Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

April 6, 2010

Does the nation need a national level exercise program?

Filed under: Preparedness and Response — by Christopher Bellavita on April 6, 2010

Imagine a 7.8 Richter Scale earthquake near St. Louis, MO, on the New Madrid fault line.  Assume the earthquake causes extreme damage in 8 states along the Mississippi River.  This includes over 89,000 dead, nearly half a million people injured, more than 5 million people homeless, loss of numerous bridges crossing the Mississippi, as well as destruction of major oil, gasoline, and natural gas pipelines that serve much of the Eastern Seaboard.

One might think this high consequence (low probability or high probability — take your pick) event would make a natural subject for a national level homeland security exercise.

Maybe not.

Perhaps there are some extreme homeland security events — call them catastrophes —  where the value of exercising top officials is more symbolic than sensible.


The Vacation Lane Blog — written by William Cumming (a frequent writer in hlswatch) — began its internet life on Saturday with commentary about the postponement of the national level exercise program.

Cumming argues in “The Sinews of Preparedness,”

… this Administration, like all before it, fails to understand that the sinews of preparedness are built with exercises, from table tops to full scale exercises, and with the personnel including appointees that will actually be called on to run the civil domestic crisis management system or be in the chain of command for civil crisis events. Failure to be prepared only makes it more likely that military dominated organizations, which tend to ad hoc despite extraordinary funding, will drive the crisis response with huge implications for the civil sector and federalism.” [my emphasis]

On its face, the author’s recommendation seems sensible: training and exercises will make for a more effective response when something real happens.

Why should anyone believe that claim?

Aristotle said, “Excellence is an art won by training and habituation. We do not act rightly because we have virtue or excellence, but we rather have those because we have acted rightly. We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit.”

One need look no further for evidence about the correctness of this belief than the professional experiences of police, fire fighters, emergency medical professionals, emergency managers, and other responders.

The lessons from Aristotle, Mr. Cumming, and first responder experiences may be true for “normal” disasters — earthquakes, hurricanes, fires, floods, tornadoes, and so on.

I wonder if that truth about exercise has much value when it comes to getting “top officials” ready for catastrophes.


For FEMA/DHS, a catastrophe is any incident “that results in extraordinary levels of mass casualties, damage, or disruption severely affecting the population, infrastructure, environment, economy, national morale, and/or government functions.”

Catastrophes, as a colleague has written “are the nightmare scenarios that can bring the nation to its knees.”

There do not appear to have been that many catastrophes in the past half century of our history.

The colleague I just mentioned recently completed a study of the federal part of the post 9/11 emergency planning and response system.  As a tangential part of his work, he noted there have been around 1900 presidential disaster declarations since 1953.  He found only four of the 1900 events were (definitional) catastrophes: Three Mile Island, and Hurricanes Hugo, Andrew and Katrina.

You might add a few more to his list — like 9/11/01 in New York City, Arlington, and Shanksville.  But the number of catastrophes remains small.

My colleague found that federal agencies played major “supporting” roles in all of those catastrophes. But governors — maybe a mayor or two — always retained control of what was going on in their jurisdictions.

It’s my understanding (aided by experiences with early versions of TOPOFF) that national level exercises have some play for state and local officials, but for the most part, the general intention of the exercises is to:

Support U.S. Government Officers’ preparation for managing national crises, and accountability of those who support them.

I have no idea what role training and exercising state, city, or federal officials — especially political officials — played in successful or unsuccessful catastrophic response.  I’ve looked for data that sheds light on the utility of exercising for catastrophes, but so far I’ve come up largely empty.  (There is the 2004 “Hurricane Pam” exercise example for New Orleans, of course.  But that mostly suggests preparedness requires something more than exercises.)

My understanding is the average tenure for a federal political appointee — a top official — is between 18 months and 2 years.   How does one train and exercise federal appointed and elected officials for an incident where  there are “over 89,000 dead, nearly half a million people injured, more than 5 million people homeless?”

Is there any evidence that justifies spending money on those officials for such training and exercises?

Since 2005, the federal government has spent more than 200 million dollars on national level exercises.  Have those expenditures come anywhere close to providing commensurate benefits?  If those data are not available, could the 200 million have been spent on some other homeland security-related activities, including local exercises, that might have increased the nation’s preparedness?

