Case Study: 2014 Quadrennial Homeland Security Review


The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is congressionally mandated to conduct a review of its long-term strategy and priorities every four years, resulting in the Quadrennial Homeland Security Review (QHSR). ANSER analysts were asked to provide systems assessment support to DHS to conduct the 2014 QHSR. The study included characterization of various risk areas (e.g., terrorism, organized crime, and cybersecurity) to understand key dynamics, current trends, and priorities for action.


One way to conduct this assessment would have been to help each individual office assess their mission area, identify relevant risks, think about current activities and trends, identify gaps, and make recommendations for future strategies. Instead, this study brought together diverse stakeholders from many DHS offices in multiple participatory working group sessions. Stakeholders were asked to collaboratively discuss the risk areas they are responsible for, providing information, experiences, and input. Using CLDs, the study team mapped key variables and relationships associated with each risk area based on the information elicited from participating stakeholders. With additional research, relevant current trends were identified and overlaid over the risk CLDs to anticipate how each risk area may evolve going forward.

Figure 1: CLD characterization of a risk area


Several key insights emerged from this exercise that would have otherwise been difficult to obtain:

    • Systems assessment helped stakeholders realize that some risk areas considered were not independent of each other, but rather they operated as a system of systems. They were characterized by complex relationships that tied key actors, their operations, incentives, and means together. Designing effective response strategies required understanding these risk areas as a whole so that they could be addressed simultaneously through the relationships identified.
    • Some existing response strategies (e.g., interdiction) were identified as only capable of addressing symptoms rather than the root causes. Additionally, CLDs made it clear that strategies like interdiction that address a risk area in isolation had the potential to shift undesirable behaviors into other risk areas (owing to complex relationships), shifting the burden of mitigation to another DHS office.
    • Identified relationships and dependencies that connected various transnational organized crime risk areas indicated illicit finance to be an additional risk area for consideration. Illicit finance was operating to enable outcomes in other risk areas and could serve as a high-leverage intervention point to curb many undesirable behaviors in different domains simultaneously.
    • Effective mitigation strategies required close coordination and collaboration not only among different DHS offices, but also between DHS and other government agencies that share responsibility for homeland security risks.


A participatory CLD mapping process served as a key part of the 2014 QHSR methodology. Insights helped inform DHS’s 2014 QHSR to Congress. The CLDs also formed the foundation for quantitative risk assessment in later stages of the QHSR process.