Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

July 7, 2010

Service and Politics

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Mark Chubb on July 7, 2010

Over the past few days, an interesting discussion has been taking place in the comments section of this blog about the proper role of the military in disaster operations and the recovery process in particular. In this debate, I hear echoes of the discussions that took place the week before surrounding public participation in homeland security and emergency management. Both of these discussions raise questions about the place of professionalism and leadership in crisis management.

People who talk about civic engagement usually make a distinction between two different manifestations of it in public life: service and politics. As noted by Walker (2000), people continue to hold generally positive views of service but have developed a more jaundiced view of politics. This may explain why public officials we see as exemplars of service, such as military service members, firefighters, police officers (often but not always), and judges, merit such abiding trust and respect. At the same time, however, it raises questions about the way we see those who serve without compensation.

Our homeland security and emergency management discourse, like that of the public generally, seems to assume that most of these activities are jobs for professionals. It may be true that much of the complex work we associate with these fields requires highly specialized skills and strong technical intuitions honed over time. But it is probably more accurate to say that we value professionalism in these fields for the same reason we disdain overt political involvement: We see professionalism as having a particular character that is unencumbered by self-interest or at the very least informed by a strong sense of moral purpose.

This was not always the case, however. Distrust of government and elected officials in particular is nothing new in these United States. In the early days of the republic, Alexis de Tocqueville observed the unusual tendency of Americans to voluntarily organize themselves for the common good rather than vesting government with additional powers and responsibilities. Spontaneous associations of every sort seemed to arise in every nook and cranny of civil society. These days, in contrast, civic engagement or the perceived lack of it has become a cause of increasing concern in some quarters. Even before 9/11 and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq some commentators questioned the sustainability of the all-volunteer military.

The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have clearly stretched our military resources, but they have also demonstrated the adaptability and resourcefulness of our men and women in uniform and their families. This is especially true of the citizen soldiers and airmen of the National Guard and their counterparts in the active reserve.

Associations between service, especially military service, and citizenship, especially as it is manifest through community engagement are very common, but not altogether clearly a case of cause and effect as some might assume. Although it is no doubt true that many if not most of those who serve our country under arms willingly extend their commitment to service long after their severance from active duty in myriad voluntary capacities, the instincts that impel such involvement may just as easily have been the cause of their military service rather than its inevitable result. In contrast, the case for military experience in politics works differently indeed. For much of our history, we have looked to military service if not as a prerequisite for public office then at least a strong endorsement of a candidate’s character.

Dan O’Connor wrote a couple of weeks ago about the lack of evidence of shared sacrifice on the homefront accompanying the current conflicts. He went so far as to suggest that the nation itself was not at war, even if we might agree that our military is thus engaged.

The evidence of disengagement, however, is difficult to pin down, at least for me, situated as I am in a place — Portland, Oregon — renowned for the habits of its citizens to be highly engaged in both service and politics. On one hand, I am aware of persistent criticism of the Deepwater Horizon response, which seems to emerge from the fact that people see so little evidence of a professional (much less effective) response. On the other, I hear people complaining bitterly over the lack of tangible and meaningful opportunities to engage in voluntary service to stem the tide of oil heading for the shores of the Gulf Coast states.

Clearly, people see a place for professionalism in the response to catastrophes. But do professionals see a role for them?

What everyone seems to agree on, but no one seems as yet to have a handle on, is that the Deepwater Horizon crisis, like catastrophes before it, demands clear and decisive leadership. But genuine and effective leadership is no more about telling people what to do than it is telling them what they want to hear. Real leadership involves listening and learning, deciding and doing, assuming responsibility and acting upon reflection.

In each phase, leaders have both the opportunity and necessity to engage others. Engagement in this sense is about more than just managing people as resources. It involves making people a part of every decision and action that affects their interests.

Failing to note and act upon this only sets us up for failure. Because, in the end, try as we may to separate service from politics, the two go hand-in-hand. People may serve without expectation of remuneration or compensation, but they will not stay satisfied for long if they do not have a say in what happens and how it gets done. We can agree to disagree about who should lead the response in the Gulf of Mexico, but we should agree that whoever takes the lead cannot afford to go it alone.

