Congress: Homeland Security requires more uniform concepts and definitions

A congressional report published on Tuesday said that a lack of uniform definitions and concepts used by the Department of Homeland Security could raise financial costs and casualties.

The report, entitled "Defining Homeland Security: Analysis and Congressional Considerations," investigated multiple DHS strategic documents and found varied definitions and missions used by the department. The report said that the most important strategic documents for the security of the U.S. did not contain unified concepts and definitions.

"An absence of consensus about the inclusion of these policy areas may result in unintended consequences for national homeland security operations," Shawn Reese, the author of the report, said.

Reese, an analyst in emergency management and homeland security policy, said that competing definitions were present throughout the documents.

Natural disasters are identified specifically as an integral part of homeland security in four out of six documents examined. Natural disasters are not mentioned, however, in the 2007 National Strategy for Homeland Security and the 2011 National Strategy for Counterterrorism.

In another example, border and maritime security and immigration are only included in the definition of homeland security in the Bottom-Up Review. Maritime security is not mentioned in any of the other strategic documents.

Reese suggested that policymakers work together to create definitions that can be used across all documents to more effectively address threats and secure funding.

"Before risk management can be accurate and adequate, policymakers must ideally coordinate and communicate," Reese said. "That work to some degree depends on developing a foundation of common definitions of key terms and concepts. Federal, state, and local roles and responsibilities; and, potentially, funding is driving priorities."