Organizing for Homeland Security


© 2002 Michael J. Hillyard

From Parameters, Spring 2002, pp. 75-85.

In their best-selling 1994 business text, Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies, Professors James Collins and Jerry Porras identify common fundamental principles at the heart of the world's premier lasting corporations.[1] Similarly, in Bureaucracy: What Government Agencies Do and Why They Do It,[2] renowned public policy expert James Wilson identifies the principles shared by leading public organizations. Common among both corporate and government successes is a focus foremost on the institution and only secondarily on the specific mission, product, or service provided by the institution. The message these organizations send is that while missions, products, and services may change, institutions endure. Another common theme is people; specifically, people matter in leading institutions. What people believe as core ideologies generation after generation upholds and advances the organization as an institution. Second-tier organizations, both public and private, focus on issues other than the institution--a specific mission to perform, a key product to deliver, a special service to render, a target profit to make. With ideology affixed to other factors and not the institution, a change in any of the factors sends shock waves through the institution, and over the long haul substantial change leads to instability, if not chaos.

The distinction between the institution as what endures, and mission, product, or service as what may someday change, is important as the nation addresses its structure for homeland security. Contemporary missions--border security; coastal protection; counterterrorism; biological, chemical, and nuclear defense; emergency management; among many others--dominate the focus of current policy discussions. How do we defend against this? How do we prepare for that? How do we respond to x? How do we recover from y? In the wake of a national crisis, the immediate threats rightly take center stage over discussions of long-term institutional design. But when the national discussion of homeland security starts with specific threats for which the nation is unprepared, answers that produce long-term institutional consequences quite naturally follow. Unfortunately, in first asking the specific questions, and then searching for their subsequent answers, the institutional principle of successful organizations is violated. Answers built on czars, realignments of bureaucracies, creation of new bureaucracies, and facilitation of existing federal, state, local, and nongovernmental organizations address the immediate. When framed as answers for threats against which the nation has no coherent response, all such answers hold a certain logic. But all such answers logically solve the wrong question.

Just as leading organizations do, both the federal and national organization for homeland security must provide an enduring answer to a question that most Americans know will never go away: How can the security of the American people and their way of life be institutionalized through its many national capabilities to mitigate, prepare for, respond to, recover from, and learn from threats known and unknown?

If this question is answered with the appropriate institutional response, then the nation can rest assured that its homeland security apparatus will be enduring and effective. Reflecting the enormity of the homeland security challenge, the question itself lacks focus, and justifiably so. The answer's breadth spans a wide variety of contemporary targets, including geography at home and abroad, technology, national symbols, and people; human response resources, including federal, regional, state, and local authorities, non-profit and voluntary organizations, businesses, specialists, and citizens; functional assets, including legal, intelligence, safety, law enforcement, public health, and others; and threats, including foreign and domestic terrorist groups and individuals, foreign conventional powers, rogue regimes, mother nature, disease, and technological disaster. The answer's depth spans the international organization and coalition down to the individual citizen. Yet the vastness of the difficult question paradoxically provides an opportunity to arrive at the appropriately enduring institutional response. Just as leading organizations have difficulty in pinning down a timelessly precise organizational product, service, or mission, so will a lasting homeland security institution have difficulty in addressing a timelessly specific threat for which it is meant to exist, with a key difference being that the homeland security institutional history has yet to be written.

The Federal Homeland Security Institution

President Bush's establishment of an Office of Homeland Security is an important first step toward what should become an evolving federal institution. As stated in the White House Press Release that introduced the office:

The mission of the office will be to develop and coordinate the implementation of a comprehensive national strategy to secure the United States from terrorist threats or attacks. The office will coordinate the executive branch's efforts to detect, prepare for, prevent, protect against, respond to, and recover from terrorist attacks within the United States.[3]
The Office of Homeland Security, headed by former Pennsylvania Governor Tom Ridge as the Assistant to the President for Homeland Security, is specifically responsible for coordination of national strategy, detection, preparedness, prevention, protection, response, recovery, incident management, continuity of government, public affairs, legal issues, budgets, and administration associated with the government's anti-terrorism efforts.[4] As a first step toward homeland security institutionalization, President Bush has established the idea that a standing federal office designed for homeland security is critically important to coordinate and facilitate the many resources at the nation's disposal. As a federal institution that will serve the nation throughout the 21st century, the office will need to evolve from its origin as a small coordination staff with responsibility for terrorism-focused facilitation and coordination of all federal departments and agencies, state and local governments, and private industry into a true federal bureaucracy that spans the homeland security spectrum.

