U.S. Department of Homeland Security

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The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is a Cabinet department created in 2003 aimed at securing the United States from all the threats it may face, with "more than 230,000 employees in jobs that range from aviation and border security to emergency response, from cybersecurity analyst to chemical facility inspector."[1] The Department encompasses all the agencies that are ostensibly related to homeland security: Customs and Border Protection (CBP), the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), U.S. Coast Guard, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), U.S. Secret Service, and the Office of Inspector General. (A full list of all the agencies that became part of DHS in 2003 can be found here)

President George W. Bush proposed the creation of the Department in June 2002 to overcome "the current confusing patchwork of government activities into a single department whose primary mission is to protect our homeland," and DHS was created when Congress passed the Homeland Security Act of 2002 (Pub. L. No. 107-296) on Nov. 25, 2002; [2] DHS also underwent a July 2005 revamp. The Department is a reconstruction of the former Office of Homeland Security, which was established after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.


In July 2010, National Public Radio reported that 108 Committees and Subcommittees have oversight over the Department of Homeland Security. NPR also published a diagram depicting the varying layers of oversight. Some have expressed concern that this could lead to DHS receiving confusing or conflicting messages from Congress (i.e. one committee says X, another subcommittee says Y, and neither Committee nor Subcommittee has anything to do with homeland security).

DHS Spending

Funds appropriated to DHS by Congress have increased significantly each year since the Department's creation. Appropriations in FY2003 were $29.1 billion, $30.5 billion in FY2005, $35.3 billion in FY2007, $41.2 billion in FY 2009, and $45 billion has been requested for FY2011.[3]

Since its creation, the Department of Homeland Security has grown into one of the largest federal civilian employers including 200,000 employees and over 200,000 private contractors. [4]

The Department's FY2010 budget was $43.9 billion, with total budget authority $51.7 billion.[3]This reflects approximately half of total homeland security spending, which is scattered across 17 federal budget functions.[5]

The Obama Administration requested a 2.4% increase for FY2011, and although the budget passed the Senate, did not pass the House; therefore, Congress completed and the President signed the Continuing Appropriations Act (H.R. 3081, P.L. 111-242), which generally extends FY2010 funding levels through December 3, 2010. [3]

The Administration's FY 2011 request consisted of: Customs and Border Protection (CBP), $9,809 million; Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), $5,524 million; Transportation Security Administration (TSA), $5,729 million; Coast Guard, $9,867 million; Secret Service, $1,570 million; National Protection & Programs Directorate, $2,362 million; Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA), $7,294 million; Science and Technology, $1,018 million; and the Domestic Nuclear Detection Office, $306 million.[3]

According to William Johnstone, Senior Advisor at the Partnership for a Secure America and task force member of the Unified Security Budget project: "Response to the attempted December [2009] attack on Northwest Flight 253 shaped [the Administration's] request significantly. In so doing, the FY 2011 request continues the long-standing, pre-9/11 pattern of incident-driven, reactive security. At the Transportation Security Administration, for instance, virtually all of the proposed increase is in the field of passenger aviation security. An extra $529 million was sought to purchase, install, staff, and support an additional 500 “Advanced Imaging Technology” (whole body imaging) units for airport checkpoints."[5]

To read more see DHS Budget and Spending

Overreliance on Outside Contractors and Insufficient Management

In 2007, Business Week published a three-part series suggesting that DHS' "overreliance on outside contractors and insufficient management of them could leave the U.S. vulnerable." [6] The article reports that DHS' "investments have come up well short of the country's needs, according to a growing chorus of critics. . . Critics point to an overdependence on outside contractors and a shortage of qualified program management and IT personnel at the department. . . In many cases, contracts lack well-defined parameters and yardsticks for success, contractors are given too much leeway overseeing outside help, and many jobs are not put out for competitive bidding."[6]

Inadequate Privacy Safeguards: Function Creep?

A report released September 10, 2010 by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) found that that sensitive personal Department of Homeland Security information was not fully safeguarded and thus was at high risk of unauthorized disclosure or misuse. The report, Contractor Integrity: Stronger Safeguards Needed for Contractor Access to Sensitive Information, was conducted from October 2009 to September 2010 and also found that DHS contractors were given innappropriate access to sensitive government data. These findings not only suggest that the DHS is inadequately safeguarding personal privacy, but also suggests the possibility for "function creep," where personal or sensitive information gathered for one purpose is used for another. The GAO report raises doubts about DHS' assertions that privacy protections are built into its technologies and practices.

Civil Rights and Civil Liberties

DHS technology and investigative methods have raised a variety of civil liberties and civil rights issues (for example, see the "Use of Controversial Body Scanners" section).