I suspect those are largely rhetorical questions, lost somewhere inside the conventional wisdom that worships any homeland security training and exercise as an unquestioningly good thing.


One of the homeland security goals described in the Quadrennial Homeland Security Review is to:

Foster Innovative Approaches and Solutions Through Leading-Edge Science and Technology: Ensure scientifically informed analysis and decisions are coupled to innovative and effective technological solutions.

I like the sound of that goal.  It says science matters.

I like the objectives of the goal even more:

  • Scientifically study threats and vulnerabilities: Pursue a rigorous scientific understanding of current and future threats to homeland security and the possible means to their prevention and mitigation.
  • Develop innovative approaches and effective solutions: Encourage and enable innovative approaches

Both objectives suggest we should look to science to validate our prevention and mitigation efforts, and to lead the nation toward new ways to think about what we do under the banner of homeland security.


The National Exercise Program is a process technology, intended to prepare mostly federal leaders for catastrophic events.   I wonder if there is any science undergirding that exercise program technology.

The national exercise program has been described recently as “unrealistic, costly, and overscripted productions … an ‘elaborate game’’ rather than opportunities for officials to work through problems.”

I have personal anecdotes from TOPOFF 1, 2 and 3 that support the accuracy of those views , at least for the early days of the exercise program.  I’ve also heard that — like many things in homeland security — they have become better over time.

I am not arguing against a national exercise program.  I do think, however, it makes sense to ask about the “science” (in whatever sense one wishes to use that term) that supports the benefit of national level exercises.

I think it is fair to ask whether there are better uses for the money allocated to national exercises.

My internet colleague William Cumming is worried that the

Failure to be prepared only makes it more likely that military dominated organizations, which tend to ad hoc despite extraordinary funding, will drive the crisis response with huge implications for the civil sector and federalism.

If true catastrophes are as rare as the data suggests, perhaps there is logic in purposively integrating the “military dominated organizations” into civilian catastrophic planning.

If a catastrophe is an event that can bring the nation to its knees, we might want to make sure the military is ready to help out.

It’s my understanding they are on the same side as the rest of us.


[The paragraph that starts this post is from slides developed by  Dr. Rick Bissell, Department of Emergency Health Services, University of Maryland, Baltimore County]


Usually the comments start in a different section of the blog.  Bill and I corresponded over the weekend about his “The Sinews of Preparedness,” post.  Here is the exchange we had:

Me to Bill: nice title.  i disagree with your claim and am writing something for homeland security watch about it now.  nice to see your own blog.


Bill to me: Hey disagreement is good. Of course no way I can remove the head of the messenger either.
Me to Bill: disagreement in a good way, of course.  i believe objectivity (and truth) do not reside in one person, but in the community of people who care about issues and who talk with each other about them.  i don’t think there is either science or experience to support the idea that national level exercises built on catastrophic scenarios are worth the money.  i think a catastrophe means all the rules change and people have to improvise around their existing relationships and expertise and experience.  i’d much rather have a no-notice national exercise (like Christine Wormuth and CSIS recommended – -among other people) than the security theater that TOPOFF turned into.  I can easily envision scenarios where the military will be our best option: e.g. —

Imagine a 7.8 Richter Scale earthquake near St. Louis, MO, on the New Madrid fault line.  Assume the earthquake causes extreme damage in 8 states along the Mississippi River.  This includes over 89,000 dead, nearly half a million people injured, more than 5 million people homeless, loss of numerous bridges crossing the Mississippi, as well as destruction of major oil, gasoline, and natural gas pipelines that serve much of the Eastern Seaboard.
Who is ever going to be “prepared” for that?  I think we need new rules that incorporates military — in support to civilian authority, maybe under national guard command — into the civilian apparatus.
I defer to your much more extensive experience with these issues than i have.  But I think science matters, and we only have claims about the value of national level exercises.  no real data (at least that i’m aware of)
Bill to me: Well certainly agree in the no-notice principal and that was statutorily mandated but never done for TOPOFF. Do hoping you post a substantially similar entry on the blog. Would be interested to see the comments. Since many exercises are classified or have classified elements probably difficult to be examined by outsiders. But the failure to have effective lessons learned systems and processes does largely waste the efforts.