Accepting the notion that building a homeland security institution is more advantageous than aligning something short of an institution to counter contemporary threats, the first portion of the answer to the homeland security question is a federal one. Addressed by former Senator Gary Hart, co-chair of the Commission for US National Security/21st Century, before Congress in September 2001, and subsequently in Time magazine, Hart asks first how the nation might institutionalize the security of the homeland and only then identifies the federal government as a primary foundation for such institutionalization.[5] His question importantly leads to an expansive definition of homeland security, extending beyond international terrorism to incorporate other threats to the American people, including natural, human, and technological disasters. The linkage is appropriate because so many federal, state, and local systems must addresses the same response issues for multiple purposes. In just one example among countless others around the country, the Washington, D.C., transportation system is structurally corked by several strategic choke-points that currently prevent a timely citizen emergency exodus. Such an exodus could be required for a host of reasons, only one being international terrorism.

The first part of what could become a hybrid answer to the homeland security question is a federal organization that addresses the truly federal issues of homeland security. While Governor Ridge's close working relationship with President Bush may assure (for this particular Administration) the coordination and facilitation expected by the President on a major homeland security issue--terrorism--it is also critically important to institutionalize a federal bureaucracy for the long term out of the many disparate departments and agencies that provide tangential support for homeland security. Although Ridge (and implicitly, the President) says he will have "all the resources I need," some members of the Administration believe that even Ridge's relationship and clout with the President will not be enough to realign priorities and missions, even on just the terrorism issue and even in this Administration. One official recently stated that the new office "is being set up for failure."[6]

A lasting federal organization would appropriately oversee current federal missions and anticipate future missions associated with homeland security. Such missions include but are not limited to protection of the many different points of entry into the United States, intracontinental and intercontinental transportation, emergency and disaster management, and technological security, among others. But, as stated earlier, such missions will change over time. What the federal institution for homeland security can provide is continuity of homeland security purpose on issues of overarching policy, legislation, and executive action as missions change, evolve, and emerge. The key institutional principle to be assured is the need to maintain a standing federal organization that accepts as its charter, whose leadership takes on its shoulders, and whose people adopt as their core ideology, the security of the American homeland. Without a standing, centralizing, galvanizing focus in the federal government, there can be no enduring homeland security institution. Such a focus is created through a federal department that possesses the capability to achieve significant goals: align, coordinate, and reallocate people and resources to high-priority federal missions; create a bureaucratic culture around homeland security complete with a generation of civil servants aligned with its core ideology; argue for and implement federal policy; coordinate with other federal departments as an equal; and facilitate the national network (to be described below) as its nucleus.

Beyond Organizational Behavior: The National Homeland Security Institution

Where the paths of homeland security and organizational behavior veer is in the sheer enormity posed by the homeland security challenge. The nature of the task, security of the homeland, with its many considerations--size, scale, skills, scope, breadth, depth--necessitates an interorganizational structure. It is impossible to conceive of homeland security being conducted solely by a single organization, even by a hypothesized domestic bureaucracy the size and scale of the Department of Defense. There is simply too much expertise to be garnered, too much potential for redundancy. Conversely, even with the addition of a federal homeland security bureaucracy described by the national security commission and the paragraph above, it is still difficult to imagine a cohesive national homeland security process emerging out of the chaotic coordination that currently exists between and among federal, state, and local departments and agencies. When state governors, such as Idaho's Dirk Kempthorne, report that his National Guard adjutant-general is not permitted to share certain information with him,[7] it is clear that a deep institutional problem exists, and that the problem is at least in part a federal one. When a local cop wonders why he might need to check for flight manuals as well as drugs in the speeding vehicles he pulls over,[8] it is clear that this problem, while national in scope, is also very much local in implementation. A federally focused institution for national homeland security is not the complete answer.

