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Homeland Security Career Guide

The field of Homeland Security is ever expanding. While the governmental agency was created after the attacks of 9/11/2001 by President George W. Bush, the idea of protecting the “homeland” is as old as the country itself. The department encompasses many other (pre-existing) government agencies, including US Customs and Border Protection, Immigration and Customer Enforcement (ICE), Transportation Security Administration (TSA) to name but a few. It is a massive department with reach into many areas of domestic and international areas. As such, there is a plethora of opportunities within the US Department of Homeland Security, providing a wide range of job duties and experience. To sum up the department, one could say that contains many jobs with one mission: “to keep this country – and its citizens – safe.”

Foundations – Education

The purpose of this Career Guide is to inform about opportunities within the US Department of Homeland Security. Because it is a large network of organizations, we will not focus on typical “support” roles (Assistant, Secretarial, Accounting or Human Resources positions) and present some of the more highly skilled positions (those that would require at least a Bachelor’s degree).

The obvious educational requirements for a position within the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) would emphasize security in its many forms: physical, cyber and law enforcement. However, because of the international element included within the department, language skills and cultural studies are valuable as well. Official ranks and positions require at least a Bachelor’s degree; some will require a Master’s level or higher. Advancement is readily available within the department; continuing education is strongly recommended. What this means is that any field of study can be relevant to employment within the DHS. One critical element is the ability to pass background screening examination, as the department works with sensitive information.

For those considering a career change and already possessing a degree, the DHS is worth a look. Not all jobs or roles are dependent on a particular political administration to be in place; most jobs are independent of political influence and focus on the larger picture of domestic security (regardless of who is in office!).

Foundations – Experience and Certifications

Because the range of Homeland Security is so wide and the need for qualified individuals is so great, it is impossible to quantify necessary experience criteria or certifications required for specific roles within the DHS. Suffice it to say that every industry and work environment needs staff that is up to date on current technology, methodology, trends and risks. This will be in view of the successful candidate and appropriate experience and certifications will be obtained.

Foundations – Continuing Education

As implied above, because the field of domestic security is so broad and roles so diverse, employees always benefit from additional training to stay current on job-specific topics. Change is perpetual and as the needs, risks and culture of homeland security changes, so the employee must gain expertise in new information. Conferences, coursework and trade publications are just some of the methods available to stay on top of new developments. This allows an employee to demonstrate (and retain) their value.

Employment Opportunities – Departments and Job Titles (examples)

While certainly not exhaustive, the following is a sample of noteworthy Departments and affiliated job titles within the US Department of Homeland Security:

Citizenship and Immigration Services
Asylum officer
Immigration officer
Customs and Border Protection
Border Patrol agent
Import specialist
Federal Emergency Management Agency
Business continuity expert
Federal coordinating officer
Program specialist (fire; national security; response, recovery, preparedness, and mitigation)
Federal Law Enforcement Training Center
Law enforcement specialist (instruction)
Immigration and Customs Enforcement
Detention and deportation officer
Police officer
Immigration enforcement agent
Security specialist
Information Analysis and Infrastructure
Protection Directorate
Protective security advisor
Intelligence operations specialist
IT specialist (information security)
Security specialist
Telecommunications specialist
Office of the Inspector General
Attorney
Auditor
Science and Technology Directorate
Biological scientist
Chemist
Computer scientist
Engineer
Physicist
Transportation and Security Administration
Criminal investigator
Intelligence operations specialist
Program and management analyst
Transportation security screener
U.S. Coast Guard
Contract specialist
Engineer
U.S. Secret Service
Criminal investigator

There are positions available in all 50 states, the District of Columbia (Washington, D.C.) and abroad.

Employment Opportunities – Departments & Job Duties (example)

The following are examples of specific roles and duties under the umbrella of the US Department of Homeland Security:

Department of State: Bureau of Diplomatic Security – Special Agent
This role is responsible for the security of US Ambassadors overseas (located abroad) as well as that of visiting dignitaries (domestic). The agent is responsible for recognizing, evaluating and mitigating risks and vulnerabilities associated with the movement and operation of diplomatic relations. This includes providing secure communication methods, safe transportation and logistics coordination. This is a daunting task (both here and abroad) that requires good organizational skills, discernment and knowledge of risks and/or threats to a particular diplomat.

