The Department of Homeland Security’s mandate is fundamentally about risk—using all of the components to identify the potential for of a terrorist attack or natural disaster, finding ways to mitigate that potential, and responding to the ensuing consequences if that potential proves real. When we think about who is best suited to lead the Department, it follows that they should know a thing or two about risk.
A couple of weeks back, I shared a number of names that I thought might be on the list to be the next DHS Secretary. Since issuing those names, I’ve received a lot of feedback, which I value…well, at least most of it, except from the guy who was mad I didn’t put him on the list. But the feedback and subsequent conversations I’ve had has spurred some additional thoughts on what we should look for in next person to run DHS.
It’s hard enough to find someone who is a great manager, a phenomenal communicator, a complex problem solver, possesses the patience of Job, and has a really thick skin to endure the punishment of the position. To date, we’ve had four lawyers run DHS. As good as that type of training and their other individual experiences might be in preparing them for the position, maybe it would be worth trying something different.
Something like an insurance expert.
I’m not talking about J.K. Simmons of Farmers Insurance, Allstate’s Dennis Haysbert or the “Mayhem Guy,” or even MetLife’s soon-to-be-retired Snoopy and the Peanuts gang. Having someone in the big chair at the Nebraska Avenue Complex who is familiar with risk assessments and risk management could be a game changer in how the Department does its job. Since its beginning, DHS and its components have been playing in the risk assessment and risk management world for a range of mission critical reasons. So far, it’s been a mixed bag in terms of results.
Yet, one thing is for certain, no one can change the behavior of a company, an organization, a family or a person faster than the insurance industry. If you are in a high-risk, high-value business that does risky work, you pay a higher premium. If you smoke a carton of cigarettes and eat five pounds of bacon a week, your health and life insurance premiums are going to be stratospheric. If you have new teenage drivers in your home (who have had multiple accidents or speeding tickets), your auto insurance is undoubtedly going to up. The point is that the higher the risk, the higher the cost to the purchaser.
Now, it’s easy to point your finger at the insurance industry and decry it as heartless and greedy, especially whenever premiums go up, but the truth is the insurance industry is one of the greatest consumers, users and analyzers of data. In countless ways, it informs the industry’s decisions on risk assessment and appropriate investments to cover potential losses. They are also an industry that is probably better prepared than any other to inform you about risk mitigation strategies and ways prospective costs might be controlled. It seems like someone with those skills and experiences is well-suited to lead the very Department whose job it is to mitigate risks and manage our bad days in all of their forms.
As an industry, lectures, mailers, briefings, and discussions about insurance and actuarial tables are extra-strength Melatonin doses capable of putting you to sleep in no time at all. As dull as those presentations may be, the information that the insurance community produces informs some of the most important decisions a person, a company, a community or a country can make.
With all of the Department’s various components and public and private sector partners informing them, the Homeland Security Secretary is America’s Chief Risk Officer. As such, it’s not so unreasonable for the next president to consider nominating a risk expert to shape the policies, operations and actions of the Department that has to prepare, manage and respond to the all-hazards risks DHS faces every day. The insurance industry could be the best place to start the search.