Department of Homeland Security Law and Legal Definition

Department of Homeland Security (DHS) was created in November, 2005 by the Homeland Security Act, 2002. DHS is responsible for ensuring that the territory of U.S is protected from terrorist attacks. DHS also takes care of domestic emergencies such as natural disasters. Its mission is to prevent attacks and to protect Americans. The Secretary of Homeland Security is the head of the DHS. The secretary is nominated by the President and is assisted by the Deputy Secretary.

The DHS has over 200,000 employees. It is the third largest department under the U.S. government. The department took control of such entities as the Immigration and Naturalization Service, the U.S. Coast Guard, the U.S. Customs Service, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). The DHS and its activities are guided by a living document-the “2008 Strategic Plan.” The document reminds DHS of its two fold mission and guides it on maintaining operational effectiveness.

The first Secretary of Homeland Security was former Pennsylvania governor Tom Ridge. He served till 2005. On February 15, 2005, Michael Chertoff, a former federal judge in the Third Circuit Court of Appeals, was sworn in as secretary.

The department’s agenda includes:

Increasing overall preparedness, especially for catastrophic events.

Creating and implementing better transportation security to move people and goods more securely.

Strengthening border security and reforming the immigration process.

Improve the sharing of information with other agencies.

Making sound financial management, human resource development, and information technology top priorities.

Making sure that the organization’s structure makes the best and most efficient use of its resources.

DHS’s US-VISIT scheme screens foreign passengers through an integrated database system that splits individuals with criminal histories or possible terrorist connections. From the beginning of 2004 to the end of 2005, more than 45 million people were processed through US-VISIT, more than 970 were intercepted based on their data.

DHS’s procedures and progress are also not without criticisms. Systems that were meant to streamline travel have sometimes made travel, even domestic travel, more problematic. The five-color alert system, meant to let citizens know the current terror threat level based on possible terrorist activity, did not move the public to feel more secure; a disaster readiness program that advocated the use of duct tape to seal windows against poisons likewise did not encourage the public.