Johnson proclaims management philosophy for DHS as a 'unity of effort'

Friday - 5/2/2014, 4:19am EDT

Listen to Jason Miller's interview on the Federal Drive.

Download mp3

Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson is putting his own stamp on the OneDHS concept. Johnson issued a memo April 22 calling for a "unity of effort" across all of DHS.

The memo offers the first look into Johnson's management approach and philosophy. The Senate confirmed Johnson in December to take over for Janet Napolitano as secretary.

"Since taking office, Secretary Johnson has been committed to improving the operational effectiveness of DHS," a DHS spokeswoman said in an emailed statement. "On April 22, the secretary issued a memo to DHS leadership outlining steps to ensure the broad and complex DHS mission is effectively executed."

In the memo, which was first obtained by Homeland Security Watch, Johnson called for a unified decision-making effort that is supported by data and analysis.

As part of the unified decision-making effort, Johnson is creating a departmental leadership council that will meet twice a month to talk about issues and challenges.

Johnson also is bringing together a deputies management action group led by the undersecretary of management and the CFO to look at requirements analysis, do joint planning and budgeting around common needs. The undersecretary for management also will conduct a full review of DHS' acquisition framework and policies to see where it can be improved.

Additionally, the deputies management action group led two different 60-day reviews to look at how best to improve coordination operations, both domestically and internationally.

Mark Borkowski, the assistant commissioner in the Office of Technology, Innovation and Acquisition at the Customs and Border Protection directorate, said the memo's goals have a clear impact on the acquisition workforce.

"I saw it as kind of a statement of principles. I think it's consistent with OneDHS, but the way I read the memo, I think the secretary is trying to take it to the next level in terms of particular constructs, particular vehicles and particular structures in the department that will cause and motivate the department to act in a more integrated way," said Borkowski, who spoke Thursday at AFCEA Bethesda's Law Enforcement IT day. "It's not inconsistent with OneDHS, and I don't know if the secretary would say it's the same, different or whatever, but it does look like what Secretary Johnson is trying to do is establish some principles which will put into practice actual activities that cause the department to think more holistically across it as it's solving particular problems."

Improving all levels of process

The acquisition workforce, in many regards, is the lynchpin to these efforts as it cuts through every part of the agency.

"The secretary expects the acquisition community to be accountable, expects it to define roles, define accountabilities, define authorities and make sure it's clearly understood, who's responsible and who's able to address issues with acquisition," Borkowski said. "It also indicates an intent to really strengthen the departmental governance processes in acquisition."

He added the memo also wants DHS to do a better job in the pre-acquisition phase, where components get together to look at operational needs to decide which should be integrated and which should be kept separate.

"It creates, or directs, the creation of a structure to do that process in a more unity of effort, again, among the components of DHS. That's a pre-acquisition process," he said. "People like me would be advisers, consultants, who talk about the art of the doable. But we would receive that, and that is something we have not yet had strong capacity to receive, so it does those kinds of things."

Along those lines, Borkowski said there are different roles within the acquisition process:

  • The person who fulfills the "what are we buying," usually the chief information officer

  • The person who fulfills the "how are we buying it," usually the acquisition person

  • The person who fulfills the "why are we buying it," usually the end user or mission owner.

He said these are principles of strong acquisition processes — something DHS hasn't always done.

"The secretary's memo is not about just the why or just the what, but the integration of those things and the integration of those things as unity of effort across the components of DHS," he said. "So it brings it a higher level of strategic insight and directs the creation of mechanisms to make that real."

This unity of effort concept also could help industry understand DHS' needs better, and vice versa. Recently, vendors have grown frustrated with the lack of communication from DHS about upcoming procurements.