Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

July 28, 2008

House Homeland Chairman Responds with Risk-Based Rebuttal

Filed under: Congress and HLS,Risk Assessment — by Jonah Czerwinski on July 28, 2008

Yesterday the Chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, Bennie Thompson, published in the New York Times a response to the July 21 op-ed in the same paper by DHS Deputy assistant secretary for policy development Stephen Heifetz. Heifetz argued that overlapping Congressional committees and both political Parties are the source of the Department’s inability to “develop — and put in place — a broad risk assessment methodology.”

Subtext: While many authorities and influential groups have called for the consolidation of Congressional oversight of DHS, the Administration has made only mild intonations about the need to do so. It seemed as though the cautious approach was taken because the Executive Branch cannot reorganize the Legislative, and it’s the latter’s business.

Further subtext: The Secretary of Homeland Security only recently called for such a reorganization in testimony before Congress, an assertiveness not seen before. And now this high profile op-ed in the New York Times by a policy official at DHS.

We know they’ve always wanted fewer masters in the Congress than the +/-80 committees and subcommittees that they now deal with. But why the overt shift in attention by DHS to Congress now? What changed?

Chairman Thompson suggests that part of the reason is that while the Republicans controlled the Congress, there wasn’t much appetite by the Administration for challenging them on this issue. Now that the Democrats are in charge – and challenging the Administration – there is a new found motivation for Congressional reform.

The core issue may not be Congress at all here. Heifetz argues that the ability to conduct adequate risk-based homeland security investments and strategies is hampered by the multiple parochial demands of Congress. That may be true with regard to state grants, but there are a lot of other options that are within the Department’s control for making progress.

Chairman Thompson puts it this way:

The primary obstacle to a risk-based homeland security strategy is not the need for a Congressional reorganization. During a hearing my committee held last month, expert witnesses asserted the need for a “chief risk officer” at D.H.S., as well as a new presidential directive committed to carrying out risk-management principles in all homeland security functions.

Unfortunately, this administration has not demonstrated an effective risk-management approach, a failure that inevitably leads to political interference from both sides of the aisle.

We need a risk-based approach to homeland security that allocates our limited resources proportionally to risk. D.H.S. then needs to make periodic assessments to gauge our progress in mitigating those risks. This is not being done because the administration is unwilling to make the tough choices that will make our country safer.

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Comment by William R. Cumming

July 28, 2008 @ 8:34 am

Actually this issue with current players in Executive Branch and Congressional Committees has almost nothing to do with risk management. Both entitities need drastic reform to see that both contracts and grants are awarded competitively and based on other than sole-sourcing and politics. I know that is asking a lot. Federal programs are not designed for effectiveness or efficiency but are truly political solutions. But unless there is reform, and most DHS contract awards are conducted by former contrators now part of the acquisiton process in DHS, and many Congressional members and staff continue to try and fix contract and grant awards. The result is ususally fraud, waste and abuse and detracts from HS efforts. This is a system of course adopted by DHS from the DOD where many of its employees formerly served either on active duty or or as DOD civilian appointees and civil servants. Bascially, what has really been accomplished at DHS under its various Secretaries is adoption of a corrupt DOD culture that has long been interested in other things than the DEFENSE of the nation. Jacuqes Gansler used to state that there is only ONE industrial base but now that is incorrect. There are contractors that rely on the inherent corruption of the federal contracting process and their ability to influence it, and State and local governments that rely on the power of the their Congrssional delegations to get grants, even when nominally competitive. “Who will Tell the People” as William Greider stated in his book of that title in the early 90’s. Interesting that the DEMS are slathering over the possibility of taking the Executive Branch over and increasing Congressional membership at least in part because they know they will then be in charge of what has become a corrupt system. Here’s to RISK MANAGEMENT! Throw the IN’s Out!

