Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

March 27, 2008

White House HSC Under Scrutiny. Again.

Filed under: Organizational Issues — by Jonah Czerwinski on March 27, 2008

The research arm of Congress issued a report questioning the statutory legitimacy of the White House Homeland Security Council. Thanks to reader William Cumming and CQ Homeland Security for identifying this paper, which FAS made available. It reveals the haphazard way in which the former White HouseOffice of Homeland Security (OHS) – led by Tom Ridge – faded away after the Department of Homeland Security stood up and Ridge took the job as its first chief. According to budget documents and appropriations bills, most of the funding and personnel that ran OHS quietly shifted to the Homeland Security Council. The only problem was that for purposes of appropriations (the law), the HSC doesn’t exist.

I’m pretty sure its there. After all I have friends there and have had the opportunity to work with the people staffing the HSC. It is no shell either. While bureaucratically denuded, the HSC issued the 23 Homeland Security Presidential Directives we have today (that often times are issued jointly as National Security Presidential Directives also). Heck, the Homeland Security Act of 2002 actually mandated the creation of a “National Homeland Security Council” to be chaired by the president. (See Title IX of the Act for more.) This was the same Act that created DHS and led to the closing of the Office of Homeland Security at the White House.

According to the Congressional Research Service, that’s also the last we’ve seen, officially, of the HSC. The public does not know how many people work there, what they do, how they do it, and where the money goes that funds this White House operation.

At issue is the practice the White House has of requesting funding for the HSC through a shell sub-account with in the “White House Office” account that was left after the Office of Homeland Security closed its doors. Harold Relyea, author of the CRS paper, found that the Congress tried to call them out on this:

In late July 2003, House appropriators, in their report on the Departments of Transportation and Treasury and Independent Agencies Appropriations Bill, 2004, revealed that the Bush Administration had changed the “Office of Homeland Security” account, previously listed for the EOP, to an account for the “Homeland Security Council.” The report also questioned the continued role of OHS, saying “it is not clear what work remains that cannot be effectively performed by the Department of Homeland Security.” The account change also implied the shift of 66 staff personnel from OHS to the HSC, which the report questioned, “given the existence and support of the Department of Homeland Security.” The committee cut the President’s request of $8.3 million for the council to $4.1 million. Senate appropriators declined to fund the HSC through the White House Office (WHO) account, as requested, and recommended the $8.3 million sought by the President for the council in a separate account for the HSC.

To get appropriations, the HSC needs to have authorization from the Congress. Relyae explains that the House has tried repeatedly to fund the HSC through its own account – separate from the WHO account – as a symbolic gesture to shine some light on the subject.

All of this emerges within the context of an ongoing debate in Washington about what the future of the HSC should be. With a new administration coming in and the new HSC head only just taking on the job, the HSC’s days look numbered.

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1 Comment »

Comment by William R. Cumming

March 27, 2008 @ 12:14 pm

The position of Homeland Security Advisor (actually Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism) is potentially a valuable slot. Fran Townshend did a good job of buffering Homeland Security from Homeland Defense in DOD and law enforcement in DOJ, as well as interfacing with the National Security Council. But the day for this organization is past with a number of persons recommending its elimination and reincorporation into the statutory National Security Council first created by the National Security Act of 1947, and now heavily amended. While each President is free to organize to the extent statute and precedent allows, it is clear that NSC failures, both at Council level and staff level led to 9/11. Richard Clarke’s revealing book published after he left government “Against All Enemies” demonstrates to me a magnificant one man band but no symphony conductor. Many elements of the Executive Branch have been involved in anti-terrorism and counter-terrorism over the last 50 years. Interesting that the almosts in creativity and organization never quite succeeded in the face of appointees attitudes and entrenched bureacracy. A relatively recent book tracing the history of the National Security Council under Presidents through Clinton called “Running the World” gives insights as to the driving force of hubris and ego in National Security circles, and often secrecy masks incompetence. It is interesting that the Executive Branch is still so hostile to the Congress when it comes to White House operations. Although documented and discussed in detail in S.995 introduced and sponsored by Senator Milkulski in 1993 after the Hurricane Andrew fiascon, and never enacted due to the pleadings of President Clinton and James Lee Witt that preferred highly personalized management but no system of White House coordination, and again potentially remedied by Representative Tilly Fowler ( R. Fla) now deceased when she actually got through the House H.R. 4100 in July 2000 the legislation that would have created a domestic crisis management unit in the White House, very much like S. 995, but it too failed in part of course because everyone wanted to restudy issues and policies after 9/11. Interesting that the 9/11 Commission really did not examine past efforts at domestic crisis management reform. Of course now we know that warfighting was the DOD priority as it should be but despite that it continues to extract resources and oppose civil agency reform or even White House reform on domestic crisis management issues. It is interesting that the National Security Act itself states that the Council created by it is to integrate military, diplomatic, and domestic policy to protect the National Security of the United States. Hurricane Katrina again reminded us that virtually none of the fixes necessary after Hurricane Andrew were accomplished and certainly not White House inter-agency coordination. Many many reasons for this and of course an always inexpert Congress doing no real oversight, and fearful of White House retaliation on minor matters or earmarks e.g. still does not get it. I personally thought President Clinton would take on the national security state, but of course he did not study or reform it and let Socrates like figures as Richard Clarke wander in the wilderness of the bureacratic maze seeking the light of truth. Basically the 1947 NSA had it right but there needs a real revamping of that statute for the modern era while still retaining Presidential flexibility. Domestic crisis management would have been helped by passage and enactment of S.995 or H.R. 4100 but that remains for the future. In the meantime there does need to be a White House staff that fulfills the 1947 NSA mandates, and domestic crisis management should not be overlooked. The Fran Townshend contribution may or or may not be written up in the future but my guess is she was a real help to a President that just does not get it. But people like Fran, Paul O’Neil, and Richard Clarke must have full Presidential backing and a knowledgeable competent Congress and Congressional staff. Like the Carrier Admiral in James Michener’s “Bridges of Toko Ri” when told of the loss of the pilot played by William Holder in the movie by the same name stated “Where do we get such men?” Or of course now where do we get such men and women? If McCain,Obama, and Clinton really had the country at heart their policy pronouncements and programs would be a matter of public record now, not ad hoc developed on the fly later. Also their top 10 appointee possibilities for the top 300 non-career jobs should already be available for public vetting. After all who else used the “Emperor’s Club?” NSA hears all, but who does it tell. Is it the new version of the Hoover (FBI Director) files? Is that why their is a conspiracy of silence? Apolgize for venting.

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