Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

June 5, 2009

Resilience Policy Directorate: some further (not yet final) considerations

Filed under: Organizational Issues,Strategy — by Philip J. Palin on June 5, 2009

I received several private communications regarding yesterday’s “dinner” with Mr. Brennan.   The most critical comments assailed my attention to Mr. Sunstein rather than nominating State, local, tribal, or private sector professionals to the new Directorate.

Three reactions. 

First, the appointment of such individuals is nearly a foregone conclusion.  If Mr. Brennan asked for my nominations, I would be happy to provide some names. In fact, in the real world, I have been pushing one local leader.  Otherwise, if the sale has been made don’t waste time, move on.  How do you know what I might have said over dessert?

Second, putting the “right people” in place is never enough.  This is the most common error that managers and policymakers  make.  Someone I trust inside the process has said there is still the need for “policy direction.”  Right now the Resilience Policy Directorate is mostly a box in which to insert stakeholder — or functional — representatives.  There is a need to frame a reasonably clear “why and what” for the RPD.  I have argued — with others — that complex systems organize around meaning.  What is the meaning of resilience? 

Third, we have not answered the question of meaning.  I believe the Brits abetted by Cass Sunstein point us toward a helpful answer.  But as our discussion has exposed we are far from a meaningful consensus or even a simple modus operandi.

(Defensive interlude:  I, too, believe — profoundly — in emergence. But the reality of emergence should not be used as an excuse for intellectual laziness.  Our analyses will only be proximate and we should always recognize our limitations.  But we may speed and even shape emergence with the rigor of our analysis and the power of our creativity. We can contribute to helpful outcomes even when our specific input fails to fulfill our intent.)

Others have written they are preparing comments on resilience and/or the RPD.  Great.  If you are looking for an outcome beyond an interesting bloggy exchange, I suggest getting your comments into the conversation earlier instead of later.

I assume that when individuals write me privately, instead of making public comments,  they have ethical or political problems being identified with what they offer.  Yesterday someone I do not know sent along the following factual information.  The fact is helpful.  The contributor’s analysis is acute:

Avid reader of your blog. FYI, useful addition to the discussion is
that Resilience is defined in the DHS Lexicon as:

“Ability of systems, infrastructures, government, business, and
citizenry to resist, absorb, recover from, or adapt to an adverse
occurrence that may cause harm, destruction, or loss of national
significance .”


Note, DHS continues to see resilience as subordinate to ‘risk’ and an
aspect of ‘vulnerability’, vice recognizing it as the super-ordinate
organizing philosophy laying above risk management. Still, a useful
working definition.

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Comment by William R. Cumming

June 5, 2009 @ 7:17 am

Actually think Cass Sustein was an interesting choice by you given his deep knowlege of the limits and costs and benefits of regulation.
My problem is that the basic divide is whether “resilience” is a top-down function or bottom up. I believe the latter. Citizenry, businesses, governments all need help in identification of what is critical but then as systems and processes and physical changes occur resiliency needs to be built in. I think adding people from the Standards setting private voluntary (maybe not so voluntary) groups would be useful. Example people familiar with development and operations of OASIS! Plenty of work to go around.

Comment by Mark Chubb

June 5, 2009 @ 11:21 am

I think even Sunstein would admits that there are very real limits to the application of benefit-cost assessment to policy analysis. His argument has been limited primarily to regulatory affairs, and suggests that BCA provides an important reality-check against knee-jerk responses. In other areas of policy, BCA can prove helpful not because it demonstrates the value of a proposal (for better or worse), but precisely because it forces policy analysts and policy-makers to ask value questions. Not the least of these is whether or not the values in play, especially those most important to an outcome, are realistically much less readily monetizable.

Many homeland security dilemmas illustrate the importance of paying close attention not only to what we should do (which often reflects the focus of HLS policy debates), but also how we should do it. The Obama Administration seems to understand this implicitly as illustrated by the ways in which they have chosen to deploy soft power.

As far as resilience is concerned, “how” is as much a part of the argument as “what”. You seem to be saying, and I agree wholeheartedly, that we need to stop paying lip service to preparedness by focusing so heavily on response, and show that we really understand and value a comprehensive approach.