Further reading:

Skocpol, T. (1999). How Americans Became Civic in Skocpol, T. and M. Fiorina, Civic Engagement in American Democracy, Washington, DC: Brookings Institution Press, pp. 27-80.

Walker, T. (2000). The Service/Politics Split: Rethinking Service to Teach Political Engagement, PS: Political Science and Politics 33(3), pp. 646-649.

Youniss, J.; McLellan, J. & Yates, M. (1997). What We Know About Engendering Civic Identity, The American Behavioral Scientist 40(5), pp. 620-631.

July 6, 2010

Sign up to envision the future

Filed under: Futures — by Christopher Bellavita on July 6, 2010

In April, I wrote about FEMA’s  Strategic Foresight Initiative (SFI), a program designed:

to seek to understand how the world around us is changing, and how those changes may affect the future of emergency management and our community.

By “our community” I am including homeland security (recognizing different views persist about the relationship between emergency management and homeland security).

If the Strategic Foresight Initiative produces material of value — notwithstanding its quasi-homophonic SciFi acronym — one hopes it will benefit everyone within the homeland security enterprise.

The three central questions guiding the initiative are:

(1)   What are the drivers of change (e.g., demographics, climate change) that may “dial up” or “dial down” systemic risk in the future?

(2)   What has the potential to transform emergency management in the future?

(3)   What should we do now to better align our missions and capabilities to our future needs?


As I described in April, there are three opportunities to participate in this Strategic Foresight Initiative.  The first activity was a meeting to identify “the most important drivers [participants] believe could impact emergency management over the next 20 years.”

The second opportunity — based on the work done at the initial SFI meeting — started a few days ago, and you are invited to participate:

FEMA has launched a broader community engagement effort to attract diverse participants from many disciplines and fields to join in moderated discussion.  An easy-to-access, easy-to-use online tool, OMB-Max, will promote dialogue to better understand emerging trends and future directions in key issue areas, as well as the potential implications for emergency management.

If you are interested in participating in this effort, please send an email request to:

FEMA-OPPA-SFI[at]fema.gov  ( remember to turn the [at] into the @ sign).

Once you receive your invitation and sign on to the SFI site, you will find detailed information about the Initiative.


I wish this activity well, and I intend to participate in it.  But I remain agnostic about the usefulness of spending much quality time looking at the drivers of the future.

Like any good agnostic, however, there’s a place inside me that wants to have faith, that wants to believe there can be a direct relationship between a knowledge of what’s coming toward homeland security and taking right action based on that knowledge.

I continue to look for evidence that the systematic study of the future is anything more than (as George Bernard Shaw wrote about Chess) “a foolish expedient for making idle people believe they are doing something very clever when they are only wasting their time.”

Hope springs eternal, however, even as we move through a northern hemisphere summer into a future that will surely surprise.

July 3, 2010

Anchors away – or not – in the Gulf?

Filed under: Homeland Defense,Legal Issues,Organizational Issues — by Philip J. Palin on July 3, 2010

On the eve of Independence Day — on one of the most beautiful afternoons of the year so far — long-time contributor William R. Cumming has raised an intriguing issue regarding an instruction released by President Obama. 

The issue was a particular concern of the Founders and deserves our continued vigilence.  I happen to disagree with Bill’s interpretation, but I cannot claim the President’s language or intent is altogether clear.  So we begin with the President’s words and then continue to Bill’s and my own. 

The White House

 June 30, 2010

Memorandum from the President on the Long-Term Gulf Coast Restoration Support Plan

SUBJECT: Long-Term Gulf Coast Restoration Support Plan

The oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is the worst environmental disaster America has ever faced. The oil spill represents just the latest blow to an area that has already suffered significant hardship. In addition to fighting the spill, conducting environmental cleanup, and ensuring such a crisis does not happen again, we must help the Gulf Coast and its people recover from this tragedy. A long-term plan to restore the unique beauty and bounty of this region is therefore necessary.

