GW Hosts Homeland Security Secretaries

Former Homeland Security Secretaries Tom Ridge and Michael Chertoff join current Secretary Janet Napolitano and retired Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen to discuss current security challenges.

Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano and former secretaries Michael Chertoff and Tom Ridge spoke on campus in October about the security challenges facing the nation in the “new normal” of a post-9/11 world.

The discussion, called “A National Conversation on the Homeland Security Environment Looking Forward: The Secretaries’ Perspective,” was moderated by retired Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen, CCAS MPA ’86, distinguished professor of practice at GW, and national incident commander during the BP oil spill. The event was held in Jack Morton Auditorium.

Frank Cilluffo, director of GW’s Homeland Security Policy Institute (HSPI), which co-hosted the event with the Homeland Security and Defense Business Council, said that speaking with all three secretaries at the same time was like seeing a decade of his life come together.

Mr. Cilluffo served as a special assistant to President George W. Bush on homeland security and has published extensively on homeland security topics.

In his opening remarks, George Washington President Steven Knapp told the audience that HSPI leads the university’s work on homeland security, including training programs for first responders and graduate programs in cyber security, emergency management and security policy.

Focusing on the need for collaboration and cooperation between public entities and private ones, the secretaries discussed the challenges facing the department now that threats have moved beyond what Mr. Allen called “a monolithic al-Qaeda.”

“We are looking at all hazards and all threats coming under the purview of the department—including germs, weather, oil, whatever can cross state boundaries and create a national challenge,” he said.

Secretary Ridge said he believes the department has evolved in its willingness to accept change and be open to it, and that one of its biggest challenges now is to create a “new culture of information sharing” that focuses on what can be shared between public and private players, rather than the “need to know” culture that characterized homeland security during the Cold War. “For homeland security to be most effective, it needs to share,” he said.

Secretary Chertoff said that during his leadership of the Department of Homeland Security, he came to see that he and his department simply couldn’t be in charge in all cases, and needed to cede control to trusted state and local government partners. “Like a baseball team, we might be the manager. The manager isn’t out in the field while play is going on…. You’re training and establishing the plays up front, and allowing the team to take the field and use that information to operate in a coordinated fashion.”

The secretaries also spoke about budget cuts and how they can, ultimately, be useful tools for efficiency.

The reality of tight budgets means that the department must work with states, local governments and nonprofit organizations, Secretary Napolitano said. “We’re making sure we’re not sending good money after bad,” she said. “We are looking at what is the right mix of manpower to technology… so everyone’s budget is used to maximum effectiveness.”

All three secretaries agreed that cyber security is one of the department’s most important arenas, and also the one that is most ripe for cooperation outside the department. They also agreed on the need for a “Switzerland”—a nongovernmental place where frank and sensitive discussions about homeland security and collaboration can take place.

Read the full article at GW Today.