With the presidential race heading into its final laps, it is unclear what the presidential candidates' homeland security priorities will be, how they plan to approach management of the now five-year old Department of Homeland Security (DHS) or who will take over from Secretary Chertoff and his team. In addition to uncertainty related to the next administration's priorities for the DHS, the DHS as an institution is still a relatively new organization and will be facing transition challenges, including managing over $17 billion in acquisition funds. While long existing DHS components, such as the U.S. Coast Guard and the U.S. Secret Service, have been through presidential transition periods, this will be the first such transition for the DHS as a department in a post-9/11 world. What should we expect for the DHS from an Obama or McCain administration?

DHS Issues for the Next Administration

Surrogates for the Obama and McCain campaigns and their past statements provide some hints as to their priorities in the homeland security arena. Senator Obama is a member of the Senate Homeland Security Committee, but has been relatively inactive on this committee. His campaign has issued some policy statements on homeland security issues, but many of these policy statements have been overtaken by the passage of the 9/11 Commission Act (PL 110-53). Senator McCain has published less information on his homeland security positions, although he has a record on discrete homeland security related issues, such as first responder communications and interoperability. McCain also was chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, which has communications responsibilities, and was also one of the early supporters of establishing a 9/11 Commission.

In terms of policy issues, both campaigns will likely focus on cybersecurity. In early 2008, the Bush administration finalized a classified Homeland Security Presidential Directive that established a comprehensive national cybersecurity initiative that gave the DHS a key role in securing federal systems. The DHS has also tripled its request for cybersecurity funding since 2007, suggesting a continuing focus in this area into the next administration.

Turning to other issues, Obama has signaled that he will focus on biodefense and medical preparedness and response, especially in light of the pandemic avian flu threat. It is also likely that an Obama DHS will press for increased research and development funding to improve sensor/screening technologies. A McCain DHS is more likely to encourage leveraging of existing Department of Defense technologies and R&D programs for homeland security requirements. McCain was active in encouraging the use of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, which were developed for Department of Defense missions, for border security purposes. Interoperability in emergency communications will continue to be a priority for McCain. He has also long been a supporter of REAL ID, which is a statutory requirement for minimum standards for state-issued drivers licenses, and will likely drive toward meeting these requirements in 2009.

Border security will continue to be a key area for the next administration. Both Obama and McCain supported some form of comprehensive immigration reform, which included securing the border, and some form of temporary worker program. McCain has more recently indicated that securing the border will be a precondition to establishing a temporary worker program, whereas Obama appears to focus less on worksite enforcement.

The next administration will also find itself busy trying to fulfill many of the over 200 requirements established by the 9/11 Commission Act of 2007. Many of these requirements will require significant planning and technology support from the private sector. In the area of port security, the 9/11 Commission Act requires 100 percent screening of U.S. bound maritime cargo in foreign ports by 2012. In aviation security, there is a more aggressive mandate requiring 100 percent screening of passenger aircraft cargo by 2010. Neither candidate appears prepared to push back these deadlines.

DHS Organizational, Integration & Acquisition Challenges

Consistent with the past, the DHS will continue to be subject to intense scrutiny by the over 80 congressional committees and subcommittees. Both candidates could mitigate many of the DHS integration and management challenges by calling for a consolidation of congressional oversight. Although McCain appears to favor consolidation, Obama's position is less clear.

In addition to the original challenge of integrating and consolidating 22 different agencies, the DHS also has undergone two major reorganizations since it was established in 2003. Both campaigns may be similarly motivated to put their mark on the DHS organization to reflect their priorities. During consideration of the Post-Katrina Emergency Management Reform Act in 2006, for example, Obama supported an amendment to take FEMA out of the DHS. It is unclear what organizational changes McCain would make to the DHS. However, his theme of reducing bureaucracy could have implications for management of the DHS. In addition, a McCain administration could elevate communications-related entities within the DHS. Several members of Congress on the House Homeland Security Committee have urged a new administration to refrain from making immediate major reorganizations to the DHS to allow some settling of the organization.

One particular challenge for DHS senior leadership has been the management and oversight of DHS acquisition activities and allocation of appropriate resources. Like many federal agencies, the DHS continues to have a shortage of quality acquisition professionals. The next administration will find that without a laser focus on building in-house acquisition personnel and capability at the DHS, program goals will not be met.

DHS procurement leaders also have been under fire from Congress for program management challenges related to the Coast Guard's Deepwater program and the Secure Border Initiative. In response to acquisition planning concerns, DHS leadership is working to set in place improved processes to enhance their management of acquisition activities. In August 2007, the DHS CPO established an Acquisition Program Management Division to provide oversight and support for acquisition programs from the headquarters level and to focus on investment and acquisition process re-engineering. This division has already done "quick look" assessments of 37 level I programs (over $100 million) and "deep dive" reviews of the SBInet and Advanced Spectroscopic Portal Monitor programs. Earlier this year, the under secretary for management ordered that all DHS level I programs have an acquisition program baseline in place. While these are positive steps, the next administration will continue to face resource and oversight challenges related to the over $17 billion in acquisition spending at the DHS.

Senior DHS Officials in Next Administration

The next administration will need to quickly staff key homeland security positions. Typically, campaigns submit staffing lists shortly after an election, but the current administration is urging the campaigns to compile lists of senior homeland security staff and submit these before the election so that security clearances can be completed. It is unclear where the campaigns are at this point in terms of identifying candidates for homeland security posts, but there are a few names that are likely to be considered. McCain could tap former 9/11 Commissioner (and former secretary of the Navy) John Lehman or Sen. Joe Lieberman (D-CT), who chairs the Senate Homeland Security Committee as secretary. Former Mayor Rudy Giuliani could also be a candidate. Obama could tap Rep. Jane Harman (D-CA), who is chair of the House Intelligence Committee and is active in many DHS issues, for the top job. Governor Janet Napolitano (D-AZ), a former prosecutor and governor of a border state, could also be a candidate for the top DHS job. If Obama were reaching across the aisle, he could turn to Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME), who is a ranking member and former chair of the Senate Homeland Security Committee. The job will be a challenging one, but it is a key position in the post 9/11 world.

The contours of an Obama or McCain DHS remain somewhat blurry. What is clear is that we can expect changes in the organization and certain issues like cybersecurity and border security to continue to top the DHS agenda. Contractors dealing with the DHS should prepare for possible reorganizations and shuffling of priorities, regardless of which candidate prevails.