Department of Homeland Security

Fact Box

United States Department of Homeland Security

Formed on November 25, 2002
Headquarters- Nebraska Avenue Complex, Washington, D.C.
Secretary of Homeland Security -- Jeh Johnson
Employees (2010) 216,000
Annual budget (2010) $55.1 billion

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is responsible for ensuring the safety and security of the United States from terrorist attacks and other disasters. Created in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, DHS has largely focused on federal preparations to deal with terrorism while trying to manage other duties, including border security, customs and emergency management. The department’s fixation on terrorism has resulted in considerable controversy and criticism, including accusations of violating civil liberties.

The terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, prompted federal officials to examine how such an attack was allowed to occur. The post-9/11 debate eventually turned to how the federal government could prevent future attacks by terrorists. Exactly one month after the attacks, Sen. Joe Lieberman (D-CT) and Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA) introduced legislation to create a Department of Homeland Security. The Bush administration rejected the idea, but Democratic members of the Senate continued to press it. Finally, in June 2002, more than seven months after the initial proposal, President Bush reversed his stand. The Homeland Security Act called for pulling together various federal agencies and offices into the newly established Department of Homeland Security (DHS), led by the first Secretary of Homeland Security, Tom Ridge, former Republican governor of Pennsylvania.
In creating DHS, some agencies maintained their name and missions, while others ceased to exist and their duties were distributed among new DHS units. For example, the US Customs Service, formerly part of the Treasury Department, was split into the US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Likewise, the Immigration and Naturalization Service, a Justice Department office, was divided into CBP and ICE, along with the US Citizenship and Immigration Service. Altogether, the missions of 22 federal offices were either shifted or folded into DHS.
Having been created in the shadow of 9/11, DHS was born with an anti-terrorism focus, with much attention given to the formulation of a new National Threat Advisory system. This system used color-coded levels to express the state of threats to the country, from “green” (low threat) to “red” (severe). The responsibilities of many DHS offices were to prepare for future terrorist attacks in order to minimize the impact of such assaults. This was especially true of one DHS office, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), which had historically been charged with responding to natural disasters. Although FEMA was, on paper, still responsible for helping communities respond to and recover from earthquakes and hurricanes, the agency proved thoroughly incapable, as was DHS’ top leadership, of coordinating federal support for New Orleans when Hurricane Katrina struck in August 2005.
When the hurricane slammed into the Gulf Coast, it caused catastrophic damage to the city of New Orleans. The levies surrounding the city were breached, and 80% of the city was flooded. Almost 1,500 people died and thousands of others were left stranded with no help for days following the storm. Media reports repeatedly showed residents stranded on rooftops while looting and mayhem occurred in areas throughout the city, including the Superdome where thousands of refugees had sought shelter from the hurricane.
The Bush administration and FEMA were heavily criticized for the slow response by the federal government, including the president’s early praise of Michael Brown for his leadership in handling the crisis. A short time later, Brown was forced to resign. The bungling of the crisis proved to be one of the largest political failures of the Bush administration. DHS’ second secretary, Michael Chertoff, who succeeded Tom Ridge only a few months before Hurricane Katrina, had to oversee FEMA operations after Brown stepped down. Numerous investigations were launched to determine why FEMA had performed so poorly. Congress adopted legislation, the Post-Katrina Emergency Management Reform Act, which reorganized FEMA in order to make the agency more capable of handling future disasters, either natural or man-made.

What it Does

The Department of Homeland Security is responsible for ensuring the safety and security of the United States from both man-made and natural disasters. Created in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, DHS has largely focused on federal preparations to deal with terrorism while managing other duties related to border security, customs and emergency management, among others.