Comment by William R. Cumming

June 6, 2009 @ 6:17 am

To me preparedness, prevention, mitigation, and resilience are different facets of the same lodestone!

All are to some degree misdirected and underfunded or overfunded depending on your point of view.

I am firmly now of the belief after a life time of work in the field that where land use decisions are involved there is too much inherent corruption and lack of professional expertise in allowing local governments to make land use decisions, in particular those of occupancy of sensitive areas, without eith some sort of STATE level oversight or standards. We have tried local land use controls and they have failed to mitigate the time bought by such federal programs as the NFIP (National Flood Insurance Program) which would have done better not spending over $3 Billion on maps but instead done what Howard Kunreuther of Wharton School initially susggested offer free flood insurance throughout the nation, nor more free diaster relief, and as each structure was damaged applied a new premium based on the actual cost nationwide of losses and as they increased the premium would have increased. The 40 year experiment in allowing federal flood maps to be gamed and no real compliance at the local level has resulted in complete disaster. Other arenas could draw similiar comments. For example, local policing standards are often non-existent. Fire Service has fallen behind in technologic approaches. Public Safety standards and training in general are atrocious. The problem is the STATE level is worse, and the feds are also way behind where they should be. Time to end amatuer night and total reliance on a “free market” that now has us broke and not very safe.

I know some want to covert the armed forces to SYSADMINISTRATION but I would argue that needs to be somewhere else. Let them (the Armed Forces) focus on armed violence and what is needed of a Leviathan Force (a bow to Thomas P.M. Barnett)!

This resilience effort really is key step to even preserving our Federal system and will try and explain more fully my thought process overtime.

And thanks Mark for great comment! Very helpful to my understanding of this delimmna!

Comment by Philip J. Palin

June 6, 2009 @ 10:10 am

I had not really thought through your distinction of what and how. But, yes, this strikes me as a good way of discussing the issue. I probably read Sunstein with an eccentric bias. I have no confidence in quantitative means of measuring the complex phenomena that are most important in homeland security. Yet I have found it to be very helpful to utilize quantitative means of analysis to inform, enrich, and challenge individual and especially social measurement of complex phenomena. Benefit/Cost, Threat-Vulnerability-Consequence-Risk formulae, Delphi Processes, Multivariate Analysis… choose your poison, I am all for it as a disciplined input to making a considered judgment. The “how” that makes most sense to me is the old-fashioned — and very difficult — process of neighbors meeting with neighbors to talk through and make tough choices they are willing to live with. The Brits have developed an institutionalized process for encouraging this. I think Sunstein is helpful in encouraging modest and very targeted policy interventions that push free-agents to be more self-aware in pursuing their enlightened self-interest.

Comment by Mark Chubb

June 7, 2009 @ 12:54 am

Philip and William, thanks for the kind remarks about my feedback. Like, William, I have grown increasingly concerned about the direction taken by state and local officials, but I am not so sure more federalism is the solution. I’m no Jeffersonian though.

The problems I see at a local level have their origins, at least in part, in the expression of the enlightened self-interest to which Philip refers at the end of his post. As the federal government has increasingly expressed its domestic homeland security preferences through grant appropriations aimed at local “preparedness,” their behavior has produced the self-fulfilling prophecy that these sorts of interventions assume motivates local officials in the first place.

Contrary to this assumption, it has been my experience that a good proportion of our local public safety professionals start their careers with more altruistic motivations. They don’t mind collecting a paycheck, and have come to expect that it will be a good and secure one, but that does not mean their own interests dominate their decision-making. Altruistic motivations and high ideals in and of themselves don’t often produce success in the way we often like to measure it (e.g., arrests made, serious crimes reported, etc.), but they’re still what motivates a good many of these men and women to stick with the jobs they do.

This gets at the heart of my earlier post. I agree with Philip’s observations about quantitative methods. I too am no particular fan of their use evaluating qualitative aspects of securing the peace (the heart of what I referred to as the “how” element: how do you measure justice for instance?), but I have found that the result of asking people to pause and consider whether they can value outcomes and, if so, how (which always precedes how much), forces them to ask broader questions of value that get to the crux of the value conflicts that infest the thorniest homeland security dilemmas.

