The Department of Homeland Security is the newest cabinet of the US government and the third largest. Though many Americans certainly remember a time before the department even existed, there are many interesting things they may not know about how the department got its start.
Here are ten facts about the history and development of the Department of Homeland Security.
- It was created in 2002 as part of the Patriot Act, in direct response to the September 11, 2001 terror attacks on the United States.
- The creation of the department represents the most significant reorganization of the government since 1947, when the National Security Act was passed. This act was in response to the Cold War and created the CIA, among other things.
- Though the agency is charged with protecting the “homeland” and is therefore distinct from the military, which protects abroad, the Department of Homeland Security later absorbed the US Coast Guard, which previously fell under the Department of Defense, along with the other branches of the military.
- In 2003, the Department of Homeland Security absorbed the Immigration and Naturalization Service. The INS was then divided into two agencies: Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Citizenship and Immigration Services.
- Once the Department of Homeland Security was complete, it represented the most diverse merger of federal functions, incorporating 22 agencies under one organization.
- Former Pennsylvanian governor Tom Ridge was the first Secretary of Homeland Security. He had been appointed by President George W. Bush as the Assistant to the President for Homeland Security in October of 2001, before the Department of Homeland Security was created.
- The Department of Homeland Security has been located at its “temporary headquarters” on Nebraska Avenue, across from American University in Washington DC, since its inception. Permanent office space has been secured for the department at the St. Elizabeth’s Hospital Complex. However, the soonest personnel could begin moving into this complex is 2012, a full ten years after the creation of the department.
- The Department of Homeland Security developed the “terror threat” advisory system scale that we use today. It reports the current threat level of terrorism on a scale from “low” to “severe”.
- The seal of the department carries several important symbols. The shield in the center is divided into three sections, for land, sea and air.
The air has 22 stars in the night sky, representing the 22 agencies that came together to form the department. The 13 arrows in the eagle’s left claw and the 13 olive branches in his right claw represent the 13 original colonies.
- The development of the Department of Homeland Security created new jobs and job titles within the government, including the creation of federal air marshals, who ride on commercial airline flights to protect passengers and crew.
Though the department has seen its share of criticism for how agencies were absorbed and how measures have been carried out, there’s no question that the creation of this department has had a major impact on how the government does business and provides safety to Americans on our own shores.
Phyllis T. Zerkle particularly likes to write about issues surrounding homeland security and the various courses studied when earning a homeland security degree online.