Dr. Donald J. Reed

March 2016—Dr. Donald J. Reed ’15 was awarded Walden University’s 2016 School of Public Policy and Administration (SPPA) Dissertation Award for the scientific and intellectual merits of his dissertation, An Examination of Tribal Nation Integration in Homeland Security National Preparedness. Dr. Reed's dissertation committee comprised chair Dr. Tanya Settles, committee member Dr. Bruce Lindsay, and university research reviewer Dr. Mark Stallo.

Dr. Reed has a PhD in Public Policy and Administration with a specialization in Homeland Security Policy and Coordination. In his professional capacity, he leads a team of senior military and civilian planners at U.S. Northern Command (USNORTHCOM) in strategic-level emergency planning throughout the United States and North America.

In 2001, after a 20-year career in the Army, Dr. Reed stumbled across what he thought was a “low-key plans job” at First U.S. Army. “My boss said to expect it to be relatively slow-paced, aside from occasionally coordinating defense support to natural disasters. Two weeks later, 9/11 happened,” Dr. Reed says. “Since 2001, I’ve had a front-row seat observing the phenomenal evolution of our national preparedness enterprise in the post-9/11 era.”

Once he arrived at USNORTHCOM in 2006, USNORTHCOM sponsored him to attend the Center for Homeland Defense and Security master’s degree program and the Harvard University National Preparedness Leadership Initiative for further educational development. It was these opportunities that made Dr. Reed think he might want to pursue a PhD in the business of homeland security.

“Walden offered a great public policy and homeland security program. I looked at the curriculum and I liked what I saw,” he says. “This program is still evolving because the entire national homeland security enterprise is still evolving—and probably will be for another generation, at least. The Information Age has changed the rules for everything, especially homeland security.”

But where Dr. Reed struggled was in choosing his dissertation research topic; he wanted to pick a topic that was both relevant and could have a real and positive social impact. So he turned to his mentor at USNORTHCOM and asked her how he could identify a gap in homeland security to research.

“She leaned over to me and said, ‘Go look at the tribes,’” he recalls. “She wouldn’t tell me anything else. So I looked at the tribes.”

After a couple weeks of doing preliminary research on homeland security and national preparedness and its effects on tribal nations, he found an incredible gap in integration, noting that the 566 federally-recognized tribal nations—comprising as many as 5 million people and 55 million acres of tribal lands—were not effectively integrated into the enterprise at all.

“I thought I had mastered the homeland security field,” Dr. Reed says. “But when I looked at the tribal nations in the context of homeland security, it stunned me.”

Dr. Reed went on to perform a policy narrative analysis for his dissertation, which required constructing three narratives. The conventional (government) narrative included interviews with participants from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Bureau of Indian Affairs, and the Department of Defense (DoD) at USNORTHCOM. The counter (tribal nation) narrative consisted of interviews with representatives of various tribal nations and organizations that advocate on behalf of tribal nations, such as the National Tribal Emergency Management Council and the Tribal Emergency Management Association. And the meta narrative merged the conventional and counter narratives and created recommendations for how to recast policy.

In his interviews with tribal representatives, Dr. Reed heard stories that he sometimes found hard to comprehend from his traditional DoD point of view. “The issue was for me to absorb everything I was being told,” he says of one interview in particular. “The transcript of the interview still gives me pause for reflection today.”

What he learned in that interview was that this particular tribal nation had inadequate 911 services and that it could take anywhere from 6 to 8 hours for tribal members to receive a response after calling in an emergency. It was not unheard of for tribal members to die before emergency services arrived. In addition, transnational criminal organizations often come onto the tribal lands and snipe at residents in order to keep them indoors and unaware of the criminal organization’s illegal activities.

At the end of the research phase, Dr. Reed was able to make several recommendations. The research participants generally agreed on many of the problems facing tribal nation integration in national preparedness: the playing field is not level for tribal nations, a “pan-Indian” approach by the government will not work, there is a need for greater mutual respect and understanding, and the tribal nations need a greater “seat at the table” in homeland security.

“Social change came home to me through my dissertation,” Dr. Reed says. “We cannot afford for this social group—or any social group—to be disenfranchised from the national preparedness enterprise. We have both a moral and a practical obligation to them if we want our nation to be secure. We’re slowly bringing about some change. We’re taking more and more steps.

“While working on my dissertation, I had numerous moments when I asked myself, ‘Why did I get into this?’ Today, I know why,” he says.

About the School of Public Policy and Administration (SPPA) Dissertation Award

The School of Public Policy and Administration (SPPA) Dissertation Award is bestowed upon Walden graduates whose dissertations reflect excellent and appropriate original research and outstanding application of concepts and analysis tools. The award is based on scientific merit; novelty and significance; or intellectual merit, style, and contributions to the field.

View prior recipients of the School of Public Policy and Administration (SPPA) Dissertation Award

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