Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

June 24, 2008

DHS Approps Chair Cites 5 Priority Areas

Filed under: Budgets and Spending,General Homeland Security — by Jonah Czerwinski on June 24, 2008

David Price, Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee chairman, yesterday detailed five areas for DHS to focus its efforts. The presentation offered a glimpse into the thinking of the man overseeing the House’s spending plans for DHS. Today the full House Appropriations Committee marks up the $40 billion draft bill to fund the Department of Homeland Security in FY 2009. During Monday’s event, hosted by the Center for American Progress, Price offered criticism and counsel in the following areas:

Immigration: The next administration must make criminal illegal immigrants ICE’s top priority. The draft 2009 appropriations bill supports this, and would provide resources for a current ICE plan to identify such illegal immigrants in federal, state and local prisons and deport them after they have served their sentences. The legislation also devotes attention to the northern border, which Price called “more significant as a potential entry point for terrorists than the southern border.”

Price also calls for comprehensive immigration reform, saying the current administration seemed to be on that track, but “now seems to have turned 180 degrees toward an enforcement-only approach.” Rob Margetta at CQ Homeland Security also notes that it was Congress that failed to pass the reform bill.

Price recommended that if the next Administration makes immigration reform a higher priority and pursues it more effectively, such reform will “strengthen our economy, reaffirm the rule of law, and enhance homeland security, allowing DHS to focus more effectively on that small percentage of illegal immigrants that has the capacity and the intent to commit crimes and do us harm.”

Disaster and Emergency Response: FEMA’s capability to deal with large-scale natural disasters suffered when it was absorbed into DHS, and its relationships with state and local responders were better before Sept. 11, 2001, Price said. Price implied that the agency should be elevated to cabinet status or broken out of DHS in the next administration.

Price also asserted that FEMA shouldn’t be in the business of providing emergency housing in the Gulf Coast, but that the Department of Housing and Urban Development should be. Although the process has been occurring, it has been slow and lacking in direction, he said.

Management: DHS leadership needs to strike a better balance between providing overall policy guidance and leaving departmental components free to do the fine tuning, between nurturing the new homeland security missions of component agencies and maintaining their historic mission capabilities.

Price specifically called out the need to improve the Department’s financial system management, procurement management, and oversight. Price also noted the difficulty in staffing up faced by new agencies at DHS, as well as the heavy dependence on contractors for critical management functions. Price stated that 72 percent of the career executives at DHS left the Department between 2003 and 2007, compared to an average of 46 percent among all other Federal Departments.

72%? Seems hard to believe, but it may be the case given the morale challenges there. This is the management train wreck that could hobble any good idea in the Department.

Technology and Privacy: Price said DHS’s Science and Technology Directorate has made progress in aligning its work better with the needs of component agencies, but added that the department must be cautious of rushing into technology investments without considering privacy implications or real-world effectiveness.

He cited Secure Flight, which was delayed for years, as well as CBP’s SBINet as examples of programs where attention to privacy protections and technology viability was insufficient at the outset.

“New technologies are not something we should naively bank on,” Price said. “Too often they just don’t work as advertised, as we have seen at our southern border, or they may be premature or have costs that exceed their benefits.”

Grants and Risk Analysis: Price noted that most of the Department’s grants are allocated using risk formulas, but that DHS “has struggled both to develop credible formulas with measurable components and to apply the formulas objectively and consistently.” This has prevented Congress from measuring how or whether grant investments are reducing risk.

This leads to a dual challenge, Price explained: spending is high for daunting threats deemed so perilous that we cannot afford not to spend more money; while at other times, funding is inadequately low because it is difficult to know that the funding is having the desired affect.

Price believes that first responder grants fall into the second category, but that robust investments must continue in first responder equipment and training, port security upgrades, and transit security precautions. However, Price is not satisfied that these grants are being made wisely. The fiscal 2008 appropriations bill commissioned the National Academies of Science with assessing DHS’s risk assessment system, and the next secretary should use that data to guide investments, he said. Both the House and the Senate bills for FY09 DHS spending double the president’s request for first responder grants.