The recent debate (if we can rightly call it one) between President Obama and Vice President Cheney concerning the value of “harsh” or “enhanced” interrogation techniques, whichever one prefers, has finally raised questions about the value of any information obtained when measured not only against the harm it is said to have prevented but also the harm inflected upon us within our alliances and among our adversaries alike as a result of revelations about the use of these tactics. If these sorts of questions had been asked before the fact, not after, we might well have avoided some of the consequences we now face. It remains possible we might not as well, but I am one of those high-minded homeland security professionals who still cling to the altruistic notion that public safety professionals are motivated as much by their ideals as their own self-interest.

Comment by Philip J. Palin

June 7, 2009 @ 6:14 am

In graduate school my Marxist classmates — it was the 70s after-all — gave me the nickname “Jefferson.” It was intended as a criticism. I have always taken it as a compliment.

I am “Jeffersonian” in my sense of how smaller and authentic communities can make decisions. All these years later I continue to perceive that it is only within some sort of community that decisions are really made and have effect. Without a community-of-interest what is called decisionmaking is usually just the movement of shadows, a kind of dance that has no actual effect.

I am post-Jeffersonian, however, in my sense of how communities can arise. In my experience what is fundamental to community is a sense of authentic human relationship. As long as the group, however it arises, comes to experience what Buber would recognize as an I-Thou relationship as opposed to an I-It relationship there is the potential for community and, within community, the potential for real decision-making.

In my experience it is too easy for us to objectify the “other.” The federal official objectifies the state official as parochial. The state official objectifies the fed as arrogant. And — unfortunately — each too often plays to expectations. But when humans find the courage to be vulnerable with one another, listen to one another, share their doubts, and engage the reality of the other… then the stereotypes usually (not always) break down and we find a common ground for struggling with issues we all recognize are not well-suited to the standard algorithms of CYA, turf protection, and rice-bowling.

Comment by William R. Cumming

June 7, 2009 @ 11:26 am

Why is there so little federalism analysis that looks at the original Constitutional design and then compares that against who can do what the best? Meaning capability even before augmentation by new funding, staffing, or whatever?

Example, I would argue Food Safety given interstate commerce is clearly a federal regulatory public health responsibility? Is there agreement, disagreement, and what arguments can be made on both sides. The new FDA Commissioner says food safety is a public health issue not something else. I agree, do others and if so why or why not?

K-12 education? Primarily a local responsibity? If so why or why not?

So back to Homeland Security? It was long assumed by Congress that DOD had on the shelf, systems, processes, and equipment to protect the troops from CBRNE attack! Well the past two decades has proved conclusively that was not the case and that in fact DOD has had trouble developing that capability, the TSWG notwithstanding. So it was not really a case of tech transfer to STATE and LOCAL public safety because nothing to really transfer. LOOK how bad the MOP suits were in Desert Storm. IN fact an entirely new applied research community needed to develop the protective gear and systems. ONly now is that coming on board. Hey, as a draftee I was told dig a slit trench and pull poncho over you to survive not just fallout but heat and blast from NUDET? We all live with fictions. My sense is that we just need to make sure that reality occasionally intervenes.

Comment by Mark Chubb

June 8, 2009 @ 12:17 am

Phil, once again, you’ve captured the essence of what I was trying to say when I denied being a Jeffersonian. Authentic community and genuine dialog are what I am after, and how I think we’re best to apply the principle of subsidiarity when it comes to the questions we’re grappling with in this thread.

Most of the dilemmas we’re discussing, like those raised in William’s reply, raise issues for each level of government and at the various levels with the bureaucracies of each. We cannot assume that it is the province of one or another to decide for all how best to deal with such situations. By the same token, we all know how counterproductive management by committee can be.

The antidote to the problems with each of these alternative responses then must be some sort of collaborative approach (with shared responsibility and collective accountability) founded on a common understanding both of what’s at stake and what we hope to achieve. We might know we are building something that either looks like or will lead to resilience when we see principals looking not for someone to blame or control but for someone to work with.

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