Hey so you come down on the side of science and ad hockery! And here I thought science was built on reason and rationality. should have know we can just guess and by golly our way through catastrophes. It does seem to be the way DOD does things even though they want people to believe otherwise. Certain ad hoc solutions allow maximum political pressure to be asserted whatever with issues of equal protection, due process, or even just basic social justice.
Your argument speaks to the system as is and mine speaks to the system as I believe it should be.
Time will tell and render the verdict whatever.

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Comment by John Comiskey

April 6, 2010 @ 6:31 am

And we are now men, and must accept in the highest mind the same transcendent destiny; and not minors and invalids in a protected corner; not cowards fleeing before a revolution, but guides, redeemers and benefactors, obeying the Almighty effort and advancing on Chaos and the Dark.

–Ralph Waldo Emerson, Self-Reliance (1841)

A national emergency would evoke ad hoc responses from all sectors and what would likely be determined afterwards by the latest and greatest post-event commission an ineffective use of available resources and particularly federal resources.

A national level exercise would not be a cure-all. But, it might identify issues that could be rectified/mitigated prior to an actual event. The ultimate metric for such exercises should be how many problems were identified and what was done to ameliorate them. Finaly, all homeland security practicioners must understand that there is no one-fix but rather the cumulative efforts of the American people and its agencies that will respond and recover from whatever is thrown their way.

Comment by William R. Cumming

April 6, 2010 @ 7:09 am

Well Chris did the post and of course it is an excellent defense but not really of “Scientific rationalism” and “ad hockery”! His argument is much deeper and more reflective in many ways than mine.

Some history is instructive! The following words to my knowledge in my time were never bandied about FEMA from 1979 to 1999 ( my time in the saddle there)! They follow:
These are from the official Reorganization Plan No. 3 of 1978 and an Extract:

House Document No. 95-356
June 19, 1978
From first full paragraph on page 3:

“Third, whenever possible, emergency responsibilities should be extensions of the regular missions of Federal agencies. The primary task of the Federal Emergency Management Agency will be to coordinate and plan for the emergency deployment of resources that have other routine uses. There is no need to develop a separate set of Federal skills and capabilities for those rare occasions when catastrophe occurs.
[emphasis supplied]”

So this statutory mandate it could be argued meant during the time that plan was in effect [note some think it is now but it is not and was formally superseded by the Homeland Security Act of 2002 when enacted–and by the way the issue is of such significance that OLC/DOJ should weigh in on my conclusion and certainly Congress should hold oversight on the question] FEMA could not run exercises dealing with catastrophic events. This is a bit incongrous since FEMA had until 1994 the Federal Civil Defense Program created by Public Law 920 of the 81st Congress which at least theoretically was designed to allow up to 80% of the American citizery in a SIOP type nuclear attack. Whether that made sense in the face of a stratgic doctrine of MAD[Mutual Assured Destruction] which is still today the operating US strategic nuclear doctrine despite what some may think.

If I am correct that between April 1,1979 and March 1,2003 when FEMA was under Reorg Plan No.3 it could not plan for castastrophic events. Interestingly, despite what was done to FEMA post incorporation into DHS with loss of funding, positions, etc. etc. and even loss of developing the National Response Plan to elsewhere in DHS, I do compliment the George W. Bush Administration for taken on planning for catastrophic events. And by the way I define those events as not being based on money or resources but whether the impacted governmental units are unable to perform their role in the federal system.
What this comes down to though is to me relatively simple. Is FEMA a collaborative coordinative funding and information agency or is FEMA the safety net and to be blamed when other elements of the Executive Branch fail to do what they should in a castrophic situation? Or the Governors? Or the Mayors and Chief Executive Officers? Failure to resolve this question is at the heart of the failures in Chris’ identified catastrophes and imbedded in his post is the correct conclusion that this question cannot be decided by exercises, whether no notice or not. Between this conclusion and Chris’ analysis may seem to document the case against exercises. I am posting this comment first and then I will document some the history of exercises including TOPOFF which by the way was a statutory mandated series enacted into law by the heroic efforts of former Representative Chris Schayes (R) Representative from Connecticut.
So let’s see if others come to the defense of the exercise tool first and then I will have more comments.

And as to $200M this money was not wasted IMO! Even though no coherent lessons learned system was used for followup this preparedness expenditure is but a token compaqred to say the $45B wasted by DHS on IT systems since its establishment.
And if the test is governmental units that are inoperative as a definition of castastophe in my 45 years of EM I have evidence that it runs in the hundreds.

