The editors of Airworthy recently interviewed Elaine Duke, the new Under Secretary for Management (USM) at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Ms. Duke administers DHS’s $17 billion acquisitions and procurement budget, directs human capital resources and personnel programs for DHS’s 208,000 employees, oversees DHS’s facilities, property, equipment and other material resources and administers security programs for personnel, information technology and communications systems. Ms. Duke’s views on the upcoming transition to a new presidential administration, and other issues, are discussed in the following interview.

Transportation Security Administration (TSA) and DHS Headquarters

Q: Tell us about your experience at DHS.

A: I served as the Deputy Assistant Administrator for Acquisition at TSA from August 2002 until October 2004. My goal while at TSA was to meet the post 9/11 legislative mandate to federalize passenger and baggage screening To meet this requirement, TSA hired and trained approximately 55,000 federal full-time Officers (TSOs) to more than 400 airports.

In 2004, I assumed the position of the Department’s Deputy Chief Procurement Officer. I helped oversee the Department’s $11 billion contract and financial assistance program. My focus was on the creation of the Acquisition Professional Career Program.

In 2006, I took over as the Department’s Chief Procurement Officer. Procurement grew to more than $14 billion in contracts and $11 billion in financial assistance programs.

In October 2007, I accepted the position of Deputy Under Secretary for Management. I was one of the managers for the department’s $42 billion budget, appropriations, expenditure of funds, accounting and finance; procurement; human resources; information technology systems; facilities, property, equipment, and other material resources; and identification and tracking of performance measurements.

I was confirmed as Under Secretary for Management in June 2008. I administer control over the Department’s $17 billion in acquisitions and procurement; I am responsible for directing human capital resources and personnel programs for the department’s 208,000 employees; I administer control of the department’s enterprise architecture through strategic use of information technology and communications systems; I am responsible for oversight of the department’s facilities, property, equipment, and other material resources; and I administer programs and processes that provide security for personnel, information technology and communications systems, facilities, property, equipment, and other material resources.

There are two primary differences in my experiences at TSA and DHS headquarters. The first is scope of responsibility. At TSA, I was responsible for acquisition only. As the Chief Procurement Officer for DHS, my responsibility broadened to the entire DHS $17B acquisition program, including the acquisition programs under the United States Coast Guard, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Federal Emergency Management Agency, Federal Law Enforcement Training Center, United States Secret Service and the headquarters Office of Procurement Operations.Then, as DUSM and now USM, my responsibility is broadened to include all six business lines in DHS. These under managed under six chiefs: Chief Procurement Officer, Chief Financial Officer, Chief Human Capital Officer, Chief Security Officer, Chief Information Officer and Chief Administrative Officer. The second major difference between TSA and DHS headquarters is that TSA is operational, and headquarters’ role is more oversight, policy and integration. Now, I have much more of a centralized coordination role, with execution remaining principally decentralized. I also have much stronger legislative and interagency coordination role in my current position.

Q: DHS and its many components like TSA have a huge mission in protecting the homeland and a large part of that mission is developing the right technology to meet homeland security needs. How would you recommend that stakeholders communicate with DHS about new technology ideas/needs?

A: We have a great deal of information for current and prospective contractors on our DHS Open for Business website: This website contains an annual forecast of contract opportunities that is updated quarterly and points of contact in DHS and major prime contractors for procurement assistance. Small businesses can also sign up for one of our monthly vendor outreach sessions and meet with up to four DHS components about their products and services.

For businesses specifically marketing emerging technologies, specific opportunities are listed under the “Science and Technology” section of the Open For Business website: One such opportunity is our Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program, which encourages small businesses to participate in technology contracts that will increase innovation and creativity in research and development in homeland security solutions.

Management Challenges at DHS

Q: The 9/11 Act authorizes the Under Secretary of Management to continue to serve until the Under Secretary in the next Administration is confirmed. Will you serve until the next Under Secretary is confirmed?

A: If asked, I would continue as the USM through transition. I believe it is important for the Under Secretary for Management to be the leadership continuity within the department, and to ensure that our business maturation continues seamlessly in the next administration. I also believe that the Under Secretary will provide critical operational leadership during the period of potential heightened vulnerability during the transition.

Q: What do you see as the biggest management challenges at DHS?

A: We have made considerable progress in management of the Department over its first five years, yet challenges remain in each business line. My strategy to strengthen and unify DHS’ operations and management includes:

  • Providing structure to strengthen unified organizational governance and enhance department-wide communication, decision making and oversight. Initiatives such as developing a complete policy and directives system, as well as updated older directives, are included under this objective.
  • Optimizing processes and systems to integrate functional operations and facilitates, cross-Component synergies and streamline coordination to ensure reliable and efficient support of mission objectives. Initiatives such as consolidating DHS facilities, instituting the DHS Enterprise Architecture, consolidating data centers and reforming the DHS Acquisition Review Board, fall under this objective.
  • Fostering leadership that adheres to the core values and guiding principles of DHS in performing duties, effecting progress and leading with commitment for the mission. Initiatives such as chartering an Executive Resources Council to manage DHS’ senior executive positions, building the DHS Fellows Program, and placing career deputies in critical DHS organizational positions in preparation for the Presidential transition are examples falling under this objective.

