Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

March 8, 2006

Executive order establishes faith-based office at DHS

Filed under: DHS News — by Christian Beckner on March 8, 2006

From the White House website:

(a) The Secretary of Homeland Security (Secretary) shall establish within the Department of Homeland Security (Department) a Center for Faith-Based and Community Initiatives (Center)….

Purpose of Center. The purpose of the Center shall be to coordinate agency efforts to eliminate regulatory, contracting, and other programmatic obstacles to the participation of faith-based and other community organizations in the provision of social and community services.

Responsibilities of the Center for Faith-Based and Community Initiatives. In carrying out the purpose set forth in section 2 of this order, the Center shall:

(a) conduct, in coordination with the WHOFBCI Director, a department-wide audit to identify all existing barriers to the participation of faith-based and other community organizations in the delivery of social and community services by the Department, including but not limited to regulations, rules, orders, procure-ment, and other internal policies and practices, and outreach activities that unlawfully discriminate against, or otherwise discourage or disadvantage the participation of faith-based and other community organizations in Federal programs;

(b) coordinate a comprehensive departmental effort to incorporate faith-based and other community organizations in Department programs and initiatives to the greatest extent possible;

(c) propose initiatives to remove barriers identified pursuant to section 3(a) of this order, including but not limited to reform of regulations, procurement, and other internal policies and practices, and outreach activities;

(d) propose the development of innovative pilot and demonstration programs to increase the participation of faith-based and other community organizations in Federal as well as State and local initiatives; and

(e) develop and coordinate Departmental outreach efforts to disseminate information more effectively to faith-based and other community organizations with respect to programming changes, contracting opportunities, and other agency initiatives, including but not limited to Web and Internet resources.

This executive order likely derives from recommendations #98 and #99 of the White House’s report on Katrina last month, which suggest that:

DHS should revise the NRP to designate responsibility for coordinating non-governmental assistance, including faith-based organizations, during emergencies.

DHS should establish an office with responsibility for integrating non-governmental and other volunteer resources into Federal, State, and local emergency response plans and mutual aid agreements. Further, DHS should establish a distinct organizational element to assist faith-based organizations.

Putting the First Amendment issues aside, I don’t really understand the practical reasons for this. FEMA certainly needs to improve its ability to integrate its activities with all kinds of non-governmental actors: private businesses, civic groups, churches, individual citizens, etc.; it’s common sense to harness the full scope of America’s civic spirit in any disaster response. But how will creating a new office at the DHS headquarters actually do anything to improve this? This just seems like one more bureaucratic entanglement for the senior leadership of DHS to have to worry about, distracting them from their core job of fighting terrorism.

And I don’t get the references to procurement in the executive order. Almost all of the DHS grant programs are focused on distributing funds to state and local law enforcement and first responder organizations. Other grant programs fund private sector and quasi-governmental critical infrastructure improvements. The only grant program that is perhaps directly relevant to faith-based and community groups is Citizen Corps; it’s relatively small, and I’ve never heard any complaints that it discriminates against faith-based groups. I don’t really see what problem this executive order is trying to solve in its mention of “procurement.”

Finally, it sounds like DHS will have to fund this office from existing FY 2006 resources. What budget accounts are they going to have to rob to fund this office? If resources are diverted from critical homeland security accounts, then that hurts DHS’s core mission effectiveness. If the White House wants to stand up this office immediately, it should propose funds for it in the FY 2006 supplemental bill.

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1 Comment »


Comment by William R. Cumming

March 9, 2006 @ 11:36 am

DHS/FEMA ( I use this terminology since technically there is no FEMA as of March 2, 2003) adminster the Emergency Food and Shelter Program entirely through faith based organizations (See Stewart B. Mckinney Act). This is done over formal objections of a past Department of Justice.
None-the-less there are important faith based NGO’s and this needs to be looked at from a preparedness and response perspective. Only the ARC is specifically mentioned in the Robert T. Stafford Act in part because of its federal charter (1904).
Because of the way our federal system is run, an office of Native American affairs should be established in DHS. Not only do they fight wildland fires but they could be a valuable asset deployable in disasters with the right training and support. The Stafford Act treats the tribes as local governments which is out of whack with other statutory treatments. There are important national response and recovery issues that could be addressed if the tribes were focused upon as a key emergency response and recovery component.

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