Shaping DHS Doctrine for Operational Success

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY  The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) was criticized for its efforts during Hurricane Katrina. Changes in organization and doctrine have been recommended – such as adopting a structure similar to the Joints Chiefs of Staff (JCS).

Any reorganization is expensive and disruptive. There are enormous barriers to adopting a JCS style organization that will work for DHS. It has many more agencies to coordinate, and that is just at the federal level. There are physical and “scope of duties” jurisdiction barriers that prevent reducing the number of agencies, and another reorganization would disrupt existing DHS command and control.

Doctrine, however, can produce significant improvements if done correctly. Sound doctrine would help clarify jurisdiction boundaries and hint at improvements. It would reduce “mission creep” and prevent over-stepping authorities between DHS agencies and outside the Department. And, it can be vital to improving communications and to improving training. Doctrine is a set of fundamental principles which guide actions – authoritative, but requiring judgment in application. They are most important during periods of great chaos, such as on a battlefield or during a major natural disaster when communications and unity of command are difficult.

DHS has some effective doctrine, such as its highly capable Incident Command System (ICS) to guide current operations. But, it lacks formal doctrine in many other areas including coordination of prevention efforts and cross-agency incident mitigation and infrastructure restoration. It has no Department doctrine for command and control or for logistics, and doctrine is not coordinated between DHS agencies or with DoD and other Departments.

To conduct operations well, DHS must adopt the doctrine-training-operations cycle. Feedback on operational improvements must make it into doctrine changes which can then be taught so that subsequent operations are more effective.

DHS must also create a doctrine pyramid with tiers that provide increasing level of detail with each level down. This pyramid can then guide the creation of doctrine pyramids in each DHS agency and service. DoD can provide a good example with its joint doctrine pyramid, and other good examples are available in the U.S. Marine Corps doctrine pyramid, and in the U.S. Navy doctrine pyramid. (The latter already partially binds one member of DHS, the U.S. Coast Guard.) These pyramids can be used by new members to quickly learn about their duties, and their Department. This includes new political appointees who currently must rely on verbal briefs or on often outdated procedural guides.

The first and most important step for DHS is to create a good DHS doctrine process publication. A great example is the Navy’s process publication, The Navy Warfare Library. DHS can adapt this publication and save years of development work.

There are barriers to DHS doctrine development, but these can be identified and overcome. Progress must be made now to avoid a repeat of the Katrina response.