Faculty Interview Series: An Interview with Daniel Kaniewski, SSP Adjunct Professor

By Milica Cosic, Reporter

Professor Daniel Kaniewski joined Georgetown’s Security Studies Program in 2013 as an adjunct professor teaching SEST-710. He has been Mission Area Director at the Homeland Security Studies and Analysis Institute since 2012. Additionally, he is a Senior Fellow at the Center for Cyber and Homeland Security at George Washington University, a member of the District of Columbia Homeland Security Commission, and a term member of the Council on Foreign Relations.

Professor Kaniewski served in the George W. Bush Administration as Special Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Senior Director for Response Policy. He was a co-author and editor of the White House report “The Federal Response to Hurricane Katrina: Lessons Learned.” Following the publication of this report, he worked to improve the nation’s response capabilities and advised the President and White House senior staff during domestic incidents.

In the final installment of the GSSR Faculty Interview Series of the semester, Professor Kaniewski discusses his background and research interests, and shares his advice for students.

What attracted you to SSP?

I am an alumnus of the Security Studies program—I graduated in 2002. After I completed the program, I wanted to continue my education so I got my PhD in Public Policy and Administration with a focus in national security policy at George Washington University. I wanted to teach at least part time so I started teaching at GW. Bruce Hoffman was my mentor when he was at RAND, and he let me know that there was an opening in the research seminar, and that is how I began teaching in SSP.

What is one thing you hope students take away from this degree?

I think SSP has a unique mix of practitioners and academicians–rarely will you find a program that has perspectives from both. Having these perspectives was very illuminating as I undertook my own graduate studies. I’ve been a DC policy wonk throughout the past 15 years of my career in DC—I’ve worked both in and out of government and have spent a lot of time at academic institutions. Finding that balance between the practitioner focus and that of an academician is highly valuable.

Aside from the research seminar, students may never have to write a 50 page peer-reviewed, extensively cited research paper again in their lives. But the skills that students learn in the research seminar are transferable to any career simply because the process forces you to think differently about problems and brings a level of rigor to analysis. If you look at the final product of the research seminar, it looks a lot like a thesis, and some students may think that the only application of that is going to do a PhD. However, I believe most students will find that there is a lot of applicability of the skills they gain to every career.

What does your day-to-day work look like as the Mission Area Director for Resilience and Emergency Preparedness/Response at the Homeland Security Studies and Analysis Institute?

The Homeland Security Studies and Analysis Institute is the federally funded research and development center to the Department of Homeland Security. We conduct studies and analyses on a variety of issues facing DHS. Think of us as the equivalent to DHS of what RAND is to the Department of Defense. My particular focus at the institute is on resilience and emergency preparedness and response. Specifically, I focus on cybersecurity, infrastructure protection, and emergency management. In doing so, I am responsible for about one third of our studies.

A recent example of a study we conducted was a doctrine development program for the Federal Emergency Management Agency. We undertook an end-to-end review of FEMA’s response and recovery operations and helped the agency develop doctrine to formalize their mission requirements and procedures. This doctrine now serves as the basis for FEMA’s response to future disasters. 

What is one topic currently in the news that you find yourself wanting to read more and more about?

What I enjoy reading most is articles on broader national security policy. I view my research seminar as a two-way street—I teach research methods and look forward to reading students’ papers on interesting national security topics.

Can you share insights into helping students think through the decision to pursue a career in public service or in research and academia?

Both are laudable career paths. Having done both, I see the value in weaving elements of each into the other. When I served in the White House, being well grounded in the literature informed my recommendations and advice to the President and the White House staff.

My practical experience informs my perspective when I am teaching research methods to my students. So likewise, I would see students benefiting from having both perspectives to the extent that it is feasible. This can be sequential (throughout one’s career) or simultaneous. For example, I work for a quasi-government research organization, teach in the evening, and am a member of a government commission and several professional groups. I encourage students to seek out opportunities beyond their day jobs, such as applying to the Council on Foreign Relations Term Member Program.

To help students who are thinking about what topic they might want to write about for 710, what homeland security issue needs more attention?

In my field, cybersecurity has been the hot issue and I don’t anticipate that fading at all. Cybersecurity is where the most intellectual energy has been focused in my discipline—and for good reason. State and non-state actors are using cyber as a weapon or a tool to further their own financial or political gain.

If you look at the field of homeland security, it has evolved drastically over time. 9/11 taught us that the USG needs to focus on these threats at home, and terrorism was the most pressing threat at that time. When I served at the White House during Hurricane Katrina, that catastrophe caused a rapid shift for federal homeland security officials, and the pendulum swung from terrorism to natural disasters. With the increased threats from abroad, especially related to ISIS and al-Qaeda (including foreign fighters, domestic radicalization, etc.), again the pendulum has swung back to terrorism. But also, new modalities, such as cyber, have emerged, and are now some of the top threats that we face.

If you could walk over to the Tombs right now, sit at the bar, and have a drink next to any person from history – who would it be and why?

I would say Alexander Hamilton because he is one of the early architects of the American bureaucracy. Having been someone who has navigated that bureaucracy throughout my career, I’d love to hear about his perspective on helping lay the foundation and what he thinks of the government as we know it today.

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