SU Maxwell School National Security Expert says DHS Leadership, Direction is Up in the Air

Apr 11, 2019

Bill Smullen
Credit Newhouse School website.

A National Security Expert at Syracuse University has more than a few reservations about an abrupt change at the top of the federal Department of Homeland Security.  Bill Smullen is Director of National Security Studies in SU’s Maxwell School. 


He says the unexpected resignation of Homeland Security Chief Kirstjen Nielsen who left office Wedensday, sets up uncertainty.

“I would almost call DHS the Department of Homeland Uncertainty because they are changing leadership at the very top.  That is not helpful for people to feel that they have direction.”

President Trump will name an interim Secretary.  The major issue that’s drawn DHS into the news lately has been immigration at the southern border, on which the president has promised a harder stance.  However, Smullen notes that way of thinking goes against what demographics suggest that more immigrants entering the US benefits companies to fill jobs that otherwise would remain unfilled by Americans.  He says the US is a nation made up of immigrants and yet declarations of illegal or legal immigration poses a problem which plays to the President’s political base.

“…There are people who want us to stop anybody from coming across the border and becoming a part of our population.  That’s silly.  We’ve done it historically for years.  For him it’s a political victory to take this on as a fear, as a problem, as something that is a danger for the country.  In reality, it’s manageable and can be done in a much better way.”

But Smullen notes the department has 200,000 employees working on a wide variety of national security issues and needs a leader with broad experience.  He’s also worried that both DHS and the Defense Department will have interim leaders.

“Those are two of the largest departments in the federal government.  You don’t want people who are there just for a part-time basis.  You want permanence, someone who can answer to the Congress as well as the President.”

Smullen says he thinks Congress will start to become more critical of interim leaders of departments who cater to the President rather than the people.  He says instead of bringing in an outsider to head DHS, there are people with years of expertise that could better fill the role.