DHS Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties

The DHS Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, tasked with guiding and advising the entire Department on these issues, has an annual budget of $1.2 million, which constitutes less than one 10-thousandths (.000003) of DHS' $55 billion budget for 2011.[7] Although DHS is one of the largest federal civilian employers, with 200,000 employees and over 200,000 private contractors, [4] the Department only allocates six employees to this Office. [7]

In 2003, the Congressionally-appointed Gilmore Commission recommended the creation of "an independent, bipartisan oversight board to provide counsel on homeland security efforts that may impact civil liberties, even if such impacts are unintended."[8] The Gilmore Commission also expressed concern about protecting freedoms guaranteed by the First Amendment to the Constitution, which could be violated by government’s increased reliance on sophisticated technology that has vast potential to invade personal privacy. [8]

DHS Privacy Office

The DHS Privacy Office is the first statutorily created privacy office in any federal agency, and is tasked with reviewing Department programs for potential privacy impacts, as well as responding to Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests. Mary Ellen Callahan was appointed Chief Privacy Officer and Chief FOIA Officer by Secretary Napolitano in March 2009.

The Privacy Office is tasked with releasing information under the Freedom Of Information Act, a U.S. law that guarantees government transparency and openness. Upon taking office, President Obama issued an Executive Memo instructing all agencies that the Act "should be administered with a clear presumption: In the face of doubt, openness prevails," and that in response to requests, agencies should "act promptly and in a spirit of cooperation."

Despite this directive, the DHS Privacy Office has added extra layers to its FOIA requests, possibly violating the Act by subjecting lawful requests to political review. The Associated Press revealed in July that the Office was subjecting FOIA requests that could be deemed "sensitive" to scrutiny for political or public relations impact, as well as delving in to the identity of the requestor-- both of which are prohibited by the Act. [9] In November, Government Security News reported that requests from watchdog or special interest organizations were specifically being subjected to "an extra level of scrutiny," particularly if the requested information would attract media attention. [10] A policy memo from the Chief Privacy/FOIA Officer Mary Ellen Callahan directed all DHS components to report all "significant FOIA activities" (including requests from watchdog groups) to inform the Privacy Office, who would then pass the information to the White House liason.

This extra scrutiny can produce significant delays in getting the information and possibly having some requests blocked completely. For example, a request from the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) regarding surveillance of social media sites were delayed, and the requests were reported in the Privacy Office's White House reports.[10] Another request from the Identity Project regarding Transportation Security Authority (TSA) policies was outright denied, with the central DHS Privacy Office instructing the TSA's FOIA handlers not to release the information. [11]

Controversial Iris Scanners tested on Immigrants

In September 2010, USA Today reported that DHS was to begin testing new iris-scanning technology that stores digital images of people's eyes in a database. The technology could capture identity from six feet away, and is considered a quick alternative to fingerprints.[12]

The announcement drew ire from civil liberties groups. ACLU lawyer Christopher Calabrese, for example, fears that the cameras could be used covertly. "If you can identify any individual at a distance and without their knowledge, you literally allow the physical tracking of a person anywhere there's a camera and access to the Internet."[12]

Jeff Carter, chief business development officer of Global Rainmakers Inc (GRI), who developed the technology, plays down the privacy concerns. Fast Company interviewed Carter in August 2010, after the company installed the iris scanner technology in Leon, Mexico, tracking all residents and creating an iris database. The interview is available here. Carter reasoned that much of our most personal data is already monitored by banks--with each credit card swipe--and that the technology will also provide many benefits, from personal convenience to improved security to digital marketing."

"In the future, whether it's entering your home, opening your car, entering your workspace, getting a pharmacy prescription refilled, or having your medical records pulled up, everything will come off that unique key that is your iris," he said. "[The science-fiction film] Minority Report is one possible outcome. I don't think that's our company's aim, but I think what we're going to see is an environment well beyond what you see in that movie--minus the precogs, of course. The banks already know more about what we do in our daily life--they know what we eat, where we go, what we purchase--our deepest secrets. We're not talking about anything different here--just a system that's good for all of us."[13]

Use of Controversial Body Scanners

After the Christmas 2009 bombing attempt, Transportation Security Administration has decided to install full body scanners at most major airports in the U.S. [14] TSA has decided to install at least 300 of these machines to begin with. The main public concern, raised by Electronic Privacy Information Center, is a complete invasion of privacy and without much information regarding the actual effectiveness of such machines. [15] "In the documents, obtained by the privacy group and provided to CNN, the TSA specifies that the body scanners it purchases must have the ability to store and send images when in "test mode." That requirement leaves open the possibility the machines -- which can see beneath people's clothing -- can be abused by TSA insiders and hacked by outsiders, said EPIC Executive Director Marc Rotenberg." [16] In a formal petition, EPIC and fellow coalition members argue that TSA's use of the body scanners "effectively subjects all air travelers to unconstitutionally intrusive searches that are disproportionate and for which the TSA lacks any suspicion of wrongdoing." [17]

