Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

April 20, 2010

Smarting from grant crack

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Christopher Bellavita on April 20, 2010

Today’s post was written by Daniel W. O’Connor

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What is the value of education?

With respect to my valued friends in academia, in my perhaps ill informed opinion, the standard education track(s) create a subject matter myopia that blinds one to ancillary domains and data. You get good at really deep introspection on one topic; but there is no lateral pollination.

There are some amazingly brilliant people working in and on homeland security issues.  But does all this expertise create gaps in our observed reality and therefore pushes us to focus on the wrong issues?

What kind of knowledge worker/leader do we want in Homeland Security?   Do we want experts or polymaths?    Do we want specialists or generalists?   Is it an education issue or simply a leadership one?  Where does ideology come into play?

Recently two high profile positions in homeland security arenas in a large state were in the news.    One gentlemen was leaving and one coming aboard.   Highly educated, both these gentlemen talked about their accomplishments and the challenges ahead.

Their concerns were practically identical and mirrored a focus on one particular homeland security function: grants.

One said his primary concerns when he took his job were dealing with a major reduction in the state’s largest homeland security grant and getting more funding.  The other gentleman said he was looking forward to managing federal homeland security grants.

Here’s Statement Analysis 101:  first thoughts are usually their most pressing concerns.

Is this what Homeland Security has become?    I mean is it all about the money?  Where’s the depth, the knowledge, and understanding of the complexity and intricacy of homeland security?

I don’t see it.

Does the leadership these people represent either oversimplify their mission or simply want someone else to pay for their experiments and readiness?

Our security seems not hinge on behavior change or resilience, but on money.   How much money will it take?

Grants are much like insurance. Those who have it and can get it take more risks than those who do not.  The expectation that grants are the panacea for risk mitigation is miserably false, dangerous, and leads to elevated expectations.

How much money does it take to effectively secure a nation?

Does using the funds for more M4 rifles or computer terminals make us safer?   What about the training required?   What about their application?    The requirement is never ending.   Is this simply the homeland security manifestation of the military industrial congressional complex?

In homeland security, why don’t we talk about our risk acceptance index?  What is our turbulence tolerance? Why don’t we talk about our economy as a risk?   Why don’t we talk about our current immigration policy as a risk?  What about our energy policy?  What about our personal debt, housing, and of course, our expectations?

How smart do you have to be to see the trance-like focus on grants is wrong?

I see grants sort of like overtime pay.   Some people become overly accustomed to overtime and create an elevated and false pay scale.  Since overtime is not typically a budgeted item, paying it creates organizational shortfalls.  Shortfalls create deficits.  Then costs have to be trimmed.  Since workers are the most expensive and easiest way to reduce budgets, they get axed — creating the need for more overtime.  This is cyclical mania.

Grants are the crack of homeland security.   If grants were reduced to near zero, what would the safety/security landscape look like?

How smart to you have to be to see grants aren’t too effective in meeting the expectations of the citizenry?

Perhaps a study is in order.

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6 Comments »

Comment by Philip J. Palin

April 20, 2010 @ 6:17 am

Addictions of all sorts tend to be rooted in confusion regarding cause and effect, source and symptom, reality and illusion. The source of addiction has a temporary effect that mimics something close to the satisfaction or resolution that might be possible, but it is sooo much easier to achieve. But in addiction close is never complete and somehow over time the addiction seems to increase the distance between cause and effect (et cetera), but by then it can be too late for the addict to even notice.

Comment by John Comiskey

April 20, 2010 @ 8:15 am

It is said to be the age of the first person singular”
-Ralph Waldo Emerson

Assuming that most homeland security leaders are knowledge workers and acknowledging that the idea of knowledge workers is a “wicked problem,” does that mean that they must forego the reality of “grant crack.” Is there such thing as an acceptable addiction i.e. grant crack or should homeland security leaders at all levels embrace the idea that just because you keep on making the same mistakes -your mistakes do not give you license to keep making mistakes. Can they wean themselves off crack without another study?