Comment by Beth

July 29, 2008 @ 12:30 am

My husband was detailed to the WTC 9/11 Ground Zero clean up from Apr – Sep 2002; a Vietnam Veteran, detailed under GSA Federal Protective Services as a Federal Police Officer, no mask/no respirator/had to wear another officer’s baseball cap instead of following personal protective equipment safety measures and for $5 was denied the new cap; GSA/FPS was transferred to DHS in 2003 as still waiting for DHS to respect, honor, and compensate my husband as 16 months after detailed to WTC clean up diagnosed with a brain tumor/seizures, lung cancer, GERD, sinusitis, PTSD and denied advanced sick leave when on LWOP after using all his time when others were on worker’s compensation and according to legislation, GAO-04-06, Federal Employees Worker’s Compensation and Public Safey Officers Sick/Death Benefit Compensation and died in my arms in June 2005; as the oversight is for DHS employees but over looked all regulations, legislation and their own procedures when they not only compensated $4.2 million to illegal immigrant family members because their loved ones died as a “result of the WTC dust”, and federal government hired these illegal immigrants but illegal is now legal as $10,000 is fined to companies when their hire illegal immigrants as how can illegal immigrants go to court, be awarded by Congress and now have to provide their identification to DHS in order for them to invest their $4.2 million legally and allow them to stay in the USA as legal citizens? Isn’t that looking the other way and DHS told me to go hire a lawyer (only answer since 2003) since they didn’t know what to do, how to go about the process, never submitted a report to Veterans Administration in accordance with the Homeland Security Act of 2002 and Vietnam Veterans Act of 2002 and National Response Plan, National Incident Managment Report, Sharing Information as stated in several GAO reports, Social Security Administration as they do for illegal immigrant deaths when under DHS but not their own, Department of Labor/Office of Safety Health Adminstration(OSHA) for worker’s compensation request, violations against clean air act, personal protective equipment, Stafford Act, CERLA, National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA) and just too name a few; but now in legslation, RAND reports and other documentation it is so stated to do what is right for those who gave their lives because next time the will remember what you forgot; how can anybody forget that day in September unless guilty conscience. But, funding for fences, $4.2 million illegal immigrant compensation, more information about detainees health and deaths than WTC federal government employee responders, like my husband, and a lot more that has not been included in any Bureau of Labor Statistics as they were considered “out of scope” for any WTC statistical data and unaccoutable funds from GSA for their transferred Federal Protective Service employees, Classified Information by DHS was issued informing any inquiries, questions or issues regarding WTC to seek legal advice, when DHS can work out legal limbo for the $4.2 million be legally invested but DHS can’t take care of their own dedicated law enforcement officers who should have never been mandatory detail when EPA knew the air quality was bad as GAO reported that the clean up detail was not according to regulations as when hazardous, dangerous or toxic air is reported, documented and tested, there is no further appropriations authorized and the EPA/Bush/DHS/GSA sent my husband into a death detail and now won’t be held responsible, be accountable or even say thanks for dying for your job, officer and veteran of the USA

Comment by Christopher Tingus

July 29, 2008 @ 6:49 am


While I can surely offer you one of the best in legal profession here in Boston as this gentleman, and I reiterate, professional and a gentleman, my legal counsel, would be of substantial value in your effort to gain appropriate attention to your challenges, I would think that with such an astute gentleman with his experience and his willingness to address right and wrong, William Cumming’s personal perspective in response to your husband’s and your plight representative of others I am sure as well, would be very informative as William Cumming’s commentary is always direct and very enlightening especially when so many seek the demise of this great nation and its people, the most charitable and hard-working people found anywhere!

We see a growing unrest in this country with the Federal Reserve and Congressional members’ indifference to the reality on the street and what families must confront with those entrusted to represent right from wrong turning their cheek to corruption and political manipulation especially when special interest groups are participants.