As I announced on June 15, 2010, and pursuant to the authority vested in me as President by the Constitution and the laws of the United States of America, I assign to the Secretary of the Navy (Secretary) the responsibility to lead the effort to create a plan of Federal support for the long-term economic and environmental restoration of the Gulf Coast region, in coordination with States, local communities, tribes, people whose livelihoods depend on the Gulf, businesses, conservationists, scientists, and other entities and persons as he deems necessary. In addition to working with these stakeholders, the Secretary shall coordinate, as appropriate, with the heads of executive departments and agencies, as well as offices within the Executive Office of the President (collectively, executive branch components).

Specifically, I direct the following:

Section 1. As soon as possible, the Secretary shall develop a Gulf Coast Restoration Support Plan (Plan), based on the following principles:

(a) The Plan shall provide a comprehensive assessment of post-spill needs, as well as a proposal for Federal assistance in the overall recovery of the region.

(b) The purpose of the Plan shall be to develop an approach that will ensure economic recovery, community planning, science-based restoration of the ecosystem and environment, public health and safety efforts, and support of individuals and businesses who suffered losses due to the spill.

(c) The Plan shall take into account resources already available to respond to the oil spill, and complement the on-going oil spill response efforts. The Secretary will also coordinate, as needed, with the State, Federal, and tribal trustees who have responsibility for directing the natural resource damage planning process under the Oil Pollution Act and other applicable law.

(d) The Plan shall identify long- and short-term objectives and, where applicable, how the achievement of these objectives will be measured.

Sec. 2. (a) This assignment is prescribed as an additional responsibility of the Secretary in accordance with section 5013 of title 10, United States Code. This additional responsibility may not be delegated under section 5013(f) of title 10, United States Code. (b) To assist in accomplishing the directive in section 1 of this memorandum, executive branch components shall make available information and other resources, including personnel, deemed by the Secretary to be necessary for development of the Plan.

Sec. 3. (a) Executive branch components shall carry out the provisions of this memorandum to the extent permitted by law, subject to the availability of appropriations, and consistent with their statutory and regulatory authorities and their enforcement mechanisms.

 (b) Nothing in this memorandum shall be construed to impair or otherwise affect: (i) authority granted by law to an executive department, agency, or the head thereof; or (ii) functions of the Director of the Office of Management and Budget relating to budgetary, administrative, or legislative proposals.

(c) This memorandum is not intended to, and does not, create any right or benefit, substantive or procedural, enforceable at law or in equity by any party against the United States, its departments, agencies, or entities, its officers, employees, or agents, or any other person. Nothing in this memorandum shall relieve or otherwise affect the obligations of any responsible party under the Oil Pollution Act or other applicable law.

Sec. 4. The Secretary is hereby authorized to publish this memorandum in the Federal Register.



Commenting on a prior post Mr. Cumming wrote:

Yes and the oldest and richest democracy (Republic) has now celebrated July 4th by putting the US Navy in charge of long term recovery in the Gulf of Mexico. The militarization of US domestic policy continues apace just as in foreign policy and relations. Salute that flag!

To which I replied:

Bill, Where did you see the US Navy assignment? I know about Secretary Mabus’ assignment. But I have perceived that as separate from his SecNav role — and much more connected to his background as a former Governor of Mississippi. If that’s wrong, want to know more.

Mr. Cumming responded:

Presidential proclamation published in Tuesday’s Federal Register. Sent it to you and will send again. John Paul Jones to the rescue!

To which I responded:

Bill, thanks for resending the reference. For the benefit of other readers a web version is available at:

As you know, I share your concern regarding militarization of government operations. As such, it is certainly appropriate to raise the concern in this case.

I would offer, however, that based on the (little) I know and my own reading of the President’s memorandum, I understand that Secretary Mabus is, essentially, being seconded from his current role as SecNav to a leadership position for both the National Security Staff and Domestic Policy Staff.

This is my reading of the intent of the following:

In addition to working with these stakeholders, the Secretary shall coordinate, as appropriate, with the heads of executive departments and agencies, as well as offices within the Executive Office of the President(collectively,executive branch components).

The reference to Executive Office of the President includes both NSS and DPS, especially a well-established recovery working group spanning the two EOP functions.

I agree the situation is ambiguous. I bet there will be some SecNav staff involved. And this is another example of an increasing tendency for us to turn to military resources (active or retired) for commmand and operational competence. It is a worrisome trend.

