The new strategy, which replaces one written in 2002, for the first time defines the goal of homeland security as “sustain(ing) our way of life as a free, prosperous, and welcoming America.”
“I don’t expect major changes to them,” said Townsend of the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative and the Real ID driver's license regulations. “They’ve been the subject of extensive dialogue both on (Capitol) Hill and with our international partners,” she said, acknowledging, “I wouldn’t say everybody’s in agreement.”
WHTI, a congressionally mandated requirement to tighten identity checks at U.S. borders, is scheduled to enter its final phase next year, when it will be introduced at the nation’s already congested land border crossings.
But the proposed changes have brought protests from some businesses and lawmakers, especially on the northern border, where the new requirements for a passport or other secure ID will collide with the reality of communities that sprawl across the frontier in both directions and a tourist trade that relies on frictionless transit for much of its profit margin.
The final regulations for Real ID are expected later this year. They will define minimum security requirements states must meet if the driver's licenses they issue are to be valid for federal purposes, like boarding a plane or entering a U.S. government building.
Many state governments regard the rules as an unfunded federal mandate and are concerned that deadlines in the final regulation might be too tight.
Both programs “address real security needs and we believe we have demonstrated the value of them and the necessity of them,” Townsend said in an interview with United Press International.
Geoff Freeman of the Discover America Partnership, a travel industry lobby, welcomed what he called “the recognition (in the strategy) that we need to do a better job” at being a welcoming country. But he said the real test would be in the implementation.
“We need to get visa wait times down around the world,” he said.
The new strategy, issued last week in a conference call with reporters, was seen as underwhelming by most commentators.
It called for a “culture of preparedness” among Americans across the country and emphasized that response to disasters was initially a function of state and local, not federal, government.
“We very consciously said, ‘This is a shared responsibility,’” Townsend said. “So we spent a lot of time with think tanks, with state and locals, with private sector stakeholders, to make sure we got a variety of views, not all of which agree with us.”
But recently resigned senior homeland security preparedness official George Foresman said that consultation had been inadequate.
“There was a missed opportunity to engage a larger group of stakeholders” in drawing up the strategy, he said.
“The desire to get it done expeditiously led them down a path where they did less (consultation) than they could have if they had done it more deliberately,” he said.
Heritage Foundation analyst James Carafano called the new strategy a “bureaucratic ticking-the-box exercise” that lacked the sine qua non of a real strategy -- “something that forces you to make hard choices.”
“This is Washington doing what Washington does,” he said.
Townsend acknowledged the new document was the latest in a series of releases -- the White House last year issued updated strategies on national security and countering terrorism. But she said the import of the new strategy would become clearer in the coming months, as a series of presidential directives and executive orders -- some classified -- gave it more granularity.
“There will be additional guidance,” she said, “so that departments and agencies understand how to include this in terms of their budget … and policy priorities.”
She said the administration would also issue “probably by the end of this month or early next” the first National Strategy for Information-Sharing -- another follow-up to last week’s release.
David Heyman of the Center for Strategic & International Studies called the new document “not so much a strategy as a clear discourse about where the government is going … what we are doing at the moment.”
Former Bush White House homeland security official Frank Cilluffo called it “a legacy document, not one that makes the case for where we need to go.”
Townsend said the administration was self-consciously trying to pass on its experience and align the policymaking machinery to institutionalize lessons learned.
“We felt we had an obligation to share with the American people and whoever the next administration is … the benefit of our experience and our thinking.”
Foresman welcomed that effort. The way transition between administrations sometimes worked in Washington, he said, “good initiatives, with bipartisan support, get lost in the shuffle.”
“They’re documenting their experience over the past seven years so that the new administration doesn’t have to go back to square one,” said Foresman, a career emergency management professional who has worked for both Democrats and Republicans.
But he said the nature of that experience tended to preclude the possibility for strategic thought.
“People in the administration face real operational challenges, day by day, hour by hour, that make it hard to focus beyond the end of your nose.”