Building Back Better at DHS: Career Civil Service is Key

By Alan Bersin

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For the Administration to effectively take action to meet urgent homeland security challenges in the short to mid-term, they must re-energize the career bureaucracy, and restore faith in our government institutions.  This will take leadership that immediately and genuinely, honors and values, and relies upon and acts on the contributions from civil servants on which good and effective government rests. 


This will require specific assignments, precisely designed and crisply implemented. In the short term at DHS, for example, the need to develop a viable response to the looming border crisis appears paramount. Threading the needle to balance humanitarianism and deterrence, in the context of mounting irregular migration in circumstances of continuing pandemic, will require data, analysis and options for senior policy makers to consider. What are the capacity constraints at the border in terms of official processing, humane care of migrants and a variety of other factors? What are the likely outcomes and impacts given the alternatives available? How can Mexico and the Northern Triangle countries of Central America be constructively engaged in a cooperative effort geared to achieving the balance sought? What are the messages we seek disseminated to affect the actions of the smuggling networks which permeate the current situation both at the border and in the migrant-sending countries? 


These are the issues, confronted forthrightly and tackled effectively by staff and leadership together — in an “old fashioned” and tested way — that can create conditions trending toward a satisfactory result. Consulting with and acting on the subject matter expertise of career officials, rather than relying on assumptions derived from policy preferences, appears best calculated to buy the time the Administration needs. This time will be crucial both to restore and reinvigorate the institutions, processes, and people, and to fashion the mid and longer term policies and programs, as it seeks to address, humanely and effectively, regarding border and migration policy.” 


Alan Bersin formerly served as CBP Commissioner, Inaugural North America Fellow of the US/Mexico and U/S Canada Institutes at the Wilson Center, and is currently serving as Executive Chairman of Altana AI. 

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