By Gianluca D’Elia
People often misunderstand what homeland security actually is, but the Rebovich Institute of New Jersey Politics’ most recent guest speaker helped students make sense of the challenges that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) faces and the high-profile issues it handles.
Jonathan Meyer, Esq., the Deputy General Counsel of the DHS, explained the obstacles that the department has been dealing with, in addition to its history and structure.
“Any discussion of homeland security can only begin on one date,” said Meyer. “September 11, 2001.”
The months after 9/11 brought about many initiatives in homeland security that had not previously been given much attention. In 2003, the need for extensive reform in security brought about the genesis of the DHS.
Having been established only 12 years ago, DHS is the youngest cabinet department in the federal government. Its youth is one of the many challenges that the department faces. In many ways, according to Meyer, homeland security is not the department that many people think it is and this misconception is a notable challenge.
“Most of the counterterrorism work in this country is not performed in DHS,” Meyer said. “The FBI pursues terrorists, the Department of Justice prosecutes them, and the CIA and NSA collect information on them. Yet, if you ask most Americans what homeland security is, they’ll often talk to you about spies and covert operations.”
With about 240,000 employees, it is the third largest cabinet department. Since DHS deals with a large variety of high-profile issues, it is difficult to bind together the department’s multiple parts because of its size.
“DHS has an incredibly broad, diverse mission,” said Meyer. “Think about it – most cabinet departments have a variety of tasks, but all of them fit within a rubric of fairly narrow, defined missions such as education or the environment.”
Unlike other departments, Homeland Security handles several issues including counterterrorism, cyber security, and immigration, and public health concerns such as the Ebola outbreak. It also oversees on congressional investigations such as the Watergate Scandal or the 2012 Benghazi attacks.
“In today’s world, everyone is impacted by homeland security issues,” said Benjamin Dworkin, director of the Rebovich Institute. “It’s important in democracy that these issues are understood and debated. This was an opportunity to bring one of the people who is implementing and making a lot of [homeland security] decisions to a public forum where students could talk to him and engage.”
The impact of homeland security is very significant today, Rider’s political science department recently launched a minor in homeland security policy, and hopes to launch a master’s program in the future.
“I work every day on the issues I discussed tonight, and many more,” Meyer said. “Hardly a day goes by that the news doesn’t contain a story about something I’m working on – often it’s more than one. The only problem is finding the time to do all of that work, but that’s a good problem to have.”