Even while discussions focused on specific threats reach consensus on the necessity to create some version of a federal institution, they miss the second and equally important foundation of what could evolve as a truly national homeland security institution. The Advisory Panel to Assess Domestic Response Capabilities for Terrorism Involving Weapons of Mass Destruction (hereinafter referred to as the Gilmore Commission) recognized the lack of attention paid to state and local levels in the spectrum of preparedness through response and recovery: "We need a national approach, one that recognizes the unique individual skills that communities, states, and the federal government possess that, collectively, will give us the `total package' needed to address all aspects of terrorism."[9]

As argued for in the Gilmore Commission on its narrowly chartered issue of terrorism, the creation of a federal homeland security institution lays the groundwork for a more comprehensive national institution across the range of homeland security issues, in which the federal government will play only one of the many necessary national roles. When considering the national structure of homeland security, that structure should incorporate the many functional, jurisdictionary, and constituency boundaries that the threats cross, and increase the capabilities of the many existing organizations. Functional boundaries include fire, police, legal, public health, military, and aviation, among others. Jurisdictional boundaries include international, federal, state, and local levels. Constituencies include a variety of professional communities, corporations, and what is potentially homeland security's greatest weapon--the American citizen. At the heart of the national institution for homeland security must be the citizen as both the reason for the institution as well as the institution's greatest asset in the form of the citizen-servant. With the citizen at the heart of the institution, the need for an organizational structure close to the citizen is imperative. As evidenced in the Federal Civil Defense Administration's failure to internalize civil defense in the American mind, a federal bureaucracy will never capably mobilize and manage the information and resources necessary to incorporate and inspire tens of millions of American first-responders and everyday citizens as part of an enduring solution for homeland security.

The only structure capable of shaping jurisdictions, levels, functions, and leaders, managers, experts, first-responders, and citizens into a national homeland security institution is an interorganizational crisis response network. By their nature, interorganizational crisis response networks possess principles in multi-organizational form similar to those of enduring singular organizations. These principles, like those of their organizational counterparts, are timeless and inviolable. They include common network purposes, a singular authority structure, incentives for member organizations, a network macroculture, and an interoperable interorganizational structure.[10] Adoption of these principles in a national homeland security network will provide the second part of America's homeland security hybrid institution.

Common Purposes

Interorganizational crisis response networks possess fundamental reasons for otherwise disparate organizations to commonly work together. Organizations that form a network arrangement to assume collective responsibilities recognize, support, and approve of the overall purposes for their coming together. Without agreement on such purposes, or if such purposes are imposed on member organizations by an external authority (such as the federal government), a crisis response network will not function optimally. An example of a highly effective public crisis network is one facilitated through the National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC), in which six federal agencies, 50 state organizations, and associated organizations commonly agree to overarching missions and prioritization of resources associated with preparation, response, and recovery related to wildland fires. Networks such as the one coordinated through the NIFC also possess a common understanding of the divisions of organizational labor that support the collective responsibilities. In the NIFC-facilitated network, each member organization understands its role and the roles of other member organizations in support of the wildland fire institution. Each organization also retains its organizational autonomy and separate missions outside the network, and it is the uniqueness of each organization's autonomy as it is brought to bear among the other network organizations that creates exponentially beneficial results when the network functions collectively.

A network for homeland security would provide an opportunity for organizations at its many different levels, from among its many different functions, to come together to address the overarching purposes, roles, and missions associated with their collective responsibility to secure the homeland. Importantly, the federal homeland security department would sit as only one of the many different member organizations at the proverbial table (albeit a dominant member that would ensure federal policy was implemented, federal monies were spent in accordance with their intended purposes, and other federal departments and agencies were aligned to support network needs).

At the strategic level, President Bush has created an initial structure that provides for the type of interorganizational arrangement that can lead to long-term network success. In the homeland security executive order, the President provided for a Homeland Security Council that will "serve as the mechanism for ensuring coordination of homeland security-related activities of executive departments and agencies and effective development of homeland security policies."[11] Federal membership includes the parties who possess the authority to speak for the overarching leadership (i.e., the President and Vice President), respective federal functions (i.e., Secretary of the Treasury, Secretary of Defense, Attorney General, Secretary of Health and Human Services, Secretary of Transportation, Director of FEMA, Director of FBI, Director of CIA), and interorganizational coordination, facilitation, strategy, and action (i.e., Assistant to the President for Homeland Security).[12] As is witnessed in other successful networks, the Homeland Security Council provides member organizations with necessary strategic representation to maintain the purposes of the network and coordinate individual organizational roles and responsibilities. Over time, the President might consider adding a state governor, county commissioner, and metropolitan mayor to ensure strategic representation of state and local interests. Also critically important is the President's directive to provide augmentation by other senior leaders from his Cabinet when their services are deemed necessary. Evolving to mirror the President's steps at the strategic level, the national institution will need to develop an operational element at the federal level to ensure the council's intent is followed, and it will also need to develop regional or state-level networks to mirror the components at the strategic level. The network's common purposes must be realized through all of the levels on which the network will function, which in the case of homeland security is down to the organizations that support individual citizens and first-responders.