A visit to the DHS web site clearly demonstrates that the department is still fixated on terrorism. Some of DHS’ high-profile programs include:

  • Constellation/Automated Critical Asset Management System (C/ACAMS), which is designed to help state and local governments better protect key infrastructure from terrorist attacks.
  • Homeland Security Advisory System, which warns public safety and other government officials of potential dangers or threats to their part of the country.
  • Homeland Security Information Network (HSIN), which works in tandem with the Homeland Security Advisory System to relate terrorism dangers to all 50 states, five territories, Washington, DC and 50 major urban areas.
  • State & Local Fusion Centers, which allow state and local officials to combine law enforcement data and terrorism intelligence into a system designed to warn of possible terrorist threats.
  • Protected Critical Infrastructure Information (PCII) Program, which duplicates some of the C/ACAMS efforts to protect private sector and pubic sector infrastructure, such as buildings, dams and power plants.
  • Homeland Security Advanced Research Project Agency, which is modeled after DARPA (the Defense Advanced Research Project Agency) by funding technological research that can help mitigate the dangers of terrorism and other duties performed by law enforcement agencies.
Key Offices and Departments

Directorate for Science and Technology: The S&T Directorate is responsible for a variety of tasks designed to protect the country from chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear and explosive (CBRNE) attacks. It provides research, resources and technology to federal, state, local and tribal officials, emergency personnel, Border Patrol Agents, Federal Air Marshals and airport baggage screeners in order for them to handle CBRNE attacks. Examples of what S&T does are developing new technology that improves security for borders and waterways, creating advanced surveillance techniques and countermeasures and developing cyber security tools for protecting the Internet.
The directorate also manages the Homeland Security Institute, DHS’ think tank, which began operations in June 2004.
Domestic Nuclear Detection Office: DNDO is responsible for developing high-tech screening methods, or “architecture” as DNDO calls it, that can detect a nuclear weapon or dirty bomb entering the US through a seaport, airport or border crossing. DNDO finances the creation of radiation detection equipment and tests its effectiveness before providing it to customs officials, border guards and Coast Guard sailors. DNDO is a joint operation made up of DHS personnel and officials from the departments of Defense, Energy and State, the FBI, Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Customs and Border Protection, the Transportation Safety Administration and the US Coast Guard.
Federal Emergency Management Agency: FEMA is responsible for coordinating the federal government’s response to natural and man-made disasters. FEMA is charged with providing help to local and state governments and residents both immediately following a disaster and in the longer term. It also conducts programs to help prepare for disasters. The kinds of assistance FEMA provides ranges from advising on building codes and flood plain management to helping equip local and state emergency agencies to coordinating the federal response to a disaster. Throughout its almost 30-year history, FEMA has been synonymous with the word “disaster.” Not only is this because of the agency’s mission to assist in times of crisis, but also due to its long record of mistakes and, in some cases, failures that have exacerbated suffering caused by storms, fires or earthquakes.
Federal Law Enforcement Training Center: FLETC is the largest training program of its kind in the country, providing teaching and vocational instruction to a wide range of law enforcement and security personnel at the federal, state and local government level. Graduating approximately 50,000 students annually, FLETC helps to train officers and agents from more than 80 federal agencies, as well as numerous state and local governments. The center also trains international police in selected advanced programs. Approximately one-third of the instructors at FLETC are permanent staff. The remaining instructors are federal officers and investigators on short-term assignment from their parent organizations or recently retired from the field. Training programs offered by FLETC vary from core instruction required by many government agencies to highly specialized training for select security officials.
Office of Infrastructure Protection: OIP helps secure key buildings and other structures across the United States from terrorist attack. OIP is not directly responsible for guarding private and public infrastructure but rather is tasked with identifying important locations and assessing their vulnerability to attack or other dangers, such as natural disasters. The office catalogs buildings, dams, manufacturing plants, waterways, roads and other critical infrastructures/key resources. This effort was widely criticized in 2006 when it was revealed that OIP’s database was filled with non-critical sites, including an Amish popcorn farm and a Krispy Kreme Doughnuts drive-through in Iowa.
Office of Intelligence and Analysis: OIA serves as the intelligence wing of DHS, gathering intelligence from other government and non-government sources on potential threats to US domestic security. OIA works with members of the Intelligence Community, as well as state, local, federal and private officials, to carry out its mission. Not only does OIA gather information from these sources but it also shares intelligence it has compiled in order to warn other sectors of the government about impending threats to the nation’s security. These information-sharing activities have raised concerns among civil libertarians, as have other facets of OIA’s work.
Transportation Security Administration: TSA is an agency responsible for protecting the nation’s transportation networks from attack. Specifically, it safeguards airports and airplanes, mass-transit systems, highways, seaports, railroads and buses. Americans are most familiar with TSA personnel who man security checkpoints at airports throughout the country. During its brief existence, TSA has been inundated with charges of ineptitude and corruption.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement: ICE is not only one of the largest offices in DHS but also represents the second largest law enforcement organization in the United States, behind only the FBI. ICE enforces both immigration and customs laws, which involves going after illegal immigrants in US territory, employers who hire illegal immigrants and those trying to smuggle goods or contraband into the country. Another priority for ICE is to prevent terrorist groups and hostile nations from illegally obtaining US military weapons and sensitive technology, including weapons of mass destruction components.
US Citizenship and Immigration Services: USCIS handles all matters pertaining to immigration and the granting of citizenship to non-nationals, having taken over the responsibilities of the former Immigration and Naturalization Service. The agency decides who is eligible for lawful permanent residence in the US, which involves the granting of “green cards.” The office provides information on becoming a permanent resident, eligibility requirements and application procedures. USCIS awards an average of one million green cards, 700,000 naturalizations and one million temporary work permits each year.
US Customs and Border Protection: CBP manages, controls and protects the nation’s border in an effort to thwart terrorist attacks, while facilitating legitimate trade and travel. In addition to targeting terrorists, CBP searches for drugs, illegal immigrants, traffickers, prohibited agricultural products and counterfeit goods. CBP is made up of personnel who were formerly with the US Customs Service, Immigration and Naturalization, Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service and the entire US Border Patrol. 
US Coast Guard: The Coast Guard is one of the five branches of the US Armed Services. It performs a variety of functions at US ports, coasts and inland waterways, as well as in international waters. Peacetime roles include patrolling borders, enforcing licenses, protecting the environment, maintaining waterways, conducting rescue operations, inspecting vessels for safety and stemming the flow of drugs and other contraband into the United States. In times of war, the Coast Guard can be called upon to augment the other military services.
US Secret Service: The Secret Service performs a dual mission of investigating financial crimes and providing protection for the president, vice president, their families and other political figures, both US and foreign. Criminal investigations covered by the Secret Service include computer and telecom fraud, identity theft and financial institution fraud. More recently, investigations have included computer-based attacks on the nation’s financial and informational infrastructure.
DHS Committees & Working Groups
  • Homeland Security Advisory Council is comprised of leaders from state and local government, public safety agencies, the private sector and academia who advise the DHS Secretary on matters related to homeland security.

