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Homeland Security and a Broader Agenda

At a CAPAF event, Rep. David Price (D-NC) described five homeland security priorities for the next administration.

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“The agenda for repair, renewal, and reform is vast and urgent, and it is within that broader agenda that the program of the still-new, still-consolidating Department of Homeland Security should take a proportionate place,” Rep. David Price (D-NC) told attendees at a Center for American Progress Action Fund event on Monday. Price, the Chairman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Homeland Security, was introduced by former Staff Director of the House Appropriations Committee and current CAPAF Senior Fellow Scott Lilly, and shared his insights into the major issues facing the Department of Homeland Security and outlined steps the next administration should take to reform the struggling department.

“Risks to the homeland are a function of three factors: threat, vulnerability, and consequences,” Price said. “The Department can work on addressing the last two variables…but the threats we face are another matter.” Price therefore argued that we need to start thinking about our homeland security strategy as one element of a broader national security strategy that addresses both domestic and foreign policy.

Price identified five homeland security priorities that the next administration will need to address in order to develop a more comprehensive and integrated homeland security strategy: immigration, emergency response, privacy, risk analysis, and maintaining security during the transition, .

Immigration: A new administration’s first priority should be immigration, Price said, because the current administration has pursued an “enforcement-only” approach to immigration in lieu of comprehensive reform that addresses the root causes of the problem. “As long as our immigration policies are not responsive to the realities of our labor market, illegal immigration will drain our resources and distract attention from the apprehension of criminal and terrorist aliens crossing our borders and living among us,” he explained.

Emergency Response: FEMA’s first responder funds are primarily allocated based on terrorism risk; Price said that he would “argue for a balanced allocation method based on broader, all-hazards determinations of risk.” “There is a possibility of a terrorist attack somewhere in the United States in the next five or 10 years, but I guarantee that first responders in states like mine will continue to face threats from hurricanes or natural disasters on a regular basis,” Price said.

Technology and Privacy: DHS will have to find the best way to effectively utilize technologies while respecting privacy. “A privacy analysis must be an integral component of any technology or database development program from the beginning,” he said. Price also said that DHS leaders must be skeptical of ineffective technology solutions while recognizing solutions that can play an integral role in operations. He used SBINet, the technologically intensive border control program, as an example of the need to, “resist the impulse to invest huge sums based on a contractor’s promise of a solution.”

Risk Analysis: The next administration should also focus on how DHS conducts risk analysis and awards grants. Comparing assessments focused on terrorism and natural disasters is especially difficult, and the FY2008 appropriations bill instructs the National Academies of Science to assess the dDepartment’s risk analysis methodology. “The next Secretary [of DHS] must use these analyses to guide the Department’s investment decisions,” Price said.

Maintaining Security During Transition: The next administration will have to quickly prioritize integrating and managing DHS’s 22 entities, while maintaining a strong security posture as the administration changes. “We cannot allow the transition to be a vulnerability that terrorists might exploit,” he said. This is a particular concern since previous attacks in the United States, London, and Madrid, have all occurred during transition periods between governments.

Effective homeland security policies must extend beyond the Department of Homeland Security, and they must utilize America’s national power and moral authority, Price emphasized. “The next pPresident must fundamentally reorient our foreign and domestic policies, and a touchstone of that effort must be the question: What makes a nation truly secure?”

For more on this event, please visit the events page.