As part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, DHS has spent considerable funding such as $1 billion for TSA’s expanded use of body scanning machines and other explosive detection technology, $200 million for border protection technology, and $250 million for state and local law enforcement to upgrade or construct local fusion centers. [18] These machines are slated to cost taxpayers between $130,000 to $170,000 per machine, for a total of approximately $130 to $170 million for 1000 machines to be installed by the end of next year. [19]

For more on DHS Use of Body Scanners See DHS Use of Body Scanners

DHS History

The first six months

After September 11th, President Bush and Congress created the Department of Homeland Security as a response to rising terror threats facing the United States. The creation of DHS marked the largest security reorganization since World War II, bringing together 22 federal agencies. [20] President Bush announced the decision to create a new cabinet level agency with out initial approval from Congress, and over the protests of some within his administration who felt that "creating a new agency doesn't solve anything." [20] Nonetheless, most Congresspersons rallied behind the President's attempt at coordinating national security efforts.[21] Even though initial versions of the bill creating the DHS were met with deadlock, Democratic Congresspersons only held up the legislation out of concern for the labor and union rights for DHS employees. [21]

In April 2003, Philip Shenon noted in the New York Times that many of the staffers who had been appointed by Tom Ridge after the September 11, 2001 attacks had become "lobbyists whose corporate clients want contracts from Mr. Ridge's multibillion-dollar agency." [22] The agency later introduced guidlines it claimed would limit the scope of former staff to receive special favors from officials.[22]

In a six month performance review in September 2003, John Mintz of the Washington Post reported that the agency was "hobbled by money woes, disorganization, turf battles and unsteady support from the White House, and has made only halting progress toward its goals" and that "So few people want to work at the department that more than 15 people declined requests to apply for the top post in its intelligence unit -- and many others turned down offers to run several other key offices." [23]

In February 23, 2004, New York-WABC reported that "millions in taxpayer dollars going to protect some of the nation's wealthiest companies. It is an allocation of scarce Homeland Security funds that, some say, defies common sense." [24]

To read more see Department of Homeland Security's Historical Roots

Partisan Appointments

In addition to selecting corporate lobbyists to fill staff positions, DHS has made a practice of making partisan appointments to fill DHS vacancies. Michael D. Brown, chosen by President Bush in 2004 to lead FEMA, illustrates the sheer partisanship exhibited by DHS appointments. Michael Brown has been accused of having no prior experience in the area of relief or disaster work, and having leadership experience limited to leading the International Arabian Horse Association.

As Shane Harris points out: "From its inception, Homeland Security was run by political appointees or by other officials on loan to headquarters from the various agencies the department had absorbed. There wasn't a lot of time to post job notices and staff the ranks with career employees, who take much longer to hire, former officials say. DHS had to be fully operational on day one. So, the White House and then-Secretary Tom Ridge largely handpicked their leadership team from the ranks of Bush loyalists. Before the 2004 election, Ridge's deputy secretary, his chief of staff, and almost all of his assistant and undersecretaries and their deputies were political appointees, people who by design would not stay long." [25] It is worth noting that "as of September 2004 the 180,000-employee Homeland Security Department had more than 360 politically appointed, non-career positions." [26] In comparison, the 2nd largest government agency, Veterans Affairs Department, has 64 politically appointed positions.[27]

Furthermore, these partisan appointments did tend to effect the way decisions were made in DHS. As Harris reported in his article: "Under the new DHS secretary, Michael Chertoff, former officials say that the tone and tenor of political appointments took a turn. Personal connections and political fealty became litmus tests, these ex-officials say. Faithfully shepherding administration policy was to be expected, but the department's leaders seemed more beholden to individuals with close ties to the White House." [28] For example, the Bush administration tried to appoint Julie Myers as assistant secretary in charge of Immigration and Customs Enforcement division. Congress commented on her lack of complete inexperience in running such a difficult and complicated division. [29] Despite being blocked by Congress, Bush gave Myers a recess appointment. Perhaps, Myers' appointment can be explained upon glancing at her connections. "She is the niece of Air Force Gen. Richard Myers, then the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. She is married to John Wood, who was Chertoff's chief of staff and an ex-aide to Attorney General John Ashcroft." [30]

Propaganda, homeland style

In October 2004, a draft public relations plan for the Department of Homeland Security's U.S. Customs and Border Protection bureau was leaked to the media. The plan, authored by Bush administration political appointee Kristi M. Clemens (a former Coalition Provisional Authority spokesperson for L. Paul Bremer in Iraq), was "designed to 'change perception' about the nation's security by repeating the message, in the weeks leading up to the presidential election, that America is safer," reported the Washington Post. Clemens called it "a draft communications plan intended to spur debate," and said the PR plan "was never shared outside of my staff nor executed." [1]

