'Heightened Threat'

/ October 9, 2008 at 5:00 AM

As the Department of Homeland Security gears up for its first-ever transition of administrations, a report by a group of DHS advisers from early this year is worth revisiting.

Members of the Homeland Security Advisory Council, in January, noted that terrorist attacks or natural disasters on U.S. soil during the transition period could catch leaders at the behemoth agency at a particularly bad time.

Specifically, the panelists are worried about what they call a “vulnerable period” -- the time frame beginning 30 days before the change in administration until six months afterwards.

“The ((panel)) believes that the incoming and outgoing administrations must work closely together during the administration transition. It is extremely clear that successful transitions require a shared commitment to ensuring a smooth transition of power. This is facilitated by a positive attitude and open mind in both incoming and outgoing administrations, combined with the willingness to respect and listen to each other’s concerns and priorities.”

For one, outgoing DHS leaders should offer “operational briefings” to the presidential nominees aimed at keeping them abreast of homeland security threats, the group recommended.

In addition, Congress and the new administration should closely cooperate to get key DHS staff confirmed and ready to go as soon as possible. Outgoing leadership also should ensure all political appointees have senior-level career personnel in place for backup, the group recommended.

In that context of talk about urgency, “vulnerable period” and “heightened threat,” this report we told you about earlier today is a good read.

The Homeland Security Advisory Panel last month produced another interesting document, titled “Top Ten Challenges Facing the Next Secretary of Homeland Security.”

Not surprisingly, the thorny issue of improving intelligence and information sharing is on that list, at No. 3.

Another tough one, at No. 8: “Find the right balance between secure borders and open doors to travelers, students and commerce.”

-- Sebastian Sprenger