Resiliency is the new buzz word in homeland security. I like it most because it assumes a level of self-reliance and the thought that some things are unpreventable and unpredictable. The best we (homeland security practitioners and all members of planet earth) can do is to plan for the worst and hope for the best (I don’t like the idea that hope is a bad word because it’s not a plan. Besides it the last and oft omitted element of Pandora’s box). Resiliency defined assumes an adaptable mindset that takes a licking and keeps on ticking.

Crack and grant crack are addictions. Did you ever see a junky going through cold turkey? [sigh] Grant crack-cold turkey evokes thoughts of a meandering, irritable, and sweaty nation that is not capable of handling its affairs. Considering the 2010 threat environment: Overseas Contingency Operation (formerly the GWOT); hostile nation-states, non-state & sub-state actors aka terrorists, transnational criminal organizations, global economic crisis, failed states, climate change & energy competition, technological change, and pandemic disease (National Intelligence Strategy, 2009), today is not a good day for cold turkey.

I agree, grants are not an effective strategy. Keeping in mind that strategies in and of themselves are “wicked problems,” shouldn’t homeland security strategies consider sustainability. Nothing in the 2009 NIS is going away in our lifetimes. Grants “should” mandate a “sustainability” clause and in most cases provide only matching funds. I don’t like grant crack. I acknowledge that it is a reality. If forced into cold turkey, the system will adjust; it will cut the fat (there is a lot of fat), and become complacent until the next catastrophe.

Comment by William R. Cumming

April 20, 2010 @ 9:34 am

A great post from DAN! Thanks much for the effort. In 1940 there were less than 5 million STATE and LOCAL employees and contractors, including all public safety and even teachers. Today almost 50 million STATE and LOCAL employees and contractors. Over last two or three decades despite recent expansion for a variety of purposes including the census, Federal direct employment went down. OMB currently circulating a draft of what work is “Inherently Fundamental” to federal government and must be performed by federal employees. Fundamental flaw in document is what is a “federal employee”? No where defined in US Code. I would argue that any person receiving earned income from direct federal salary, federal contract, or federal grant is in fact a federal employee. In fact most of these people owe their first loyalty for their employment to the FEDS and could care less if the money runs through the STATE or a prime contractor. So where does this leave modern federalism and strong and effective STATE and LOCAL government? Are the STATES really laboratories of democracy anymore or merely lab technicians scrubbing the test tubes and hoods for the FEDS. Over 50%of all dollars spent by the STATES now come from the FEDS.

As to HS itself and its development as a discipline not that the DOD system of contract dependence for weapons systems has now been imported wholesale into DHS with contract monitors often being contractors themselves. Very little original thinking has gone on inside DHS except for what curtains to hang and where to hang them. I blame this on the rather meagre talents of the three lawyers who have run DHS. Lawyers are largely analysts as professionals not synthesizers and certainly seld polymaths. Just look at SCOTUS for a moment and note the highly structured and narrow careers of all the current members. None elected to dogcatcher as far as I know. None served in the military as far as I know. And in general no real books of significance to the general reading public. Hey! I am a fuzzy headed liberal and don’t agree with them but a Bork or a Posner are real public intellectuals. And look at ranks generally of DHS appointees. Few polymaths although there are a few. Well living and dying by mining the federal fisc is now the norm. Let’s not demand any hard thinking like do the programs, functions, and activities of DHS make sense. Note for the record that the QHSR issued failed miserably to comply with the statutory mandate which called for a bottom up review of all DHS programs, functions and activities and NO absolutely NO evidence DHS intends to do that. Hey was it Socrates that is reputed to have said “The unexamined life is not worth living” well if so how does this fit bureacracies that seem largely run for their employees and not for service to the country. We (the US) can do better!

Thanks again DAN for great post.

Comment by William R. Cumming

April 20, 2010 @ 9:36 am

Corection as should have said “Inherently Governmental” not “Inherently Fundamental” in comment above.

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