Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

September 10, 2009

WaPo VoPo: JaNo

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on September 10, 2009


Janet Napolitano, Secretary of Homeland Security, photograph by Alex Wong, Getty

The Washington Post’s Voices of Power series has interviewed Janet Napolitano.  Today’s online coverage includes a transcript of the full interview conducted by Lois Romano.

Mostly the usual questions elicit the expected answers.  But the Secretary’s answers do tend to be more pointed and practical than those of her predecessors. 

There is also a marked tendency for her to answer what is asked and nothing more.  I notice alot of prosecutors and former prosecutors display a similar reticence.   I would expect this of the defense, but most defense attorney’s I know will just keep talking and talking.

Not Secretary Napolitano.  For example,

MS. ROMANO: Another report that came out of Congress recently said–concluded that the world is at greater risk for a biological weapon for mass destruction than it is for nuclear; do you agree with that?

SECRETARY NAPOLITANO: I think you can’t prioritize in that way.


SECRETARY NAPOLITANO: I think what you have to say is both are known risks and both are things that we need to defend against.

Unfortunately there was no further follow-up, not even another “Okay.”  It sounds like the Secretary may be applying an interesting decision  framework. I would  welcome knowing about that framework… especially in an interview transcript buried on the website.  If you can’t go into depth here, I don’t know where it is possible.

Another interesting fragment, this one got the headline writer’s attention:

MS. ROMANO: What keeps you up at night? When you are laying in bed, what are the things that worry you?

SECRETARY NAPOLITANO: Well, as I said earlier, you can’t eliminate all risk, and so, try to think of ways that we can work even better, more efficiently–whatever–to reduce risk. It is something that–not just me but everybody in this Department is always thinking about.

I think another thing that concerns me is complacency, the fact that it has been eight years almost now since 9/11 and people just assume the government is going to take care of that.  Well, the government can do many things, and we are, but again, safety, security–a shared responsibility.

So the story headline is Security is a Shared Responsibility, Napolitano Says.  I agree, in general.   But what does the Secretary mean in particular?   Once again no follow-up. 

There’s lots more on emergency preparedness, immigration, and H1N1, but I don’t think any regular reader of The Watch will find anything new.  That’s a shame.  I expect the Secretary would have welcomed the questions.

September 11 Update

Early this morning the Secretary released the following statement (in its entirety):

On the eighth anniversary of the terrorist attacks of September 11, our nation pauses to remember a day of sorrow and tragedy, but also a day of heroism and unity. Eight years later, threats to the United States and our allies abroad are persistent and evolving. Homeland security remains a responsibility shared by every individual, community and business. Together, we must build a culture of resiliency and guard against complacency, so we are better prepared for terrorist attacks or disasters of any kind. The President has proclaimed September 11 as a day of remembrance, and also a day of service. By serving our communities and our country today and throughout the year, we commemorate our past while also preparing for our future.

The bold highlight is my own work. If I was of my father’s generation I might have been a Kremlinologist, if of my grandfather’s generation an Old Testament exegete, but to me the shift from the long-abiding (if never achieved) “culture of preparedness” to this “culture of resiliency” is worth special note and is very welcome. 

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Comment by William R. Cumming

September 10, 2009 @ 11:05 pm

Admittedly served as a lawyer not a program manager, but during my time in helping create FEMA and administer laws and Executive Directives assigning functions to FEMA, I saw FEMA largely as a highly qualified technical, legal, scientific agency providing assistance through mitigation and brain power to help prevent disasters and their destruction of people and property all within the framework provided by the Constitution and Congress. What actually occurred was largely an undisciplined economic stimulus program politically charged that by failing to hold to account those responsible for unwise development and failure to mitigate known hazards, an agency and system that to some degree made the situation worse than one that made individuals and organizations and governments responsible for their errors as opposed to the general public fisc. As stated elsewhere when I report to FEMA in September 1979 (I had essentially run the HUD legal office for the programs in FEMA since April 1st, 2009 including assumption of all litigation from the former NFIA [National Flood Insurers Association which had been terminated to save the NFIP money effective January 1, 1978] there were over 200 PhDs in various disciplines in FEMA. When I retired in October 1999 there were less than 50! Mitigation is highly technical and so is certain of FEMA’s National Security and HAZMATS portfolio. But the bulk of the effort and staff is devoted not to prevention and mitigation but distributing money as fast as possible without guarantees that it will accomplish anything more that making the next disaster worse. FEW members of Congress understand that they through political pressure to get out disaster funds actually are making the situation worse for their constitutents. Either they think the next event won’t be on their watch, they don’t care, or worse just don’t understand what they are doing. Yes accountability and responsibility should be precise and shared equally among many but the demise of FEMA’s technical competence is alarming. Even the new arbitration board for the Public Assistance Grants in the Gulf Coast is going to be staffed by Board of Contract Appeal Judges not Grant Appeal Judges. They are very different legal systems under federal law. Good luck, Madam Secretary, in making sure that proper “Sharing” occurs.

Comment by William R. Cumming

September 10, 2009 @ 11:07 pm

Corection above comment should have read April 1, 1979!

Comment by William R. Cumming

September 11, 2009 @ 7:01 am

Certainly it is not defeatism to stress resiliency and much much more needs doing. Preparedness to me is capability. Meaning personnel, funding, logistics, planning, exercising, verification of resources and systems to surge them beyond planning basis, and of course effective leadership and other related command and control but also information sharing and disclosure. Not really top down in my opinion to build a resilient nation but in fact all sectors and all governments have to do more to build the necessary resiliency. No reason why basic first aid could not be taught to all 9th graders. No reason all should not be taught how to swim. No reason all should not be taught how to prepare themselves and families for grid failures and slow response. No reason that DHS cannot organize its many cultures and from them teach key elements to themselves and others. Recognition of all that helps the building blocks to resilience, the FIRE SERVICE, Public Safety, Educators doing more to protect themselves, learn and conduct more resiliency audits of themselves and others and also fostering private efforts. There is a lot of wasted time in American Society. Perhaps PBS and NPR could devote 1 hour or more per week to resiliency topics. Part of it starts with disclosure and the MSM loves a high interest event where failures are evident. Perhaps they could do stories on what succeeds occassionally or where the good fight for mitigation is being fought, or even more important help to fully disclose hazards and risks to population and property. Hey all of this is not easy but needs doing to make our (US) society more resilient. Interenting shift though in semantics of the Secretary DHS from “Prevention” to “Resiliency.” The whole point to me is to make the sum stronger than the sum of its parts. Hoping for success.

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