Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

April 24, 2009

Tom Finan to DHS Legislative Affairs

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on April 24, 2009

Late this morning Tom Finan announced that he will soon join the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Legislative Affairs as Senior Advisor for Intelligence, Analysis and Operations. For the last four years, Mr. Finan has served on the staff of the House Homeland Security Committee with particular responsibility for the subcommittee on Intelligence, Information Sharing, and Terrorism Risk Assessment.

During Mr. Finan’s tenure with the House committee he has come to be widely recognized as a careful, courageous, and even Solomonic advocate of essential liberty and effective security.  The issues are treacherous, but Mr. Finan has applied a keen intelligence, political pragmatism, and the ability to listen across boundaries and prejudices that too often impede policy-making.

Among state and local law enforcement Mr. Finan has earned real respect.  A few months ago I was with a group of California police and sheriffs who seemed on the edge of literally singing his praises.  In an email announcing the shift, Mr. Finan writes, “I look forward to helping make the Department an even better partner for its State, local, tribal, and private sector partners in the years ahead.”

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Comment by William R. Cumming

April 24, 2009 @ 1:54 pm

Okay now give Phil a taste of why 1/2 of FEMA slept better on and after October 1st, 1999 (when I retired)and 1/2 slept worst. What is this job? No legislation has been sent forwarded by DHS on its intelligence, analysis and ops since March 1, 2003 to my knowledge! Or is this the person who will collect comments to send to OMB from within DHS relating to bills that may relate to those areas? Not quite sure of the position whatever the qualities of the incumbent. Since also to my knowledge in addtion to NOT getting out any authorization bill for DHS since it was formed, the House Committee unless a collateral referral (probably not)and this subcommittee did not do much (maybe after January 3, 2006) on Intel, Information Sharing and Risk Assessment. Cue me in Phil as what is really going on here or do the DEMS plan to send major legislation from DHS through OMB approved by all the other players in the arena outwardly designated above? Also I thought the DHS/OGC had the official legislative commenting function in DHS? Hill staff is typically underpaid and overworked. Was Mr. Finan Committee staff or member’s staff? Hey,not just being facetious,I view the failure of FEMA to propose almost any substantive legislation in the 20 years I worked there one of its major failures, not even technical corrections. At least two Directors firmly believed they would lose not gain authority if Congress ever looked closely at Reorganization Plan No. 3 of 1978 (had the force and effect of statute once adopted)and some of the dozen or more Executive Order assignments. In fact Congress repealed and EXECUTIVE ORDER once assigning the Strategic Defense Stockpile Policy function to FEMA in the Reorg Plan when in September 1979 it revoked the Executive Order assigning the Stockpile Policy Function to FEMA (it had been with GSA) and sure enough President Reagan assigned the whole stockpile program to DOD with facility management left again in GSA. So much for EXECUTIVE ORDERS being sacrosanct. Hey is there a list somewhere of the subcommittee’s accomplishments?
Clue me in? By the way twice I sent letters to DHS and also to the key Senate and House Committees asking for a Tribal Affairs Office to be established in DHS. Also tried for 20 years in FEMA. The Native Americans could be huge players in EM. With training and competency, just like they help fight wildland fires, they could have a great mission and be a huge help and not just a claimant for federal resources but stand on their own. GSA for example did have the countries principal dosimetery factory on a reservation in Rolla, N.D.

Comment by Philip J. Palin

April 24, 2009 @ 3:49 pm


I will take your bait or at least nibble at it. First I will offer that Mr. Finan’s role, as I understand it, is with DHS Legislative Affairs, not with FEMA-proper. So I have an excuse not to address those particular concerns and, besides, cannot question the judgments you have outlined in regard to FEMA.

Each year there is an amazing collection of Congressional actions and proposed actions that touch on the DHS intelligence role, the role of DHS in the national intelligence community, and the role of intelligence at the state and local level. As we have seen — and you have posted about — one legislative action can at times conflict with another legislative action. Legislative gaps are ignored or such gaps can be created.

I don’t know and should not pretend to know precisely how Mr. Finan’s new job will be structured. Based on my experience in these contexts, it may not even be — probably is not — clear to him yet.

But I will offer this, over the last five years I have seen an increasingly harried and hassled DHS staff become deeply defensive in dealing with Congress. They were so often battered in their dealings with the Hill, many staff just took cover. There were too many committees asking for too much and DHS staff were often slow, tentative, and uncoordinated in their response to legislative inquiries. It was painful to watch. It must have been much worse to experience.

What impresses me of many DHS appointments is the experience, competence, and energy of the nominees and appointees (at least the ones I have some reason to know). Tom Finan will work with and respect ACLU leadership. He will also work with and respect the Major City Chiefs and the Sheriffs. He respects and is respected by many of the top players in intelligence. Tom will engage his former colleagues on the Hill. He will respond quickly to their legitimate requests and he will probably be effective on calling their unreasonable requests. He is a professional. He has the legal smarts, domain expertise, political perspective, and personal connections to make the system work as it is supposed to work. In this way Mr. Finan is an example of a “certain type” that is being appointed by this administration.

In other posts you have bemoaned a tendency to “govern by press release.” I agree. This dysfunction has many origins, but one of the causes has been the legal and political inexperience of too many political appointees going back several administrations. I also know you advocate seriously reducing the number of political appointees. I would certainly agree if they continue to demonstrate the amateurish behavior of many (not all) recent appointees that I observed in DHS.

But — and it is an important but — when an administration appoints serious, knowledgable, proactive, and politically experienced individuals to key posts, that political experience can be the salt that makes the meat of substantive policy-making fulfill its potential. I am sure this administration will have its share of losers. But so far I am impressed with the quality of those they are appointing. I also appreciate — and am even a bit surprised — by the willingness of some top-notch men and women to take some arduous assignments for which they will receive very little thanks and a great deal of grief.

Not sure if I have responded, but at least you know I tried.


Comment by William R. Cumming

April 25, 2009 @ 7:39 am

Great answer and agree with most of your posts. What I find interesting is that “in general” newly established Executive Branch organizations need articulate spokespersons who can carefully explain and lay out to Congress their missions and goals and why they are important. You argue too many hill opportunities making DHS defensive legislatively. While I would argue for even more oversight and getting a grip on the Department by making decisions on priorities, missions, and goals and not letting each appointee struggle with definition of their job. In fact I have long advocated position descriptions even for appointees since I have seen too much Executive Branch slight of hand where once confirmed the appointee was given some other job, these even extends to PAS appointees. One of the reason that STATE and DOD and DOJ are relatively successful as organizations is that MOST (although clearly not all) appointees know the job they are being given. Just out of curiousity who are the articulate spokepersons before Congress now for DHS? The Secretary I believe has testified only once since confirmed before a Committee! Is this too onerous given her time on board? Why did Senator Lieberman feel that this ‘Note’ was even necessary? Hey he might be a short-timer in the long run of things.

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