  • Critical Infrastructure Sector Partnership is yet another infrastructure-protection element within DHS that helps federal, state, local and tribal governments, along with the owners and operators of key infrastructure and resources, to share information.

  • The DHS Data Privacy and Integrity Advisory Committee advises the DHS Secretary and the DHS Chief Privacy Officer on all issues related to DHS operations that affect individual privacy and data collected by the department.

Where Does the Money Go?

In the brief time it has existed, the Department of Homeland Security has dolled out more than $57 billion in contracts to private and public entities. According to, 69,248 contractors have worked with DHS to provide a variety of services and goods.

Homeland Security officials have spent the most money on guard services ($3.4 billion), followed by computer and telecommunications equipment services ($2.8 billion), radio navigation equipment ($2.6 billion) and a little more than $2 billion on trailers, such as the kind provided to victims of Hurricane Katrina.
The biggest spenders among DHS offices were FEMA ($14.6 billion), the US Coast Guard ($13.6 billion), US Customs Service ($8.4 billion), Transportation Security Administration ($8.04 billion) and Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement ($5.3 billion).
The top 10 recipients of DHS dollars included three of the nation’s biggest defense contractors along with several multi-national technology corporations:

Integrated Coast Guard Systems
Fluor Corporation
L-3 Communications
General Dynamics
The Dewberry Companies
The Shaw Group, Inc.
Lockheed Martin

Data for Department of Homeland Security