Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

April 3, 2009

Prediction: Homeland Security Council will survive

Filed under: Organizational Issues — by Philip J. Palin on April 3, 2009

Later this month – probably around April 24 – draft recommendations called-for in Presidential Study Directive 1 will circulate within the West Wing.  For what it is worth (and you are urged not to place bets), I expect the Homeland Security Council and some sort of related staff will remain in place.

The HSC will persist because:

  • It is hard to undo something that has been created in law,
  • Powerful players have sent strong signals that abolition of the HSC is unwelcome,
  • Abolishing the HSC will – unfairly and often disingenuously – be used to question the counterterrorism credibility of the new administration,  and
  • There are substantive reasons to intellectually and organizationally reflect meaningful distinctions in the management of homeland security within the broader spheres of national security and domestic policy development.

I also expect we will see more explicit – and simply more – organizational and personnel cross-cutting between the NSC and HSC — and potentially with the Domestic Policy Council and other elements in the Executive Office of the President.   These adjustments are much needed to address a legacy of fractionalized policy and strategy development.

My evidence for this prediction is modest.  But even while in the mood for  making wild predictions, I cannot read the bureaucratic chicken bones sufficiently to predict the future real role of the HSC. 

When all is said and done the principal motivation of those pushing for HSC integration with the NSC is to ensure top-priority attention to the counterterrorism mission. As motivations go, this  is plenty admirable.  Further – and less admirably – the CT mission is seen primarily as a federal operation. The need to buy-off or buy-in state and local partners is – it seems to me – grudgingly acknowledged.  But the complications of hurricanes, earthquakes, floods, wildfires, and pesky issues related to the Tenth Amendment can easily be seen as distractions to dealing more efficiently with the very clear and present risk of catastrophic terrorism.

Effective policy and strategy requires making tough choices and triaging  priorities.  There are always too many potential priorities.  To fail to choose is to invite strategic failure.  I have no doubt in the good faith of those wanting to ensure  we give counterterrorism the priority it requires.

But in this case the efficient choice may not be the effective choice. 

Management reorganizations are usually focused on efficiency.  We seek to maximize the opportunity for rational and rapid decision-making.  Sometimes rational and rapid are in tension with tried and true.

Networks are messy and complicated.  Networks – like our patchwork of private, local, state, and federal authority – can resist quick change.  This is because networks are inherently resilient… which may be a helpful feature when under attack.   Each bit of the network essentially volunteers to connect or not to other elements of the network.

Networks can also demonstrate amazingly rapid change.   The cause of this “tipping point” behavior can be mysterious.  Some observe that networked systems rapidly reorganize around strange attractors of meaning.  There is a technical meaning to this term.   But I don’t think it stretches the definition too far to suggest that what we may need from the White House in terms of homeland security is not so much efficient management as effective communication of meaning.  There are other sources of management, but without clearly communicated – and voluntarily adopted – meaning, the most efficient managers will be frustrated.

Which, perhaps, returns us to Congressman Cleaver’s question about churches and my answer about seminaries.  Please see yesterday’s post immediately below.

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1 Comment »

Comment by William R. Cumming

April 3, 2009 @ 9:41 am

Respectfully disagree with your prognoses! HSC will disappear and effectively already has. Dual hats of Brennan indicate that OBAMA administration would have done so initially if HSC did not have some statutory support. Just as the HSC was mentioned in an approps bill (no DHS authorization bill has even passed Congress and won’t happen in this Congress either)the HSC will disappear in one of this years approps bill as having a statutory basis. Nothing is worse that Congress designing White House office arrangements. But what should be capture is a highly technically and extensive review of what HSC did during its time and an analysis of that effort. Its report on Katrina response was useful even if it pulled punches. The lessons of Katrina start with the establishment of a domestic civil crisis management system and chain of command and of course that has never been done.

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