Q: How would you characterize the Department's relationship with Congress overall? What homeland security issues should this Congress or the next Congress focus on to enhance the nation’s security

A: I believe the Department’s relationship with Congress overall is good. DHS has an extremely crucial mission, and the Department respects Congress’ oversight. Maintaining the good relationships is challenging however, as there is DHS oversight activity by some 86 committees and subcommittees of Congress. This creates a uniquely difficult and unnecessary burden for DHS, as well as the Department’s authorization and appropriation committees. Literally thousands of Congressional requests from many different committees and subcommittees for hearings, briefings, reports and other information consume a very significant amount of DHS senior leadership time, which must be balanced with meeting operational mission demands.

Congress should consider the following five priorities established in 2007 as we continue to efficiently align resources to lead a unified national effort in securing America:

  • Protect our nation from dangerous people
  • Protect our nation from dangerous goods
  • Protect critical infrastructure
  • Build a nimble, effective emergency response system and a culture of preparedness
  • Strengthen and unify DHS operations and management


Q: DHS is approaching its first major transition from one administration to a new administration. What is DHS doing to prepare for the transition?

A: DHS has established a transition team under the Under Secretary for Management that will lead the Department’s transition activities. The team is lead by RADM John Acton, and is comprised of senior and deputy transition officers from throughout DHS. This team will ensure efficient and consistent execution of our transition responsibility. Our transition approach centers on structured, deliberate processes that engages key groups and individuals, builds relationships and opportunities for collaboration and identifies positions critical to homeland security that may have succession risk.

DHS’ transition activity falls into three major categories: Internal Processes, Documentation & Briefing Materials and Training & Exercises. Under Internal Processes, we are ensuring that the best business and management practices, policies and processes are in place. This will ensure that basic management functions, such as employee processing, records management and policy management, will be operating smoothly, allowing the administration to focus completely on the homeland security mission.

The second area of Documentation & Briefing Materials will provide a knowledge transfer to the incoming administration. Our transition approach will identify transition best practices and develop a transition guidance handbook that addresses the “nuts and bolts” of the department’s operations. Through concerted internal efforts within the Components and the USM’s office, a Transition Guidance Handbook will be developed covering all of the critical operations and priorities of the department as well as the key challenges and issues the Department faces. The handbook will provide a “nuts and bolts” approach to address all of the items that must be transitioned from one leadership team to another during the 2009 administration change.

The third area is Training & Exercises. Currently, we are training and cross-training our senior career employees to ensure that each component and office within DHS has capable civil service leadership ready to move up and take the reigns during an administration transition and assist new appointees in adjusting to their positions.

We are focusing not only on the day-to-day operations of Homeland Security, but also on our individual and collective incident response roles. The same training and exercises used to ensure our career senior leaders are adequately prepared for an incident will be used to train the incoming administration officials in DHS.

Q: What do you think the legacy accomplishments will be for the current DHS senior leaders?

A: There is no parallel in government to the Department of Homeland Security’s start-up five years ago, and the degree of maturity it has reached in the short period since. The Department’s growth is testament to its 208,000 employees who every day put service before self–patrolling borders, protecting ports, defending the skies, enforcing immigration laws and responding to disasters and emergencies.

The Department has experienced a number of significant tests in its short history, and is intensely focused on the next major task: ensuring a smooth transition from one administration to the next, through rigorous plans, exercises and best practices. In its five years, the Department has achieved much to protect and secure the United States. These achievements are categorized under the Secretary’s Five Goals: Protect Our Nation from Dangerous People, Protect Our Nation from Dangerous Goods, Protect Critical infrastructure, Strengthen Our Nation’s Preparedness and Emergency Response Capabilities and Strengthen and Unify DHS Operations and Management. Credential programs such as Transportation Worker Identification Card (TWIC) and Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI) protect our nation from dangerous people. Programs such as enhanced nuclear detection capabilities being developed under the Advanced Spectroscopic Portal program and Secure Freight protect our nation from dangerous goods. The chemical security program is an example of protecting the country’s critical infrastructure. The new National Response Framework strengthens our nation’s preparedness and emergency response capabilities. DHS is strengthening and unifying its operations and management through initiatives such as the National Security Professional program and strengthened functional integration of the Department’s six business lines. These are just a few examples of the many programs that DHS has implemented to improve our nation’s security.