For A Limited Time – Advice for A New Secretary

Blog Post by Ronald Marks: 
For A Limited Time – Advice for A New Secretary
January 22, 2018

Newly appointed Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Neilsen marks a potential sea-change in the U.S. approach to our protection of the homeland.  At 45, Secretary Neilsen has spent most of her adult life dealing with the aftermath of 9/11 and the subsequent expansion of Homeland Security far beyond its original intent.  But, like most appointees in D.C., there are a limited number of items she can successfully deal with in a limited amount of time before the plaque of politics and bureaucracy harden against any further change. Let me suggest what I consider the three most important.

First, let’s get the cyber issue settled in the Department.  There are already moves being made to establish a cyber agency.  It should be done.  Cyber issues extend like tendrils throughout DHS.  It is confusing in terms of who is in charge of what bureaucratically.  And, for a private sector dominating 90 percent of cyberspace and seeking guidance from someone in D.C. on their responsibilities and potential standards, it is thoroughly confusing – a “deep state” at its worst.

Second, put the Undersecretary of Intelligence in charge of all the intelligence in DHS – budget and program.  I wrote a book on the subject and have taught it for years to Master’s level students.  They think I am kidding about the complexity, duplication, and lack of standards among the myriad of DHS parts collecting information and providing intelligence analysis.  Further, the Undersecretary needs to get a handle on the numerous information sharing Fusion Centers around the country.  They are state run, but need much heavier guidance and direction to provide better intelligence to state and local First Responders.  DHS can provide that.

Third, let FEMA go. It should not be part of the Department.  It is mission creep far beyond what the true goal of homeland protection that Homeland Security is supposed to be.  I am not suggesting to not have a deep liaison with it.  But, it’s current status as an equal to many of the DHS sub-departments is simply not reflective of its national mission against disasters (natural and man-made) and its dedicated help in the aftermath.

Finally, let me provide a “do not.”  Do not complain about Congressional oversight.  It is beyond your control.  Yes, it is perfectly ridiculous to have 108 and more committees and sub-committees.  But, the leadership on the Hill needs to take care of this – and they are not.  No Congressional leader in House or Senate in their right mind will take away power and title from fellow members. It is simply not going to happen.

The Secretary of Homeland Security is a difficult job to say the least.  But, we have a great opportunity for someone who grew up in this world to make some of the necessary changes it needs to be more effective.  My hope is the Secretary picks a few and moves fast to get them done.


Ronald Marks is President and Senior Partner, Intelligence Enterprises, LLC. He is a former officer of the Central Intelligence Agency; and a Member of the Council of Executives of GW’s Center for Cyber and Homeland Security. The opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author alone.