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1 Comment »

Comment by William R. Cumming

June 29, 2008 @ 8:36 am

Note that this is the Approps Chair David Price’s priorities. Is it anyone elses including Benny Thompson. By the way the House did vote out the DHS approp bill but unlikely to see DHS stand-a lone approps bill become law. By the way has there ever been a Homeland Security Authorization bill? Don’t believe so but after all coming up on only 8 years this September since 9/11.
Anyhow briefly to the list. (1) Immigration—not really sure what a “Criminal illegal alien” is? Is that a criminal under US law or where they came from or something else. But it raises an intereting point, namely what part of illegal immigration relates to criminal law, federal, state, and local? And what part relates to civil law violations? Again first principles that no one seems to want to examine but should be sorted out before anyone tries to address immigration issues. Personally, I think Immigration Law, whatever it is, by local law enforcement is a bad idea. Very sophisticated tradeoffs and judgements made in immigration enforcement and after all we don’t have Constitutional lawyers on the beat as police.
(2) Disaster and Emergency Response–Once housed in DHS perhaps we could have expected Secretaries Ridge and Chertoff to answer the one fundamental question that needs answering before you redesign FEMA or decide whether in or out of DHS! Specifically, is FEMA a disaster response and policy agency that coordinates and cooperates and assists the other civil agencies or is it the real safety net and has to be budgeted and staffed up to conduct operations. Vast difference in management issues for either or both or combinations thereof. But apparently this issue was beyond the former NCO/Governor and the Prosecutor/Judge. Both smart men but not really up to policy issues of the scope raised by Homeland Security. Actually, I would put Secreatry Chertoff back on the Federal Bench, since he has been tossed in deepwater on HS/EM issues and should be allowed to bring that learning curve to the bench. Tom Ridge should be put under oath as to whether the STATES are really up to being part of the response and recovery system in large-scale unplanned events even when governmental ops are not disrupted.
(3) Management–I guess Tom Ridge and Michael Chertoff don’t really understand the federal bureacracy and never will. If 72% of the SES staff departs that is in fact a declaration of bankruptcy equivalent in the corporate world. Hey, they voted with their feet but essentially means DHS is non-operative and the right event or combination of events will prove it. Maybe AQ is just waiting around with a new bright idea no one in DHS leadership has thought of yet. Let’s send TSA back to DOT that should help a lot. Allow DHS to concentrate on the resiliency of the other sectors. And by the way TSA should be the Transportation Resiliency and Security Agency and stop pretending otherwise. The Airlines are essentially basket cases just because of fuel so don’t count on new ideas whatever the costs coming out of that sector to protect passengers and related activities. By the way OGE (Office of Government Ethics just published a final rule on post-employment conflicts that deserves review by each SES leaving for the corporate world.
(4) Technology and Privacy– How big is the Privacy Officer’s budget and staff? This should have been a government wide leadership activity for DHS not an afterthought. After all it has the NCS and NSTACA (National Security Telecommunications Advisory Committee) within its purview and while the NCS is responsible that legal authorized persons can act for the National Command Authority in The Commander-In_Chief role it also could work on the Chief Executive function and privacy lead for the civil agencies in communications. Perhaps the FCC should have a single administrator and report to DHS since the 1934 statute is really obsolete on both privancy issues and the digital world. May sound silly but communications technology is a huge area that DHS should be playing in and letting FEMA take the heat in recent hearings for the EAS (47 CFR Part 11) is like having FEMA run the TPS (47 CFR Part 67). FEMA should not have telecommunicatinos responsibiltiy and that probably should go to a Under Secretary for Science and Technology as well as the NCS. See E.O. 12472 as amended and 47 CFR Parts 201-212.
(5) Grants and risk analysis—Really time to think about giving rulemaking and standards setting authority to DHS for first responder issues. A blue ribbon panel should be empowered to look at this issue and how first responders relate to the FEDS. Note that the STATES are typically not first responders or even last responders, but they are spenders and claimants on resources. Note that it has just been finalized by OSHA of all orgs to require highly visible vests on emergency personnel on federal highways (later this fall). Why STATES really don’t support or regulate first responders. I would go so far as to completely federalize standards and training for first responders in every SMSA in the US. It would improve response, reduce casualties and actually probably save money in the long run. Hey, those short-skirted vendor reps with bangles don’t just detail for the pharma industry, they are out their pushing obsolete, defective equipment to each local police, fire, EMT, HAZMAT, EM org at the state and local level. I won’t leave the feds out of course since the dollar limits on sole sourcing continue to skyrocket.

Anyhow hope this is of some utility. And hope Secretary Chertoff reads this blog. Not to late to decide whether FEMA is an operational agency and if so how, when, where? He does have one already under his hat, the USCG. Created in 1916 by merging the old Revenue Cutter Service and the Coastal Life Saving Service. Once in Treasury, once in DOT and probably should be under DOD while I could laundry list in a hurry DOD units that should service not just DOD but the civil agencies with an independent status.

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