The Department of Homeland Security is big, and still growing.
“I think it has to when you look at the critical issues that DHS has to face,” said Jan Lesher, former chief of staff for Secretary Janet Napolitano.
Lesher told Federal News Radio she’s known Napolitano for years, “long before she was even U.S. Attorney or Attorney General,” but even she was a bit daunted on the first day in Washington. (laughs) “You initially sort of wonder what you were thinking.”
Lesher said they all learned the ropes together, coming on as chief of staff “at a time when we were all moving in and understanding the full parameters of the $52 billion dollar agency that spans some 22 separate agencies and directorates and just beginning to get our arms around all the various issues…” including border security, recovery, preparedness, and disaster response from FEMA.
Right out of the blocks, Lesher found herself looking at the 2009 budget and preparing the 2010 budget and moving into 2011 and beyond, while “also learning what is it we do in terms of how the operations center works.”
Then you look at areas within the agencies such as information and analysis. They’re trying to make sure that we’re collecting very important and very necessary, accurate, timely, data about issues that affect the homeland from a security perspective, and make that that’s vetted appropriately and shared with those who need to know it. It starts just about every single morning with a… meeting with every person who’s heading one of the various divisions and components and making sure that we all have access to the information and are keeping apprised of it.
From a larger perspective, Lesher, now CEO of Lesher Communications which affiliates with Command Consulting Group, said there has been “some discussion” about breaking up DHS, but said the agencies are so integrally linked, there’s no way to do that without weakening the service of the department.
Lesher said each part works with each other as a team.
I had not fully appreciated until I got the opportunity to work with the agency the significant role of the Coast Guard, for example, in drug intervention. Obviously, if you close a border, it’s a little bit like a Whac-A-Mole game. We’re going to push down in one place; things are going to pop up someplace else. So we, in many cases, have pushed drug trafficking and those concerns off of our land borders and out onto the sea. So it’s critical then that the Coast Guard not only do their traditional mission, but to work with Border Patrol and others to make sure that we really have a secure border from all elements. And so I see all of that really expanding. There’s just simply no way we continue to deal with the issues we have to deal with without expansion and a broader agency.
Tom Temin is the host of The Federal Drive, which airs from 6-10 a.m. on 1500 AM in the Washington, D.C. region and online everywhere. Tom has 30 years experience in journalism, mostly in technology markets. Before coming to Federal News Radio, he was a long-serving editor-in-chief of Government Computer News and Washington Technology magazines.