Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

September 5, 2010

HSPDs RIP, please

Filed under: Strategy — by Philip J. Palin on September 5, 2010

Last night I heard from the third “reliable source” in two weeks that a decision has been made to replace the current collection of Homeland Security Presidential Directives (HSPDs) with much more concise and truly strategic Presidential Statements of Strategy or some other nomenclature to be decided. 

I hope these rumors are accurate.  It’s the right direction.  Like most previous administrations, the White House was stumbling into the trap of mistaking effective policy  guidance with operational micro-management.  Two of my three sources suggest a senior official finally recognized that this tendency– among other problems — is a colossal waste of time.

As reported previously, I am a life-long Republican who volunteered on candidate Obama’s Homeland Security Advisory Council.  My last assignment was to work with a set of state homeland security leaders to review and suggest a revision strategy for the HSPDs.   I am sure this work has been lost and long forgotten.  Not all the ideas were mine.  Several of the co-authors are now senior administration officials.  I think it is worth retrieving… and in the spirit of transparency promised during the campaign, here is the memo.

A Review of Current Homeland Security Presidential Directives and
 Recommendations for Action after January 20, 2009

SECOND DRAFT: December 11, 2008

Statement of the Problem

The twenty-four existing Homeland Security Presidential Directives (HSPDs) often obscure and complicate the identification and understanding of strategic priorities for Homeland Security.

Sources of the Problem

1.    Many of the HSPDs serve an interagency coordination function that has been superseded by creation of the Department of Homeland Security (e.g. enhanced INS and Customs cooperation).
2.    Many of the HSPDs are operational rather than strategic.  Moreover, the operational frameworks set-out may not be well-suited to current and emerging conditions and complicate strategic adaptation.
3.    Taken together the HSPDs give much more attention to response than to prevention, preparedness, or recovery.  Mitigation is seldom considered.
4.    Between the first HSPD in October 2001 to June’s publication of HSPD 24 there is increasing attention to threats other than terrorism.  Beginning with HSPD 5 (February 2003) a goal is articulated to be prepared for all-hazards (or “terrorist attacks, major disasters, and other emergencies”). But there is an ongoing threat-orientation as opposed to a risk-orientation.  This is inconsistent with the risk-based foundations of both the existing Homeland Security Strategy and the strategy signaled by President-elect Obama.
5.    There is no significant or sustained attention to resilience and the distinction between catastrophic risk and other risk is implicit at best.  The current collection of HSPDs offers a broad view of the threat horizon, but very little guidance as to strategic priorities along that horizon.
Proposed Approach for Engaging the Problem
The most serious problems with the current HSPDs will be resolved as the new administration releases its own strategic guidance for Homeland Security. The early publication of an explicit White House Homeland Security strategy will be crucial to giving the current HSPDs badly needed strategic context.
But especially because so many HSPDs have considerable operational implications there is a need for diligence in adapting the HSPDs to emerging needs and the new strategy.  Simple abrogation would cause difficult and sometimes unpredictable consequences. 
To clarify strategic priorities while avoiding operational discontinuities it is recommended that most current HSPDs be treated in one of three ways:
Affirm and Adapt: Six of the HSPDs focus on strategic goals that are coherent with those communicated by the President-elect during the campaign.  In most of these more-strategic HSPDs modest edits will be needed.  The one exception in this category is HSPD 8 which should be affirmed, but will need substantial adaptation.
Delegate and Revise: Twelve of the HSPDs focus on operational processes that will benefit from review, updating, possible revision, or other actions but should not require a renewed statement of Presidential priority-setting.  Homeland Security Council staff should work with their departmental colleagues to “devolve” these ongoing operational matters to the most effective structures outside the White House. Final devolution may be formalized through Presidential action.
Communicate Strategic Intent of Classified Documents:  This review does not address specific revisions to the six classified HSPDs. Declassified versions of these key statements of policy and strategy should be made available, as is the case with HSPD 4 and HSPD 10.  Given the nation’s risk environment it is critically important that there be substantive understanding across the law enforcement, fire service, public health, emergency management, related disciplines and the private sector regarding core strategic perspectives and goals.
The exception to these three categories is abrogation of HSPD 1.  This document sets out how the Homeland Security Council is organized. This should be replaced.  A draft replacement is attached as an annex to this review.

Monday: Specific Recommendations for each HSPD

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Comment by William R. Cumming

