Homeland Security Takes a Regulatory Turn

The Department of Homeland Security is a settled part of the federal landscape now, and Osama bin Laden is dead. So DHS is finding budget increases harder to come by. And as funds grow tighter, it’s inevitable that the Department will begin to look for less expensive ways to achieve its security goals. 

Up to now, DHS has been a remarkably operational federal department.  Like the other two behemoth departments, DOD and Veteran Affairs, DHS mostly delivers its services directly, unlike departments like Labor, or Justice, who mostly write regulations and briefs telling other people how to deliver services. But direct delivery is expensive; more services means hiring more people. If you want tougher border enforcement, you pretty much have to hire more Border Patrol agents or buy more stuff.  

As money grows tighter, though, I’ve been expecting DHS to pivot to a more regulatory approach, pressing the private sector to do more about security. Now that seems to be happening. My partner Stephen Heifetz, who blogs at Security Debrief, sees signs of new regulatory vigor at two of DHS’s main components, the first at the Transportation Security Administration, and more recently at Customs and Border Protection. 

I think we’re in for a decade or more of tight federal budgets, so industry can expect a more regulatory approach from DHS for years to come. That’s not always a bad thing,; sometimes industry can accomplish the goal less expensively than federal employees. But based on my experience DHS is going to find it challenging to develop the traditions needed to run good regulatory programs.