Outgoing Homeland Security official cites need for better planning

DHS has done a good job of hashing out short-term policy matters, but long-term planning has lagged, says Assistant Secretary C. Stewart Verdery Jr.

C. Stewart Verdery Jr., the Homeland Security Department's assistant secretary for border and transportation security policy and planning, announced his resignation Thursday.

Verdery's resignation comes amid the departures of a handful of other senior managers who helped start the department and as a growing chorus of critics says the department needs better long-term planning and strategic thinking.

In an interview with Government Executive Thursday, Verdery said he agreed DHS needs "a more robust planning capacity."

"I think that would be of great help to the leadership," he said.

Susan Collins, R-Maine, chairwoman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, recently said that reports on management challenges at DHS have made a "compelling case" for creating a new undersecretary for long-term policy strategy. She said the move could be part of a homeland security reauthorization measure her panel is likely to draft.

Verdery has served in his position since June 2003. Before joining DHS, he was senior legislative adviser in the Washington office of Vivendi Universal Entertainment, a media and entertainment conglomerate headquartered in Paris. He said he plans to find work in the private sector and is evaluating options.

In his resignation letter to President Bush, Verdery cited several accomplishments his office and the Border and Transportation Security directorate have made. Specifically, he noted the deployment of the U.S. Visitor and Immigrant Status Indicator Technology program, which screens immigrants coming into the country, and successful negotiations with the European Union over aviation issues and sharing airline passenger information.

"However, as the administration and DHS move to create the broad policy office that the department deserves," Verdery wrote, "it is an appropriate time for me to depart and allow the enhanced position to be defined by and filled on a permanent basis to support the new secretary."

Verdery told Government Executive that there is a difference between policy and planning. He said the department has done a good job of hashing out short-term policy matters, but long-term planning has lagged, mainly because DHS is only two years old, has not had the appropriate staff for strategic planning, and has spent a considerable amount of time meeting congressional mandates.

"Now's the time to take on that bigger and better effort," he said.

Verdery also acknowledged that Homeland Security needs to do more to secure cargo. For example, he said, the department should decide if more regulations are needed for cargo security as opposed to relying on voluntary actions. He said DHS is implementing a regulation for sealing cargo and evaluating additional rules.