Plans to reorganize the National Protection and Programs Directorate are moving forward at the Homeland Security Department, despite new legislation that cleared the House requiring Congressional review and approval first.
House Homeland Security Cybersecurity, Infrastructure Protection and Security Technologies Subcommittee Chairman John Ratcliffe (R-Texas) told the committee Wednesday he received a letter the day before from DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson, which said he has approved NPDD’s transition plan.
This comes after Ratcliffe, and his fellow members of the House Homeland Security Committee, sent Johnson a letter Sept. 15, asking that the department be more transparent with its plans to reorganize NPPD.
Suzanne Spaulding, undersecretary for NPPD, described the NPPD reorganization as an “ongoing, collaborative process.” She said DHS started thinking about a transition when it became clear that the structure of the directorate didn’t suit its overall mission.
“We came up with a proposal, I sat down with the Secretary, he said that looks right to me, that seems to be on the right track,” Spaulding said. “I briefed my workforce that this is what we were proposing to the Secretary. As soon as the Secretary had approved that, we came down to the Hill to talk about the broad outline of what we’re doing. That was this summer.”
Spaulding said she submitted reorganization plans to Secretary Johnson, who gave her quick approval.
“It is absolutely our intent to work in a collaborative way with Congress on this process,” she said.
When asked whether she — and Johnson — knew DHS couldn’t move forward on some aspects of the reorganization plan without Congressional approval, Spaulding agreed.
Three priorities for NPPD transformation
Reorganization, Spaulding said, will help the directorate with the work they’re already doing in a more efficient and effective way.
Three major priorities will guide NPPD’s transformation. Spaulding said she wants to develop more unity between organization’s cyber and physical infrastructure teams, enhance operational activity and improve acquisition program management.
The office structure would also change. Under the reorganization, three major operational directorates would work together on those priorities.
The Infrastructure Security directorate will work with the public and private sector on threats to physical and cyber infrastructure. The second will lead DHS’ charge to enhance the National Cybersecurity and Communications Integration Center (NCCIC). The Federal Protective Service will continue in its current role securing federal buildings.
Phyllis Schneck, deputy undersecretary for cybersecurity and communications at DHS, said the reorganization will strengthen the department’s cyber mission — and the services it provides to its customers — as cyber threats evolve.
“NPPD can’t do our mission if we don’t do this,” she told the subcommittee. “We’ve been doing it well. We can do it faster and better, and as the adversary excels with no lawyers and no way of life to protect and plenty of money, we will not be able to fight them if we don’t organize in the way that’s being suggested today.”
DHS also wants to change NPPD’s name, which Spaulding believes would have a big impact on her employees.
“While that may seem superficial, that will also help improve our morale by providing our workforce with a clear sense of their identity, and that cyber and infrastructure protection is what we’re all about.”
Risks of reorganizing
In addition to Congress’ pleas for more oversight and transparency, the committee is also worried about other risks as NPPD moves forward with its reorganization.
The Government Accountability Office has observed several agency reorganizations before. Chris Currie, director on GAO’s Emergency Management National Preparedness and
Critical Infrastructure Protection Homeland Security and Justice team, said NPPD can apply a few of the same best practices DHS tried to apply when the department was created in 2003.
“Our experience at DHS and other agencies has shown, it’s often the management issues that can creep in as problems later on after these things are done — in areas like human capital and acquisition,” he said. “These areas are just as critical to think through as the mission need that’s driving the reorganization, because they can hinder success.”
Currie also warned against rushing into the reorganization too quickly.
“Some of these things take time and they take deliberation,” he said. “For example, gathering employee feedback is one of our best practices, but not just gathering it, but showing employees how it was incorporated and actually using the feedback and closing the loophole in that so they feel invested in it, that takes time. It can a little painful, quite frankly.”
Spaulding said she expects NPPD will have another implementation plan ready by the end of the calendar year.