Comment by Dan O'Connor

April 6, 2010 @ 9:41 am

No, in its current construction, there is no need for a National Level Exercise (NLE)Program. Why? Until local, State, and Regional relationships are exercised and validated, the value of NLE’s are minimal at best.

Exercises are often too scripted and too artificial to validate a plan or operational template. As is often the case, the exercise designers are given fairly concise and contrived scenarios or such broad and over arching objectives that the exercise is an exercise in futility. I make this statement from experience, not simply observation.

Also, many get stuck into “gaming” the exercise, planning and preparing for the exercise scenario and not using the exercise for validating their respective plan. So annually, there is a surge to meet the exercise objectives in lieu of increasing capability.

On some level, our growing risk averse, no blame PC society/leadership does not want to be discovered and therefore much like group think, there is a acceptance avoidance quality to the exercise decision making. Notionally going through the motions creates an illusion of readiness. This faux resilience than creates an operational lethargy, thereby leaving the populace with unrealistic expectations. We have seen this time and time again.

An old adage I am familiar with is you inspect what you expect… if we are going to grow resilience, robust response, and a culture of readiness, the inspection process; validation, is a constant, never ending process with no beginning or end, but discovery, identification, resolution. Where this structure lies within the Government is perhaps a topic of another conversation.

Also, assuming that the Government will ride in and save the day is dangerous, inaccurate, and unfortunately, common. Invariably, this risk aversion has made us psychologically skittish and generally unprepared.

Exercises need to be as risky, envelope pushing, and as real as possible. They need to create a degree of discomfort and disharmony in all our routines in order to make us think. They also need to be progressive and growing in complexity. Is our readiness limited to our resources or our imagination?

Understanding that these interruptions cost industry and small businesses also must be taken into consideration. On some level, exercises cost them several times. Nevertheless, the economic impact pales in comparison in the event of a real event. If we are not prepared to do it right the first time, what are we prepared to do to repair it?

I am not naïve to the pain a good exercise program brings. Readiness and resilience must permeate our National awareness like never before. Combined with the variety of threats we face, our economic independence is basically gone and in this terse fiscal environment, our best response to the next crisis must be a resilient one.

So, do we need a NLE? Yes, if we want to maintain our National imperatives and desires. No, if its some political, check in the box machination that avoids our vulnerabilities.

Perhaps tying validation to grant allocation is a solution. Perhaps a re calibration of expectations must also take place. If all politics are local, so then is response. Until we create that culture of awareness and resilience, having broad, overarching and often contrived requirements will thwart, not inspire the kind of response necessary and quite frankly expected Nationally.

Comment by William R. Cumming

April 6, 2010 @ 10:02 am

Good comment DAN! A quick note. Only one federal regulatory activity mandates periodic exercises. The NRC at 10 CFR Part 50, Appendix E and FEMA jointly at 44 CFR Part 350-351. I am sure there are others and if so would like to know about them. FEMA did research several times and found that communities and states with so-called REP [radiological emergency preparedness] exercises did better in real world events.
of further interest it the use of the word “verify” in Appendix E. This is a very high standard but then how do you verify capabilities? Most response needs to happen 24/7/365 for unplanned events. What is interesting is how few organizations staff for more than 5 days of 24/7 ops. Hey hoping for more comments?

Comment by Philip J. Palin

April 6, 2010 @ 4:12 pm

Chris offers a quote ascribed to Aristotle. I will offer an Aristotelian argument regarding the NLEs and many other exercises.

To truly and fully exercise is excellent. Exercises, well designed and realistically carried out, are the best means we have to engage our thinking, planning, and mechanisms for any prospective event, even moreso for catastrophe.

But if there is an excess of predictability or a deficiency of randomness, the exercise will not be realistic and will not achieve its true function.

No notice exercises have a role to play, but they are no panacea. Abject failure is seldom the best motivator for learning. In dealing with a true catastrophe such failure is likely. At a certain level systems failure may even need to be a planning assumption.

The issue is to design and conduct with the Golden Mean (or if you prefer, Goldilocks) in mind. The exercise cannot be too hot nor too cold.

Aristotle would be sympathetic to Chris’ critique of the current explicit purpose of the NLE. As he sets out so well, it is state and local officials that in most cases need to be in the lead. Bad purposes – unrealistic purposes – produce bad results.

