Consider this a place holder post about the Homeland Security Presidential Transition Initiative. The HSPTI worked during the last year to develop and present to both the McCain and Obama campaigns late in the election a transition plan for homeland security. There is a lot in the report’s ~30 pages and this is merely an introduction to begin the dialogue here.
The HSPTI presents its recommendations in four policy areas:
• Homeland Security Structure and Personnel: Management and reform of the White House structures dealing with the HLS mission, DHS in general, and, yes, the question of whither FEMA
• Federalism: Advice for how to work with state, tribal, and local officials
• A “100 Day Script:” A step-by-step set of guidelines for managing the crucial, albeit somewhat arbitrary, initial management period for any new President
• Engaging the Public: Communicating with, educating, and mobilizing the American public
This HSPTI recommendations are organized into ten sections, sequenced chronologically in general time periods by month. Most of the recommendations can be undertaken at the direction of the new President, his Chief of Staff, and other top officials. The report’s authors are, however, smart enough not to pick a fight with the Congress and advise appropriate levels of engagement with the Legislative branch and other stakeholders.
Those recommendations can be generalized as follows:
• Make selection of the DHS Secretary a Tier 1 choice, announced along with the first wave of appointees (Treasury, Defense, etc.).
• Engage early and often with the Bush administration security team and transition council.
• Conduct a table-top exercise with the new leadership team prior to the inauguration to clarify roles and responsibilities in the event of a
• Integrate the existing White House Homeland Security Council within the National Security and Domestic Policy Councils, but maintain an Assistant to the President (and Deputy National Security Advisor) to oversee homeland security policy functions.
• Organize a homeland security summit within the first 100 days, bringing together federal, state, local, and private sector leaders to review the state of intergovernmental cooperation and public-private partnership, particularly in light of the unfolding economic crisis.
Deliberate attention given to the important role of the QHSR was a welcome sight. “An early priority for the new administration should be taking charge of the interagency process regarding the Quadrennial Homeland Security Review (QHSR).” The report advocates White House level engagement in the QHSR to “reassesses the nature of risk to the United States, evaluates existing programs and new initiatives, and reviews the adequacy of the existing bureaucratic structure and resources.” These areas of inquiry are largely aligned with those laid out by the Congress, which mandated the Review.
So whither FEMA? The homeland security policy community is a reluctant participant this awkward pass-time of deliberating over whether FEMA should be returned to its independent agency status and removed from DHS. There are benefits and trade-offs to doing so, as there are sure to be with the status quo if it is maintained. The decision should be driven not by backlash against Katrina, the Bush Administration, or anything like that. The stakes are too high. The decision should be informed by a comprehensive assessment of the vision of success for our nation’s homeland security mission and the necessary authorities, investments, and structures needed to achieve it. Fortunately, the HSPTI chooses to predicate the decision about FEMA on the outcome of the QHSR.
“A decision to remove FEMA should be deferred until the completion of the Quadrennial Homeland Security Review in late 2009. Maintaining the status quo in the first year avoids unnecessary instability and confusion at a time of elevated risk. It also provides time for the new administration to consult with congressional leadership and build support for any major changes that may be contemplated within the QHSR process.”
It is noteworthy that several of the authors are likely involved with the Obama-Biden transition and so we may be reading a report being implemented in real time.