Senators express disappointment with DHS strategic review

Lawmakers on Wednesday criticized the Homeland Security Department's bottom-up review of its organizational activities and priorities for its lack of detail.

The 70-page report, released earlier in July, was intended to align DHS' programs and organizational structure with the key mission priorities expressed in the February Quadrennial Homeland Security Review.

But members of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee questioned how useful the report would be for the department or oversight officials.

"The [bottom up review] statements are general and vague" Committee Chairman Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., said during Wednesday's hearing.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., was harsher in his assessment, arguing the report amounted to little more than widely accepted goals for the department -- securing the border, eliminating human trafficking -- without addressing how DHS officials intended to carry out the objectives or identifying any accomplishments to date. The senator told Deputy Secretary Jane Holl Lute, the hearing's lone witness, the review was "embarrassing" and "disrespectful to the jurisdiction of the committee."

"This list is entertaining," McCain said. "But, I want to know what's been done in the past seven years. There's nothing in the report to argue with. But, I hope this committee demands actual results of what the department has done to carry out these motherhood and apple pie initiatives."

Lute responded that the two recent congressionally mandated reviews are part of "a multistep process to examine and address fundamental issues that concern homeland security."

The first step in the process was the February release of the Quadrennial Homeland Security Review, which served as a strategic framework for the department's interests, missions and goals. The bottom-up review was supposed to dig deeper, mapping out for the first time all the department's activities and priorities.

The bottom-up review is organized around five general mission areas: preventing terrorism and enhancing security; securing and managing borders; enforcing immigration laws; securing cyberspace; and ensuring resilience to disasters.

But committee members grilled Lute more for what was lacking in the report. The review, for example, makes only passing mention of how DHS plans to balance its use of private contractors, which now outnumber the department's public sector workforce.

"Over the past year, the department has been actively converting contractor positions to government positions," the document stated. "DHS will continue to build on these efforts at an even more aggressive pace to put in place the appropriate federal workforce required to oversee and carry out its mission responsibilities."

A review of Homeland Security's contractor workforce was under way and could be completed by the end of the year, Lute said.

The committee's ranking member, Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, meanwhile, criticized DHS for failing to outline a clear strategy to detect biological and radiological weapons.

"The report says that the department will 'leverage the full range of capabilities to address biological and nuclear threats,'" Collins said. "But these are just buzzwords."

Several senators noted that the breadth of the DHS review paled in comparison to the Pentagon's Quadrennial Defense Review.

Lute said implementation directives exist for each of the 44 initiatives and enhancements described in the bottom-up review. The implementation plan will be fleshed out when Homeland Security submits its 2012 budget request to Congress next February, she said.

Despite the criticism, Lute has high hopes the review can lead to meaningful change for the department.

"DHS will not accomplish all 44 of the initiatives and enhancements in fiscal 2012," she said. "DHS will begin work on the highest priority initiatives now, propose the initiation of others in the president's fiscal 2012 budget proposal, and accomplish others through the fiscal 2012 to 2016 time frame."

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