There are no stupid questions…only stupid people. – Me, traditional first day of class comment to students
From 2004 to 2009, I taught a graduate course on “Congress and Homeland Security Policy” for an “elite” university here in DC. A university that would not have admitted me as an undergraduate back in 1988 when I skidded out of high school in Fayetteville, Tennessee, with a C average. Honestly though…how “elite” can you be if you hire me to teach a graduate seminar course.
Regardless of my questionable educational decisions back when the mullet was neither ironic nor comical…when in fact it was a legitimate haircut for those partying and those conducting serious business…every semester I would have a student ask me how they could get my job. They never seemed happy with my response which was “…work 20 years in a field that transfers well to the homeland security policy area.” This answer not only disappointed my students…they wanted my job then and didn’t want to have to work 20 years for it…but it always rang hollow when it came out of my mouth. What the fuck is a homeland security policy area? How in the fuck did I end up here…25 years into a federal government profession…10 of which were in the Army…advising policy makers on homeland security policy? Well I am going to tell you.
If you want to be a homeland security policy analyst…here are the quick and easy steps that will provide you with a decent living and the self-satisfaction in knowing that you serve on the front line every day:
- protecting the nation from dirty illegal immigrants;
- providing information on federal disaster assistance for states full of voters who hate federal taxes;
- knowing things like why the US Secret Service has…HAS…to protect Trump’s children (not just the good ones…Tiffany and Bannon…but the raging assholes too);
- reading (and understanding) DHS’ annual appropriations and then being able to summarize it for those unwilling to read it themselves;
- knowing the difference between a US Coast Guard cutter and an ice breaker…yeah nobody cares but the Coast Guard; and
- wondering why DHS includes an entity that is responsible for inspecting imported plants and animals.
In other words…being a homeland security policy analyst means you get to be a true patriot. So if you really want to be an American patriot…here is how you can get my job:
Step 1: Make the shit up
Homeland security is anything anyone wants it to be. Granted it helps if you are a president, a Member of Congress (preferably an appropriator in Congress), or a policy maker (some high-ranking nerd who advises the president or Congress). Want proof? Here and here is where I testified before both the House and Senate on ‘what is homeland security?’ In neither testimony do I give a definitive answer…I have truly perfected the art of wishy washy here in DC. Don’t want to take my word for it? Well think about this…W Bush in 2001-2008 made it all about terrorists…especially those using planes as weapons. Well, W also included FEMA’s disaster response after Hurricane Katrina in 2005…but mainly it was about dirty Muslims. Obama really didn’t think homeland security was a legit policy area and rarely used the words “homeland security” (don’t believe me? try Googling the times Obama said “homeland security” when he wasn’t specifically talking about DHS…I have and it is rare to never) and one of his first acts as president was to combine the Homeland Security Council staff with the National Security Council staff and stop issuing a national homeland security strategy…instead he had a couple of paragraphs added to his national security strategy. Trump…well Trump thinks homeland security is all about immigration and barring dirty Muslims from traveling to the US. Google “Trump border wall homeland security” and be amazed at the hits. Wanna know who really sets the standard for what is or is not homeland security…Congress…specifically the appropriators. HOWEVER, if you are looking for some sort of continuity in the concept of homeland security policy from fiscal year to fiscal…you will be sadly disappointed. Congress does set homeland security priorities annually with appropriations but there is never any sort of coherent funding…instead Congress, annually, decides what they want the executive branch to do in securing the homeland for THAT year. Now…why did I say “the executive branch” instead of DHS?…because since the establishment of DHS in 2002 and it’s first funding in 2003…DHS has only received 50% of what the federal government categorizes as “homeland security funding.” DoD receives approximately 25%, and the other 25% of annual “homeland security funding” goes to about 12 other federal departments, agencies, and offices…basically homeland security is anything you want it to be. Make that shit up and then throw it at the wall…if it doesn’t stick this time…it will probably will the next time.
Step 2. Get a degree in anything but homeland security policy/studies
There is a plethora of for-profit (and usually unaccredited) and legitimate institutions of higher education that now offer certification, undergraduate and graduate degrees, and PhDs in “homeland security.” So many in fact, that I get at least one or two emails a year from both for-profit diploma mills and real universities asking me to teach a course for them…the need for homeland security college professors is really high. BUT don’t get a degree in homeland security because, as I have already stated, there is no true consensus in what homeland security is…at best you will have a degree in DHS but not a degree in homeland security policy. Me?…I started my collegiate career as a geography major…a political science major…got kicked out of college because I was really majoring in beer and bad attempts in getting laid…joined the Army…returned to college and got a degree in history. From there I got a masters in international affairs…and THEN got hired to be a homeland security policy analyst and assisted in congressional efforts in establishing DHS. Want to know what homeland security policy analysts have degrees in? Law, public health, criminal justice, emergency management, foreign policy, national security, history, and general public policy. Those of us who have spent the past 16 years analyzing the shit out of this policy area have basically determined that any degree remotely related to immigration, law enforcement, mass casualty events, terrorism, counter-terrorism, cybersecurity, disasters, and yes, even the inspection of imported plants and animals is a good enough degree to get you a job as a homeland security policy analyst.
Step 3. Have the patience of Job
No one is an expert after they get a degree…trust me, I work with a lot individuals with newly-minted PhDs…none of them are an expert in anything other than slogging through 8-10 years of college. An expert is one who works in their field for 15 years of more…starting out doing shitty things like being a research assistant or a US Army Field Artillery lieutenant…moving on to bigger opportunities such as working on national or homeland security projects for a think tank, non-profit, or government entity. Get some more degrees while working full-time…maybe another degree in national security policy or law enforcement. Basically…you have to work in the field of your choice… get more education…formal education helps…but in the end it takes you actually working for a decade or more to be an expert at anything. Simply…homeland security policy analysts are refurbished military officers, law enforcement agents, medical professionals, and emergency managers. None of us today… who are consider ourselves (and recognized by others as) homeland security “experts”… started our profession as someone who thought they would ever working in the homeland security field…instead our professions and lives changed on September 2001. That very pretty morning…nestled between summer and fall…not just changed the world on a grand scale…but it changed the professional lives of a bunch us overly-educated nerds who genuinely wanted to make a difference.
…So basically…all you have to do is work your ass off for years in some profession that is now, or may in the future be, related to something sorta homeland security-ish. Avoid the latest educational fad of homeland security degrees. Get others to think you are an expert by bullshitting them…and if you are one them science nerd types…work in the field of plant and animal inspections…seriously.