Interorganizational network authority is secure in two forms: operational control and resource allocation. Organizations within a network defer to the network-identified authority in both of these distinct forms of authority. The most pervasive example of operational control is visible in the Incident Command System, which is used in many different crisis management communities. Based on the situation at hand, the network assigns appropriate command and control responsibilities at either operational or tactical levels. In the event of scarce resources, resource prioritization, allocation, and distribution is also centralized in the network, with member organizations willingly submitting individual organizational participation to network authority. As indicated by retired General Barry McCaffrey in just one area of homeland security, there is no hint of such a principle being realized in border security: "At each point of entry on each sector--of our land border, and in every maritime approach--there is no single federal officer in charge."[13]

A homeland security network could ensure network operational control through several different means, one being the establishment of a national operational council or operational commander, whereby member organizations are either represented to reach consensus on prioritization and resource allocation, or they submit to singular, shared authority. This authority structure would then be mimicked at regional and local levels to ensure operational responsibility and autonomy to solve problems at every stage in the network.

Included at the operational level, resource allocation would be controlled through the operational authority, but it would be achieved through the evolution of a standard network infrastructure at each level, including identification and cataloging of all the resources at the network's disposal (i.e., people, equipment, supplies, volunteers, business support, experts, etc.), thereby enabling the rapid transition of resources from low- to high-need areas. Both operational control and resource allocation would be facilitated through the network council's establishment of operational standards based on the type, breadth, and depth of the homeland security issue being faced, or the equipment used, or the training required, or whatever else is needed.


Networks provide member organizations with the appropriate incentives to join and maintain membership in the network, and such incentives extend well beyond legislative enforcement to participate. Member organizations tend to want to avail themselves of the network's organizational services. Such an atmosphere is created through incentives created in the network such as goodwill, reciprocation agreements, shared training and educational experiences, mutual response assurances, and network budget allocations for services. Federal domination of a homeland security network will not produce the types of incentives necessary to induce willing participation among other levels and functions of government or nongovernmental organizations. Federal participation should exist alongside other member organizations to reach mutually beneficial ways of participating in network-centric solutions.
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An ideal homeland security incentive structure would combine overarching federal policy and subsequent monetary and other resources with commonsense, on-the-ground realities provided through local, state, and functional member representatives. Federal monies would flow through the network in exchange for participation in communizing resources and ensuring the other incentives (e.g., mutual response, submitting to network authority, etc.) listed above.


Networks themselves take on cultural characteristics that extend beyond the member organizations' singular cultures, and the homeland security network should take on a distinct cultural identity separate from both the federal homeland security institution and the other member organizations such as fire, police, emergency medical, emergency management, and public health. Central factors to network culture include a core ideology, shared training and education, common symbols and experiences, and a common language, among others. Critical to building a network macroculture in homeland security will be its extension to leaders, first-responders, and citizens all over the country. The network should assume responsibility for the development of doctrine, standards, education, and training for all constituencies involved in homeland security down to the individual citizen level--the nine million first-responders who must be commonly prepared to face homeland security threats, mid-level managers from a wide range of functional expertise, and senior leaders from private and public sectors.

The types of training mirrored in other networks that could apply to homeland security include a wide range of distance education, certification, seminars, wargames, simulations, and scenarios. A culture of homeland security will be realized when every police captain, fire and rescue employee, emergency medical technician, county emergency management director, port authority clerk, regional airport security chief, and county commissioner can personally identify his or her role in the nation's homeland security. Recognizing the need to infuse a pervasive national culture that reaches down to the lowest levels in the effort, the Gilmore Commission called for a national strategy that would include a fundamental restructuring of homeland security training and education opportunities aimed at state and local response officials.[14]

