ARGUMENT: Deconstructing DHSDismantle the Department of Homeland Security

Published 31 July 2020

Richard A. Clarke, who served on the National Security Council for Presidents George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush, minces no words in calling for the dismantling of DHS. “President Trump has, often intentionally, damaged essential federal departments and agencies, driving from their ranks thousands of career civil servants who are global experts and national treasures,” he writes. But “No national institution has been more damaged than the Department of Homeland Security.” He adds: “For the patriotic, underpaid Americans working hard in the agencies of the DHS, what Trump has done to their reputations is a tragedy. The department, however, was doomed from the start.”

Richard A. Clarke, who served on the National Security Council for Presidents George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush, minces no words in writing in the Washington Post that

President Trump has, often intentionally, damaged essential federal departments and agencies, driving from their ranks thousands of career civil servants who are global experts and national treasures. The country is seeing the results play out at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, but such damage has happened across the federal bureaucracy.

No national institution has been more damaged than the Department of Homeland Security. The youngest of the federal departments, the DHS is among the largest by employee count, ranking just below the Defense Department and Veterans Affairs. It was created in 2003 by smashing together 17 agencies from five departments in an ill-conceived response to the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Its divisions and agencies are now largely leaderless, because the White House refuses to nominate senior managers to replace those who have left. Quick, who is the secretary of homeland security?

You get my point.

Trump has done far more damage to the DHS, however, than leaving it leaderless. He has branded it as the department that cages children, swoops innocent citizens off U.S. streets, sends warriors dressed for the apocalypse to deal with protests, hunts down hard-working people doing “essential jobs” to forcibly deport them, and harasses foreign students at leading universities. The DHS has become synonymous with unsympathetic government overreach, malevolence and dysfunction.

For the patriotic, underpaid Americans working hard in the agencies of the DHS, what Trump has done to their reputations is a tragedy. The department, however, was doomed from the start.

Clarke writes that federal departments and agencies develop personalities and images from their mission, and they attract people who identify with those personas. “These identities are almost immutable, but new organizational designs and branding can reinvigorate and redirect agencies. Breaking up the DHS could have positive results.”

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