Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Proposal to Merge Homeland, National Security Councils

From CQ - Homeland Security (an information source I strongly recommend)

Proposal to Merge Homeland, National Security Councils

Nov. 17, 2008 – 8:24 p.m.
Obama ‘Listening Carefully’ to Proposal to Merge Homeland, National Security Councils

By Rob Margetta, CQ Staff
Merging the White House Homeland Security Council into the National Security
Council, an idea that has been talked about in homeland security circles for
months, made it into a list of presidential transition recommendations from a pair of liberal-leaning think tanks.

The guidelines came from the Homeland Security Presidential Transition
Initiative (HSPTI) Advisory Council, a group of security experts and former
officials sponsored by the Center for American Progress and Third Way. In a section on the executive office of the president, the HSPTI report said “the HSC is broadly
seen as a weak sibling to the NSC” and that “conceptually, homeland security
should not be viewed as distinct from national security.”

The HSC was founded less than a month after the Sept. 11 attacks. According
to the HSPTI, the goal for the council was to provide a staff structure inside
the White House to deal with security issues and, in part, to avoid the need for
creating a department of homeland security, which it predated by almost two
years. The report noted that HSC and NSC duties often overlap, and the line
between their missions is blurry.But the benefits of integrating the HSC into the NSC go beyond eliminating redundancies, said advisory council member Stewart Vergery, a former DHS assistant secretary for policy and Monument Policy Group founder. The move would give homeland policymakers the ability to work with the NSC’s international partners, and to speak to other nations with a single voice, he said. "The big thing is that for the part of the homeland security mission that’s
internationally focused, it allows the executive branch to negotiate across
issues and not just on the homeland security issues,” he said.

If the NSC were talking to foreign powers about homeland issues — returning
criminal illegal immigrants to their home countries, document security,
information sharing — negotiators would have more to offer than the HSC would,
he said. “The NSC is where those decisions on the relative priorities get made,”
he said. “It gives you more tools in the toolbox for negotiating with foreign

Verdery said when he was at DHS, he heard reports of foreign governments
unhappy that they had to deal with the department, HSC and NSC separately,
although often the issues discussed were similar. “They want one place to go ... on tough issues,” he said. Given the HSC’s origins as a possible alternative to establishing a new department, it may also have become obsolete as DHS has matured over the past five years, Verdery said. “When it was set up originally, the parts of the government that dealt with homeland security were so disparate ... and that was the only way to coordinate them,” he said, adding that homeland issues were spread through departments including Energy, Transportation, Agriculture, State and Justice.
Those same coordination issues still exist, Verdery said, although he
estimated that they have been halved since DHS’s inception.

Not all HSPTI members agreed that the two White House councils should be
merged, the groups’ report said. The document noted that some members were
concerned that such a move could signal a less vigilant stance on homeland
security. But the report contended that incorporating the HSC could give homeland
security the largest directorate within the NSC — one that could focus on
counterterrorism and information sharing, critical infrastructure protection,
national preparedness, immigration and cybersecurity. It also recommended that
if the HSC is eliminated, the president should create a new deputy national
security adviser with the title of assistant to the president for homeland
security and counterterrorism and the task of managing interagency policy
deliberations with the national security adviser.

Another concern was that the HSC serves different functions from the NSC —
such as coordinating with state and local emergency officials — and those duties
could overload the NSC’s portfolio. The report’s response to that was a
recommendation to distribute the domestic elements of homeland security to the
Domestic Policy Council or Office of Intergovernmental Affairs.
Michael Signer, senior policy adviser and director of the HSPTI, said his
group has been in contact with President-elect Barack Obama’s transition team, and some Obama advisers contributed to the report. He could not say if the next administration will make the recommended merger, though.
“We can’t speak for the transition,” he said. “We do know that they are
listening carefully to the recommendations in this document.”

Rob Margetta can be reached at rmargetta@cq.com

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