Mr. Cumming respectfully disagreed:

Having read thousands of these memos it looks like a formal delegation of authority to me. See 3 USC Section 301. By passes SECDEF and others. But hey Phil you could be right and only a designation.

As always I could be wrong but a designation names a person while a delegation names a postion. Basic black letter ADMINISTRATIVE LAW.

I guess this WH knows the difference and did what they wanted to do (accomplish)! Even though Roy Mabus is former governor in a Gulf Coast state I could name perhaps a 100 others better qualified to save the states of Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and TEXAS. In fact why not George W. Bush, tan, rested and ready? Give him a chance to redeem his Katrina castrophic efforts! This is not a joke. At least he is not eligible for re-election [but of course Jeb is also tan, rested and waiting his turn)! Hey this is a bipartisan or non-partisan response effort correct?

To which I offered a sort of rebuttal:

I will further note that Title 10 USC, section 5013 (f) as referenced in the President’s memorandum reads:

The Secretary of the Navy may assign such of his functions, powers, and duties as he considers appropriate to the Under Secretary of the Navy and to the Assistant Secretaries of the Navy. Officers of the Navy and the Marine Corps shall, as directed by the Secretary, report on any matter to the Secretary, the Under Secretary, or any Assistant Secretary.

The President’s memorandum explicitly excludes delegation under paragraph 5013 (f), which — at least in my reading — is the White House effort to give the former Governor, who happens to be SecNav, an additional duty, but to avoid militarizing the additional duty.

I wonder if there might not have been a less ambiguous way of accomplishing the same thing, but there seems to me a pretty clear and appropriate effort to focus this additional role outside the Department of the Navy.


Before retirement Bill Cumming was a long-time lawyer with the US government.  I am neither a lawyer nor an experienced government official. If you have further insights — or suggestions — please add your comments.

July 1, 2010

Theory to practice 234 years later

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on July 1, 2010

What does it mean to be a “homeland security professional” ?  What does such a person or community presume to profess? 

Traditionally a “profession” is a self-defined community of individuals claiming  common cause to pursue some practice for the common good.

How many of us might share in professing the following?

I resolve to fulfill according to my ability and judgment this public commitment:

I will preserve and protect the Constitution of the United States of America.

I will apply all that I know to preserve and protect the people of the United States; I will keep them from harm and injustice.

I will increase my knowledge of threat, vulnerability, and consequence; seeking to deal responsibly and realistically with risk.

I will increase my knowledge of collaboration, deliberation, decision, and action; seeking to prevent harm and strengthen resilience.

I will honor the relationships that emerge from shared learning and doing.

I will embrace change and variability as susceptible to understanding, imagination, and creativity.

I will avoid mistaking personal preference for considered judgment and will daily endeavor to strengthen the humility, knowledge, awareness, and discipline whereby I may contribute, along with others, to a true and reasoned capacity to act with regard to what is good or bad for humankind.

Mean anything to you?  Just words?

Do these words begin to suggest a sense of what is shared when federal, state, and local governments, the private sector, firefighters, law enforcement, intelligence, emergency management, public health, computer and telecommunications, food production, transportation and distribution, public and private utilities and so many more  begin to think and work together to advance this vaguely supposed end-state called homeland security?

There are a hundred and more hard problems facing homeland security.  Most of these problems do not have anything like a clear right or wrong answer.  There are a hundred and more extraordinary opportunities in homeland security.  The best opportunities are seldom claimed by accident.

If there is a such a thing as homeland security, what is its attractor of meaning?  Around what does our complex system self-organize?  Can there be a homeland security profession?  If so what would be its core characteristics, its sources of integrity, its coherent expression?

On this day in 1776 the Continental Congress began debate on the Declaration of Independence . With these words the Congress sought to articulate how a free people might go about forming a new nation, “laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.”  Two-hundred thirty-four years later homeland security continues this effort.  How are we doing?


The homeland security public commitment is duplicated from a previous piece I wrote for Homeland Security Affairs Journal.  Regular readers will not be surprised that several phrases refer to and depend upon various source texts.

« Previous Page