Federal Emergency Management Agency – Business Continuity Expert
There can be any number of causes to business interruption – weather, power outage or hostile attack. The Business Continuity Expert has a strong logistics background and implements re-routing of information and resources for federal government agencies, local government bodies (including law enforcement) and critical businesses. They will coordinate relief efforts while assisting necessary agencies to maintain communications. The Business Continuity Expert has a narrow view of the immediate needs as well as a broad view to know how to best permit operations to continue.

Critical Infrastructure Sectors – Security Specialist
There are 16 specific Critical Infrastructure Sectors identified under the jurisdiction of the DHS: Chemical, Commercial Facilities, Communications, Critical Manufacturing, Dams, Defense Industrial Base, Emergency Services, Energy, Financial Services, Food and Agriculture, Government Facilities, Healthcare and Public Health, Information Technology, Nuclear Reactors, Materials, and Waste, Transportation Systems and Water and Wastewater Systems. Each of these areas are staffed by experts in security, logistics and sector-specific knowledge to provide protection to critical elements and systems within the US.

Transportation and Security Administration – Security Officer
Their presence is felt at every airport in the United States, but their reach goes far beyond. The TSA Security Officer has a jurisdiction that includes not only transit hubs but public buildings and spaces as well. Security Officers cross into the private sector and offer physical security for hospitals, office buildings, hotels and retail locations (malls). The coordinated effort to provide safety and security to the general public is overseen by the TSA, even if manifested in private business.

Terrorist Threat Integration Center – Intelligence Analyst
This recent addition to the US DHS seeks to coordinate multiple efforts in intelligence and data analysis from a variety of sources. By consolidating efforts from among diverse organizations, a clearer picture of credible threats can be generated and responded to. Intelligence as an industry has grown over the past several years; the duties of piecing together data points and information in a single location works to the benefit of all involved. The Analyst will review the information received from varied sources in order to consolidate and confirm threats and risks to prevent or reduce the impact of terrorist activity.

Employment Opportunities – Advancement & Career Development

The Department of Homeland Security has a robust career development program that provides training to employees including academic programs, leadership development, career development, mandatory training, professional development and technical skills training. Individual departments within the DHS have a Learning and Development Program Office to offer assistance. A sampling of programs includes:

DHS Fellows
This program is a competency-based development opportunity for employees at a specific level who demonstrate leadership potential and wish to transition into leadership positions within the department. It is designed to assist a candidate move into higher positions with more leadership possibility and greater responsibility.

Homeland Security Rotation Program
In order for employees to broaden their skills and gain exposure to other groups within the organization, the Rotation program provides developmental assignments in other departments in order to give additional opportunities, gain organizational knowledge and enhance professional growth.

Interagency Development Opportunities
Interagency opportunities provide employees the opportunity to enhance their knowledge of the government, gain experience in developing policy and strategy and identify best practices as they build a strong (and wide) personal network of professional relationships.

Mentoring Programs
There are a number of formal and informal mentoring programs available across all occupational functions. This is an opportunity to enrich experiences through reciprocal relationships and opportunities for personal and professional growth. The program provides a series of developmental experiences for matched mentoring pairs.

Pathways Programs
The Pathways Programs offer internships for students and recent graduates (from high school through graduate school) to provide meaningful training and career development opportunities within the DHS. It is an excellent way to get a “foot in the door” while learning what is involved in specific roles and careers.

Conclusions

The federal government can provide a stable environment in which to build a career. Times have changed from the days of the stereotypical bureaucrat who idles away the day; the wide range of opportunities within the US Department of Homeland Security and the need for skilled, eager staff members makes this a desirable workplace. The varied roles, support and developmental opportunities offer much to the prospective candidate.

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