rationale behind this initiative makes sense: local officials—like fire and police—along with citizens are the inevitable first responders in the event of a catastrophe; therefore, they should be appropriately equipped to administer relief. DHS envisions its role as enhancing the capacity of these first responders to act in major crises.

    The second is the push for greater federal support of state and local “fusion centers.” These entities emerged after 9/11; their aim is to increase cooperation among local and federal law enforcement and intelligence officials on issues like domestic terrorism. DHS supplies these offices, which now number 72 nationwide, with personnel possessing operational and intelligence skills in counterterrorism.

    An April 2008 Government Accountability Office report catalogued the myriad challenges—including funding and staffing shortages—that fusion centers have faced in their brief history. In response, DHS recently announced a range of new initiatives to fully fund fusion centers, signaling that the offices will be a key resource in the homeland security strategy of the department and the country. The QHSR further reinforced this commitment to fusion centers, specifically mentioning their role in bridging information gaps among federal, state, and local governments.

    These two aspects of the QHSR—one general, the other specific—signal the importance DHS seems to be placing on local preparedness and capacity. This is a positive direction in which the country and the homeland security community should move. DHS is essential in marshaling America’s collective capacities for domestic security. But the most effective assets ultimately will be well-resourced local officials and well-educated citizens.

    Q4: What’s next?

    A4: The department will use the QHSR as the basis for a department-wide review to evaluate its current structures and programs, adjusting its policies as necessary to match the framework detailed in the report. This review, in theory, will drive the DHS budget, beginning with the fiscal year 2012 submission. While the ultimate importance of the QHSR may be called into question, there can be no doubt that such long-term planning efforts, which seek to set forth a vision and align resources, are critical to establishing a viable and effective homeland security apparatus.

    Rick “Ozzie” Nelson is a senior fellow and director of the Homeland Security and Counterterrorism Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C.


    Critical Questions is produced by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), a private, tax-exempt institution focusing on international public policy issues. Its research is nonpartisan and nonproprietary. CSIS does not take specific policy positions. Accordingly, all views, positions, and conclusions expressed in this publication should be understood to be solely those of the author(s).

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Rick "Ozzie" Nelson