Highlights of the PR plan, which "was given to the public affairs field officers in mid-September at a planning meeting in Washington," included: [2]

  • MESSAGE: "America is safer today because of U.S. Customs and Border Protection. Department of Homeland Security's U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agency is doing everything in its power to protect our nation at and beyond her borders from terrorists and terrorist weapons, while facilitating global trade routes and fostering economic security."
  • OBJECTIVE: "To change perception through continuous, consistent and highly credible information."
  • Other information: The draft PR plan "calls on the public affairs officials to 'Maximize media' and 'Brand CBP'," suggests using "surrogates" to spread the agency's message, and implementing a "theme of the month," with the following themes: "OCTOBER: Border Patrol. NOVEMBER: Agriculture. DECEMBER: Trade." Specific media targets mentioned included "Editorial Board with Washington Times," "Morning Shows" and to pitch exclusive" to "FOX 3-4 part series ending with the Commissioner Live in studio. Geraldo or as backup Dr. Bob Arnot with MSNBC."


For a full list of DHS leadership and links to their bios, see the "Leadership" page on the DHS website.

To read more, see Department of Homeland Security appointments

Contact details

U.S. Department of Homeland Security
Washington, D.C. 20528
Phone: 202-282-8000
Web: http://www.dhs.gov/index.shtm

Resources & articles


  1. "About" page on the DHS Website, accessed August 31, 2010.
  2. Presidential Proposal to Create the Department of Homeland Security, available at the DHS website, acccessed August 31, 2010
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 Homeland Security Department: FY2011 Appropriations, accessed Nov. 3, 2010.
  4. 4.0 4.1 Ed O'Keefe, "Homeland Security has More Contractors than Feds,", "Washington Post," February 24, 2010.
  5. 5.0 5.1 William Johnstone, FY 2011 Budget Request May Represent a Turning Point for Homeland Security, March 23, 2010, the Will and the Wallet, accessed November 3, 2010.
  6. 6.0 6.1 Rachael King, Homeland Insecurity, Business Week, December 17, 2007.
  7. 7.0 7.1 DHS, FY 2011 Budget in Brief
  8. 8.0 8.1 "Gilmore Commission Calls for Improved Homeland Security Strategy", December 15, 2003 press release, GlobalSecurity.Org, accessed September 7, 2010.
  9. Ted Bridis, Playing politics with public records requests, Associated Press, July 21, 2010.
  10. 10.0 10.1 Privacy rights group's FOIA requests get extra scrutiny, Government Security News, November 1, 2010.
  11. October 29, 2010, DHS Privacy Office ordered TSA not to answer our FOIA request, Identity Project website (www.papersplease.com), accessed November 17, 2010.
  12. 12.0 12.1 Homeland Security to Test Iris Scanners, USA Today, September 13, 2010.
  13. Homeland Security Department Begins Using Iris Scanners to Track Illegal Immigrants, Austin Carr, "Fast Company," September 13, 2010.
  14. Chris Arnold, "TSA to Expand Use of Full-Body Scanners,", "NPR," January 8, 2010.
  15. Jeanne Meserve and Mike Ahlers, "Body Scanners can Store, Send Images, group says,", "CNN," January 11, 2010.
  16. Id.
  17. "Privacy Petition,", "EPIC," April 21, 2010.
  18. "The Economic Recovery Act of 2009", "DHS," accessed June 9, 2010.
  19. John Hughes,"U.S. Adding Full-Body Bomb Scanners at 11 Airports,", "Business Week," March 5, 2010.
  20. 20.0 20.1 Patrick Tyler,"Traces of Terror, Reaction, Then Action,", "New York Times," June 7, 2002.
  21. 21.0 21.1 Julie Hirschfeld Davis,"Homeland Security Bill on Verge of Being Shelved,", "Baltimore Sun," October 1, 2002.
  22. 22.0 22.1 Aftereffects: Former Domestic Security Aides Make a Quick Switch to Lobbying, Philip Shenon, NY Times April 29, 2003, accessed August 22, 2010. Also available at CommonDreams.Org
  23. Government's Hobbled Giant: Homeland Security Is Struggling, John Mintz, Wash. Post September 7, 2003, accessed August 22, 2003.]
  24. WABC News New York, February 23, 2004.
  25. Shane Harris, "Homeland Security Could Face Transition Problem,", "National Journal," June 1, 2007.
  26. Id.
  27. Id.
  28. Shane Harris, "Homeland Security Could Face Transition Problem,", "National Journal," June 1, 2007.
  29. Id.
  30. Id.

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