Think of a government agency or other federal entity which holds a positive view in your mind.
White House? Probably not, according to most polls. Congress? Not much better. Social Security Administration? IRS? Don’t be silly. Frankly, the only one that comes to my mind is the National Park Service, and that’s more for its inventory than its actual function.
On its creation, the DHS transferred several sputtering agencies of our government under a single entity with an Orwellian name in what was pitched as a bold move for national security in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. “We are protecting our citizens with a vast security bureaucracy,” our leaders seemed to be telling us, although in more menacing and threatening terms.
By the time newly minted Secretary Tom Ridge unveiled a candy-colored terror alert system, DHS was already beginning to be seen as an object of national suspicion (or derision) among many Americans. (Quick quiz: What is our current color/threat level? Click for answer. I guessed wrong).
Ridge’s unremarkable term ended a year later with the re-election of President Bush, who promptly thrust the agency into a PR crisis by nominating former NYPD Commissioner Bernard Kerik to take up the post. To his credit, Kerik’s replacement, Michael Chertoff, has brought some stability to the DHS in his four years at the helm.
In January, DHS’ public affairs team will be holding its breath as ABC unveils “Homeland Security USA,” a prime-time "reality" show featuring agency employees like border protection agents and the Coast Guard. It’s hard to imagine the Secret Service (also part of DHS now) doing any emotional sit-down interviews about protecting the President, but ABC says they’ll play a part.
The agency is in need of some good PR and the scripted cinema verite that is reality TV could be a good way to humanize the giant bureaucratic security entity, especially considering the American public’s fascination with criminal justice and cop shows.