But, here too, we should not be too quick to choose one extreme or the other.

Two weeks ago I was leading a risk assessment somewhere in Southern California. A team of locals identified the following scenario as being a high-consequence, low likelihood event: A 7.2 or higher earthquake hits the San Diego/Tijuana metroplex. Thousands of crush injury victims and other evacuees begin to move from south to north. Haiti was clearly on their mind.

Very interesting scenario for a federal role. I asked the assessment team how the US-Mexico-California role was supposed to work in such a case. The most senior guy present said, “We have no idea. We just came up with the scenario going through your risk assessment process. As far as we know, there is no plan for anything like this. At least we don’t know of any.”

Given the folks in the room, if they don’t know about such a plan it either does not exist or only exists in the mind and bookcase of the planners.

With the Easter Sunday Mexicali earthquake – and the class two weeks ago – I hope someone is beginning to make a plan and plan an international exercise for this potential catastrophe.

One habit we need to cultivate is to scan for what would surprise us. Catastrophe is often more the result of being surprised, rather than the actual harm produced by the event. Planning and exercising should, at the very least, reduce our level of surprise.

Comment by William R. Cumming

April 6, 2010 @ 6:09 pm

Is any unplanned for event a catastrophe?

Note there are now several statutory definitions of the term “catastrophic” event including one in PKEMA [Post-Katrina Emergency Management Reform Act of 2006–actually Title VI of the appropriations act for Homeland Security enacted October 4, 2006 of Public Law 109-295! Is a statutory mandate a help or hindrance when it comes to preparedness and developing response capability?

Comment by William R. Cumming

April 7, 2010 @ 5:20 am

[Congressional Record May 14, 1999, page H3196]

TOPOFF Exercise. –The conferees understand the need for clarification of how the TOPOFF exercise should occur. In addition to the direction provided in previous Committee reports, contracting for this effort should be done with those organizations that [sic] have a known track record with Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) exercises. This exercise should be co-chaired and administered without notice by the Attorney General and the Director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). The no-notice feature of this exercise should be modeled on the manner in which such exercises have been conducted by the Department of Defense. In order to fairly and accurately represent an actual event, both the FBI and the Office of Justice Programs should have one representative participating in the planning of the exercise. This planning will not include the time and date of the exercise.

Comment by Lew Perelman

April 7, 2010 @ 12:08 pm

I am pretty much in harmony with Chris’s and Dan’s skeptical comments here.

It is commonly assumed inside the Beltway that plans and exercises are both necessary and sufficient to achieve “preparedness.” As Chris suggested, it is far from clear that there is any scientific basis for that belief — and considerable empirical evidence that it is not so.

While topoff exercises clearly are very costly, it is certainly questionable whether they accomplish much of tangible value. As noted by others, the high turnover rate of public officials, combined with the infrequency and limited (even artificial) scenarios of such scenarios, suggests that any learning that does occur will be transitory at best.

An important lesson from the work of the Kemeny Commission on the Three Mile Island accident in 1979 is pertinent. The commission’s studies concluded that achieving operational readiness for rare but high-consequence events required that operators frequently (e.g., weekly) practice a wide variety of incident scenarios on simulators. That recommendation became standard procedure in the nuclear power industry for the past three decades.

Gary Klein’s research — published in his book “Sources of Power” — showed the value of decision makers having a large portfolio of diverse problem-solving experiences to draw on when confronting unusual or surprising disaster events. As most football or other coaches understand, there is no substitute for the experiential learning gained through game play and practice.

The dubious value of bureaucratic constructs such as the NRP was illuminated by an important case study of the 1964 Alaska earthquake for the Project on National Security Reform by Dwight Ink. Ink played a lead role in the task force formed by President Lyndon Johnson to respond to that catastrophic disaster. A key lesson from Ink’s memoir/study was that the absence of any national plan actually improved the effectiveness of the response to that incident.

A summary of Ink’s case study can be found here:

Ink’s presentation and group discussion of his study can be found at the Hudson Institute’s site here:

Comment by William R. Cumming

April 7, 2010 @ 12:27 pm

Dr. Perelman’s comment raises some excellent points. By the way now appears almost 18 months after release the PNSR is totally a dead letter! One might ask why?