I remind Democrats and republicans that while your antics continue and your unwillingness to clasp hands in bi-partisan decision-making continues to erode the confidence of the populace, our enemies who seek our demise, read and watch the multitude of information available, I am appaled that European nd western decision-makers fail to stand tall against Iranian leadership which blatently defies the moral obligation of combating the willingness to kill innocents and while history may not be taught in high school, those in roles of business, government and military leadership must learn from history as it seems to me that history is once again very much repeating itself for our failure to do what is right by our veterans and our citizens in assuring a peaceful world, though reminded that there can be no peace under the Tree of Life because of the nature of those seeking their own fulfillment of ego and personal agenda no matter the cost!

Christopher Tingus
Harwich, MA USA

Comment by William R. Cumming

July 29, 2008 @ 10:00 am

Beth! Wow! Federal employees were specifically excluded from the WTC Victime Compensation Act which they should not have been in my view. The Federal Employees Compensation Act, which provides up to 3 times annual salary for deceased federal employees is very inadequate. Administered as part of the Tort Claims System by DOJ. The theory of that limitation is that deceased federal employees survivors get the employees annuity and any life insurance obtained by the federal employee during their lifetime. Counseling on financial planning for federal employees is very very weak. Nonetheless I agree with Chris that you should retain a counsel, hopefully pro Bono, to review your case and make sure you recieve any appropriate benefits.
As to a further point, it was only in 2004 I believe that OSHA issued a report prepared together with RAND indicating that a SAFETY OFFICER position should be established in all large-scale events to protect and advise responders. This has been followed up recently by a CDC report on responder safety. To date to my knowledge little has been accomplished. Christine Todd Whitman was sued individually for giving an-all clear for response and re-entry at the WTC event and that case is still open with respect to civil liability issues. The criminal issues have been resolved, unsatisfactorily to many including me. Unfortunately, one of the key EPA players, the head of EPA Emergency Response [James Makris] died within a month of retiring from EPA in July 2002 and much personal knowledge of the WTC EPA response went with Jim.
You should further know that it is a criminal violation of OSHA to put a responder without appropriate training, equipment, and authorization in harm’s way. Enforcement is for an referral by an understaffed and underfunded OSHA to DOJ for prosecution. Understandably if EPA was involved this is not uncomplicated. Personally I have always doubted if EPA officials and employees were ever properly trained on OSHA standards if at all. For example, it took OSHA to study and issue guidance on self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) thus impacting all persons in the fire service. Even today less than 25% of all fire service personnel have adequate or even any SCBA. As readers of this blog note many of these issues are complex and tough to work through but must be done. Recently I have been involved with emergency blood supply issues, the FDA has fined and entered into a consent order with the American Red CRoss on that subject. Preparedness and homeland security is for all of us to worry about and in particular since we are the oldest and richest democracy and how we handle these issues is guidance to the world.

Nontheless, Beth, I apologize and am sorry for your situation as a former federal employee because during my time as a federal employee I many times counseled high-ranking officials as they stepped on a military aircraft or heliocopter thrilled for the free ride that their private life insurance was automatically be voided by that unscheduled airline ride. The death of a prominent citizen, Secretary of Commerce Ron Brown under Clinton and many CEO’s who went down on the same plane, because of that voiding of private life insurance resulted in special legislation by the Congress to compensate the families. Your case may need the same. Again I am sorry for your loss and your difficulty and hope you can gain favorable resolution of your case.


October 6, 2010 @ 3:45 am

US to worry. Will wasn’t worried, just confused. We’re way ahead of them and they’re trying to catch up, worried they never will. The only way to catch the next train is to miss the last one. Read the Post while you are waiting. Read the Times while you are worrying. Don’t worry, be happy. If you can’t be happy, be late. Get on the train or stay on the tracks. It keeps rolling all night long. Rock-a-bye baby, the cradle will rock. We’re so far ahead we already took those risks. It was child’s play.

“Jul 4, 2010 … An American child’s day in elementary school includes far less play than in years past, she said.” PG

That sucks!

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