Toward a Theory of Action Definition for Homeland Security: A Case Study of Federal, State, and Local Leadership Actions During the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill

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Homeland security lacks a consensus definition for the discipline. Government leaders and scholars have proposed a range of definitions that describe the threats, activities, and outcomes of the discipline, but because of changing administrations and changing threats, a consensus definition has yet to emerge. The purpose of this study was to explore the shared understanding of what constitutes “homeland security” as expressed through the actions of federal, state, and local officials during the Deepwater Horizon oil spill response of 2010. The theoretical framework of this research was developed from Argyris and Schon’s (1992) articulation of action theory and the double-loop learning model. Action theory suggests that through the observation and analysis of the value-infused behaviors (actions) of a discipline’s practitioners, one can identify a theory of action. This qualitative research employed case study method to analyze the actions of federal, state, and local leaders during the Deepwater Horizon oil spill response. The federal, state, and local leaders’ actions were identified from official reports, Congressional testimony, press conference, and news broadcast transcripts and action themes were coded and analyzed. The case study details the challenges faced by federal, state, and local leaders in securing and cleaning up the spill. The study describes the actions of responding leaders and events where federal, state, and local leaders experienced conflict over the right course of action. This research found positive action themes of coordination, communication, sensemaking, leadership, and trust building in the leaders’ actions. This study concludes with a proposed definition of homeland security constructed from the action themes identified in the case study and makes recommendations for the practice and future research.
A dissertation submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree Doctor of Public Administration
Public Administration, Government, Leadership