My answer is President Obama does not undertand the National Security State nor Homeland Security. But he does understand politics and money. Can those latter elements overcome problems during any catastrophic crisis? I don’t know. But given US performance in Haiti that US effort will scar the Obama legacy as did Rwanda and genocide in the Balkans. Hey nobody is perfect. Time will tell.

Comment by Christopher Bellavita

April 7, 2010 @ 11:44 pm

Thank you, Dr. Perelman. I was not aware of the two citations you provided. They are very informative.

Comment by William R. Cumming

April 8, 2010 @ 12:10 am

IMO Dwight Ink’s review of his role as CZAR is highly inaccurate and undocumented by existing documentations. It is one of the reasons that the PNSR was viewed by others than its participants as a largely self-serving document.
What I may misunderstand from the post and comments is that Exercises don’t accomplish what they were meant to accomplish because they are poorly designed, evaluated, participated in and therefore not an appropriate tool for crisis responders to learn. Is the conclusion at bottom that it is too difficult to fashion an effective exercise program, in part because of the egos and hubris of potential or actual participants, or just another ineffective human endeavor that gives a false sense of security? It can’t be that the basic argument of those who disagree with me is that the system of those showing up in a crisis are distributing their business cards to each other for the first time, or is it?

Comment by Philip J. Palin

April 8, 2010 @ 8:00 am


First, congrats for initiating a helpful discussion of an important issue.

Second,while very few will disagree with your (our) basic argument, there are plenty of reasons for our logic to be effectively dismissed, including:

Cost, especially in comparison with other needs for funds.

Time, especially in comparison with other priorities.

Pay-off, especially in terms of applicability to what is perceived as a more “real-world” threat or vulnerability.

In my experience, a lot of folks are conducting a seat-of-the-pants risk analysis and concluding the bigger the exercise (and the more catastrophic the scenario) the less likely the experience will be meaningful, regardless of the potential consequences. So… I’ve got better things to do with money, time, whatever.

Lots of science and common sense can be mustered to disagree with this conclusion. But we seem to be hard wired – both individually and organizationally – to under-estimate catastrophic potential.

In my experience, the best way around this resistance is to follow Elinor Ostrom’s formula for creating resilient communities:

Participation: Make it easy for folks to begin participating, start with simpler, local table-tops. Don’t punish participation… especially when the table-tops expose systemic failure. Reward participation in every way you can: money, recognition, whatever.

Collaboration: Be sure to include in these easy early options inter-agency, inter-governmental, and public-private realism. Give the participants lots of opportunities to learn from each other, recognize the value of each other, and have some fun together. Too often our training and exercising is a grim, soul-punishing experience that generates avoidance rather than attraction.

Deliberation: Have the participants self-assess the table-tops or other early steps for implications. Allow the participants themselves to generate the need for follow-on work. Have the participants do much of the design work or, at least, seriously vet the design work. This is the way to generate ownership and enthusiasm for whatever follow-on work they self-identify.

Ostrom does not seem to say much about embracing failure. But in my experience this is critical. Leaders, in particular, must be willing to celebrate failure in training and exercising… or they will certainly experience failure when the real catastrophe unfolds.

It is also my experience that – for a host of reasons – we very seldom are willing to invest in these preconditions for success… and so we waste money, time, and meaning… and the experience of waste makes it easy to dismiss calls to try again.

Comment by William R. Cumming

April 8, 2010 @ 8:31 am

Let’s just pick one topic for scientific and academic analysis in crisis managment! Emergency Public Information. Supporting the arguments in favor of the waste of money on exercises is the fact that simulation of MSM and public interface is always defective in these exercises. The academic research is now largely dated and often pre-24 by 7 by 365 news. Even more so that the impact of WEB 2.0 is not yet processed or analyzed fully by the EM and HS and academic community for its impact on crisis management. So perhaps exercises devoted to that singular problem might be of use.