Interorganizational Structure

Networks possess clearly defined structures, including clear definitions and agreement on what organization fits where, common communications standards, reporting procedures, and intelligence dissemination both up and down the network chain. The structure enables the rapid movement of resources, information-sharing, and mobilization of organizations and people to support network causes. The network structure is typically provided for at the strategic level for mutual establishment of network purposes and priorities, at the operational level for the delivery of those purposes and priorities through actual decisions and movement of national resources, and at the tactical level through operational command and control. Critical to both the vertical and horizontal features of network facilitation are linking pins--individuals who have grown up in the network and possess operational knowledge beyond a single organizational expertise. General McCaffrey identifies the current homeland shortfall when measured against the structural principle: "There is no common organizing scheme to the many federal agencies that are charged with these missions; no integrated intelligence or communications network; no common multiagency infrastructure development plan."[15]

A properly structured homeland security network, integrated across the whole of America, has the potential to properly prepare and then rapidly mobilize both professionals and citizens in support of one or many homeland security crises at a single point in time. At the operational level, regional network hubs would coordinate national priorities in their region, establish the communications system for organizations in that region, maintain the skills, supplies, and equipment inventories, and provide for regional awareness of how and when organizations and individuals should plug into the network. From the regional level, local-level hubs could provide the same duties at the level closest to most first-responders and citizens. At every level, the hubs would incorporate the Gilmore Commission's recommendation for functional representation of at least domestic preparedness; intelligence; health and medical; research, development, test, evaluation, and national standards; and management and budget.[16] Since the metropolitan public safety and regional emergency management communities would be member organizations in the homeland security network, a physical infrastructure already exists as a foundation for the interorganizational structure.[17]

The Time Is Now

History and conventional wisdom conspire to create a perception that institutional structures, particularly when dealing with the federal government, take years or even decades to evolve. As the crisis of 11 September illustrates, though, times have indeed changed. Terror has the potential to strike quickly, close to home, at any time, and in any place. Unfortunately, so do many other threats to our homeland and our people, with both terrorist and nonterrorist threats sharing many national response resources.

While homeland security as an enduring institution may take years to mature, there is no excuse to delay the difficult thinking, planning, and political decisionmaking associated with laying its enduring foundation. The citizenry should not have to suffer through a bizarre configuration of temporary arrangements before being provided with an institution for their security in which they will play a leading role. The time to build that structure is now.


1. James C. Collins and Jerry I. Porras, Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies (New York: HarperCollins, 1994).

2. James Q. Wilson, Bureaucracy: What Government Agencies Do and Why They Do It (New York: Basic Books, 1989).

3. The White House, "President Establishes Office of Homeland Security," Press Release, 8 October 2001.

4. Ibid.

5. Gary Hart, "Here's a Better Way to Be Secure," Time, 8 October 2001, p. 33.

6. Douglas Waller, "A Toothless Tiger?" Time, 15 October 2001, p. 78.

7. Michael Elliott, "A Clear and Present Danger," Time, 8 October 2001, p. 37.

8. Ibid.

9. Advisory Panel to Assess Domestic Response Capabilities for Terrorism Involving Weapons of Mass Destruction, Toward a National Strategy for Combating Terrorism, 15 December 2000, internet,, p. ii, accessed 4 January 2002. (Hereinafter Toward a National Strategy.)

10. Michael J. Hillyard, Public Crisis Management: How and Why Organizations Work Together to Solve Society's Most Threatening Problems (Lincoln, Neb.: Writers Club, 2000).

11. The White House, "President Establishes Office of Homeland Security."

12. Ibid.

13. Barry McCaffrey, "Challenges to US National Security," Armed Forces Journal, October 2001, p. 6.

14. Toward a National Strategy.

15. McCaffrey, p. 8.

16. Toward a National Strategy, p. v.

17. The Commission on US National Security/21st Century identified emergency management infrastructure as a potential homeland security asset. Such infrastructure, if implemented under the plan presented in this article, would naturally fit into homeland security since most federal emergency management functions would fall under the aegis of the envisioned Department of Homeland Security. At the regional level, such alignment would also have to be realized.

Dr. Michael Hillyard, a former US Marine Corps officer, is the Provost at the American Military University. He earned his doctorate in public administration at the University of Southern California, and is author of the book Public Crisis Management: How and Why Organizations Work Together to Solve Society's Most Threatening Problems.

Reviewed 6 March 2002. Please send comments or corrections to