Defense Media Network

Grading DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano’s Homeland Security Performance

It’s not unheard of in the professional world to hear someone say, “If you can’t measure performance, how do you know how good you are?” When former NYC Mayor Ed Koch would meet various citizens or visitors of America’s largest city he would often ask them, “How’m I doing?” only to receive some relatively frank assessments from time to time.

Metrics are all around us. It can be the batting average of your favorite baseball players; the number of championships your teams have won; the quarterly sales numbers; the stock prices of a company, or more.

All of those categories offer numbers that, once put up on the wall, can tell you how you’re performing. Each of those numbers can as inspiring as they can be sobering. It all depends upon who is looking at them and doing the measuring. Such is the challenge when it comes to measuring performance in homeland security.

For nearly a decade, DHS has distributed billions of dollars in grant monies to state and local governments, NGOs, ports and other entities. Those dollars have been used to pay for training, personnel, equipment and just about everything in between. DHS has also hired several thousand more people from the day when it officially opened its doors in 2003. That includes a U.S. Border Patrol more than doubled in size, as well as hundreds more TSA screeners and FEMA personnel that operate in the various regions around the United States. More money and more people are metrics that show the growth of DHS, but those are not the only metrics of note.

Apprehensions of illegal aliens at the border; illegal drugs and contraband seized at ports of entry; deportations of non-U.S. citizens from the homeland; and the processing of new American citizens and residents to begin their legal lives in the United States are also important measures.



Napolitano, Obama, Fugate listening to LaHood at FEMA HQ meeting 2012-10-31

DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano, far right, during a briefing on the response to Hurricane Sandy at FEMA headquarters in Washington, D.C., Oct. 31, 2012. Official White House photo by Pete Souza

Even as more than 20 percent of America has dealt with “Frankenstorm” (Hurricane Sandy), the capital and programmatic investments in FEMA, its regions, and its state and local counterparts can be put on full display working to keep citizens informed, safe, and where necessary, provided with emergency services.

As election season ends and the end of the year approaches, Americans will again be presented with lots of data about what DHS has done over the past year and about the tenure of DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano. All of that data is relevant as new budgets and programs are debated by the next Congress and considered by whatever administration takes office on Jan. 20, 2013.

The greatest bit of information, though, will be an intangible metric that was first clearly expressed by then-outgoing DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff in late January 2009. With Arizona Governor Napolitano waiting in the wings to succeed him as the next DHS Secretary and then President-Elect Barack Obama ready to take office, Chertoff said in a number of interviews the biggest metric that mattered was that there were no successful acts of terrorism on American soil since 9/11 under his watch and that of his predecessor, Tom Ridge. If things continue to remain as they are now, Napolitano may be able to add that same metric of success to her tenure at the department.

Some of her critics will undoubtedly challenge that metric, pointing to the 2009 Fort Hood shooting as well as the various shootings at U.S. military recruiting stations that have killed U.S. service personnel. Whether or not those incidents were “acts of terror” is debated by a lot of folks, but in terms of a 9/11 scale of attack that killed thousands of people, that metric remains a firm zero.

The reasons behind that successful metric are multiple. Since 9/11, intelligence and information-sharing has improved dramatically. There are also more people, resources and authorities to investigate and thwart suspected operatives from pulling off such an attack. We’ve also made it harder to pull off such an operation by better securing potential targets and putting them “out of play.” DHS and its federal, state, local, tribal and private sector partners deserve the lion’s share of that credit, as do the people who worked to build all of those capacities beginning on Sept. 12, 2001.

There’s another thing to consider in terms of this success metric. Just because something has not happened, does not mean it is not still being considered, planned, and drilled. Terrorists of the type that executed the 9/11 attacks are very patient and deliberate, and strike on their schedule and timeframe, and not on ours. As Americans, we are often an impatient lot. We “want our MTV,” sports championships, corner office, accolades and success immediately, often without the time or patience to acquire it the old fashioned way – earning it. As many writers and analysts have observed, we think in terms of minutes and seconds while they think in terms of centuries and millennia.

As anyone who has ever worked these issues knows, success in the homeland security arena does not come overnight, nor does it come cheaply or easily. For all of the money spent and work completed, success can also come down to sheer luck and fortune. It’s also never a guarantee to endure, but if Napolitano leaves office without a 9/11 event on her tenure, it will be one she can be proud of, even if the events that made that success possible were out of her control and everyone else’s.


Richard “Rich” Cooper is a Principal with Catalyst Partners, LLC, a government and public affairs...