My defense of the exercise system and yes I did help draft the TOPOFF legislation noted in a comment of mine above, is that now the WHITE HOUSE has become the target of inquiring and is expected to know everything about what is happening and be able to be the source of accurate information. This just is impossible but not sure how MSM and public expectations can be changed. Remember Tommy Thompson, then Secretary HHS, he actually stated on the record that the anthrax in the fall 2001 came from a creek in N.Carolina! Also fired some topnotch staff from a then woefully understaffed and underfunded CDC to cover his tracks. He is a fool and probably will see him on the ticket of some party in 2012.
The real problem I see is that the DOD contractor mentality infests DHS and was transported wholesale. That is a defective culture and GAO and DHS/OIG continue to prove it.
While others disagree I have seen major policy changes and plan changes and staff changes come out of the exercise environment. So I guess I will just have to respectfully disagree because I am now overwhelmed with many private comments to me supportive of the notion that the funding of exercises is a waste. Hey what is the saying: One man who is right makes a majority?

Comment by Philip J. Palin

April 8, 2010 @ 9:16 am

Regarding the DOD contractor mentality: I am occasionally a DOD contractor. I am currently a DHS contractor.

While I may be a tad defensive, it seems to me that whether a contractor or a member of the civil service does the work is usually less consequential than how the work is framed.

Too often the work is framed as a narrowly defined deliverable rather than a strategically purposed process. The narrower the deliverable, the easier it is to “manage” (as in measure). The more strategic the process the more open it is to misunderstanding and possible abuse, and the much more difficult it is to manage.

An effective exercise is innately a strategic process, not a specific deliverable. A strategic process requires a level of intellectual and operational vulnerability that many may find too risky.

Tell me what you want, I will give you what you tell me you want… is the less risky option. Both contractors and civil servants may be inclined to choose such a path, unless leadership and systems and culture encourage otherwise.

It sounds like Bill is overwhelmed with criticisms of badly conducted and narrowly defined exercises. The critiques of how exercises are conducted should be given close attention. These operational critiques should not be confused with undermining why exercises can be of crucial value.

Comment by William R. Cumming

April 8, 2010 @ 9:37 am

Hey not all contractors are greedy, mean and evil. And yes the contractors often give just exactly what is specified. Does not mean could not be improvement in the process. Read carefully the quoted legislative language on TOPOFF and note that WMD expertise was a basic requirement. Did that happen? NO! Why? Many reasons! Note also that most DHS contractors are audited by DCAA not by DHS/OIG. The recent discourse generated by the draft OMB document on defining “Inherently governmental” is of related interest. I sent in a comment suggesting it be reissued after defining “who is a government emploee?” There is no such definition anywhere in the US Code despite what some might think. I also recently had occassion to write certain CRS staff who were involved in a recent report. Unknown to many who think that the business community leadership [which was very necessary by the way] who volunteered as $1 a year men made huge sacrifices. In fact all continued to recieve full salaries from their companies. This resulted in passage of a new law in 1947 called the “Dual Compensation Act” which I could argue would if enforced been a great help in reducing conflicts of interest in the Federal Government from those getting unearned income from their prior employers while employed as feds. Well the US now needs all to pull together and if gamesmanship is the standard for our countries future, and the failure to design, develop, operate, and conduct lessons learned from tough exercises is a will of the wisp then perhaps we don’t have to wait too long for a test of that concept. Resilence perhaps is related to the one word that appears on the British Coat of Arms: ENDURE! As Lincoln said in paraphrase–Can government by the people, for the people long endure? Only by enduring as a democracy (Republic)will the US answer that question!

Comment by William R. Cumming

April 28, 2010 @ 10:15 am

Turns out that I found an interesting discussion of exercise issues by CRS on openCRS under PKEMA of 2006!

Will send a copy to Chris for inclusion in the CRS reports list.

Comment by William R. Cumming

April 28, 2010 @ 12:30 pm

Apparently my information was incorrect. NLE V has not been totally cancelled but has been moved to Indiana and is more of a table-top than full-scale. No boots on the ground and some NORTHCOM participation.

Comment by Lew Perelman

May 7, 2010 @ 7:51 pm

I finally had a moment to come back to this and catch up. Just quickly want to note to Bill that the point of my earlier comment is not to abolish exercises entirely. Rather, that more useful learning, and hence preparedness, can be accomplished by having more frequent, lower cost, and diverse exercises by taking advantage of the growing power of virtualization, modeling/simulation, networking, telepresence, etc.

Also, along the lines of Phil Palin’s reference to Ostrom, we also need less emphasis on TOP OFFs and more engagement of the large number of people who do most of the real responding to crises “in the trenches” — many or most of whom do not have a patch on their sleeves.

Comment by blog

March 25, 2014 @ 8:08 am

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