September 5, 2010 @ 6:40 am

Thanks for the heads up Phil. The problem of course is more fundamental as the HSPD’s like the ususal National Security equivalents carried NO budget execution authority and often did not make available critical decisisons and processes thereby weakening civil crisis management and thereby futher obfuscating things like civil chains of command, military civill relationships, roles of those organizations in Homeland Security not under the penumbra of DHS, including EPA, HHS, FDA, FCC etc. Still they did provide “something of value” in my judgement if only to indicate and give evidence that some time and effort and judgement was being applied to the sphere of Homeland Security. As ususual with this documents they to some degree were a layer caked with each new layer covering up what went before and failing to incorporate prior guidance that was still extant. Presumably they represent Presidential level input and effort also. Probably a book should be written about that linkage on the HSPD’s post 9/11/01.
Because utilmately there is no delegate agency funding [meaning the DHS Secretary can decide the Homeland Security funding across the board] and OMB has it only little peculiar ways of dealing with cross-cutting issues, and because the HSC and NSC were duplicative and overlapping, the end result is clearly a poorly organized policy guidance effort despite some considerable efforts as reflected in the HSPDs. My favorites of course were HSPD-5 & 8 which have been addressed in part by statutory enactments such as PKEMA 2006 and the 9/11 Implementation Act. And as Phil has stated this effort could have actually resolved some priority questions that DHS seems unwilling or unable to resolve for itself.
Can we assume this effort is being led by John Brennan’s staff? Good luck to the new team and new effort! Be careful in trying to resolve issues raised by the existing documents, including unfullfilled mandates, by throwing the “baby” out with the bathwater so to speak. There have been some achievements since 9/11/01 and I view the issuances of this series of documents by the BUSH Administration as an achievement. That fact is recognized I guess by the long delay in the revision effort by this Administration. What I hope can be achieved is the breaking down of “Stovepipes” in the Executive Branch which to some degree these documents on the whole facilitated. Time will tell I guess.


September 5, 2010 @ 7:01 am

Bidder, born 1806. Nine years old in 1815. Question: If the moon be distant from the earth 123,256 miles, and sound travels at the rate of 4 miles a minute, how long would it be before the inhabitants of the moon could hear of the battle of Waterloo? Answer: 21 days 9 hours 34 minutes given by the boy in less than one minute. Remarkable rapidity of work. All the time in the world and not a second to waste. The world doesn’t run on words kids.


September 5, 2010 @ 7:45 am

The curious case of Colburn from Vermont. With education his calculating powers fell off. He became a preacher then a teacher. When the love factors high you get into the timeless. The kids are acting up again. A fast disappearing rich is scrambling for subsidy while being soaked. Submarines are for soaking. Sub missions are long in the long pull. Summer is over, empty the pool and get out the wool.


September 5, 2010 @ 8:33 am

Stay warm and safe. Be nice, it won’t kill you. We won’t talk about how that is done. Some things better left unsaid than undone. Lots to do and houses to build. Then there is the romantic landscape. It can get real expensive.


September 5, 2010 @ 8:53 am

NEW YORK/DETROIT (Reuters) – The U.S. government is likely to take a loss on General Motors Co in the first offering of the automaker’s stock, six people familiar with preparations for the landmark IPO said.

Gone from buck stops here to buck lost here. I figure the methods of calculation must be wrong or everybody would be a gainer rather than a loser. Mortgage the fighter jets and I’ll raise you chickens. You can scramble for subsidies.


September 5, 2010 @ 9:06 am

Guess we’ll need a cross and flag. Pretty big hole too for this landmark. Vote yourselves into Eden while you are at it. A tough dictatorship just ain’t competitive with a free virile democracy where everybody wins or at least has a shot at winning. Win, lose or draw. They cooked the books along with the goose. Now they want more golden eggs. I think they’d be better off with a jail and I’m sorry to say I can’t help them to build it. Do not pass Go, do not collect $200.00. Gee, what a bargain.


September 5, 2010 @ 9:16 am

Try using method of indivisibles and wine-cask geometry. Let us know when you get it figured out. Guess that should keep them busy awhile.

Comment by Philip J. Palin

September 5, 2010 @ 12:58 pm


A couple of comments:

1. The lack of a direct relationship between a President’s statement-of-strategy and the budget is a problem. There are, however, plenty of ways for this problem to be solved if and when there is a real Presidential priority.

2. But as exemplified by many of the HSPDs, especially those of greater length, these were not so much expressions of Presidential priority as efforts by mid-level White House staff to “proclaim” what they could not — or would not — negotiate through the inter-agency process.

Written words can encourage or reinforce agreement, but in most cases written words alone, even with the President’s signature, do not produce compliance. This is especially the case in a large bureaucracy that can — as you point out — use Congressional priorities to counter ambitions emanating from the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue.

It seems to me that in terms of policy and strategy, less is more. More often than not National Security Staff should behave as truly honest brokers in the interagency process. They should not be pushing their own narrow agenda. And in most cases it is better for the White House to refrain from imposing it’s will (besides it is more often the will of the Eisenhowever Executive Office Building or New EOB than the “White House” and even less the President).

When the President does sign off on a specific policy or strategy it should be of sufficient gravity — and of authentic priority to the President or his immediate principals — that the bureaucracy is predisposed to pay close attention… not to dismiss it as a powerplay by a temporary staffer on a personal mission.

If this was the more typical process, the disconnect between Presidential policy and strategy and budget committed would be less acute.

Comment by The Real World

September 5, 2010 @ 1:08 pm

Without a grand strategy that can carry over multiple Presidential administrations of both parties (eg cold war containment) this amounts to rearranging the deck chairs for a couple of years till Obama Team 2 or the next guy/gal takes over.

Without state and local involvement in crafting the homeland strategy (-ies) (how many local first responders are in the EEOB working this alongside the feds…?) this will just have further dizzying repercussions among the inter-agency and the state and locals, who are just now adjusting to the changes from a few years ago.

And in case anyone is watching, the state and local resources are being decimated by the economic crisis (showing that it is indeed a national security issue). Cops and firefighters getting laid off all over the place. It will take a decade for most local governments to return to pre-recession service levels. Unlike the Feds, locals must balance the budget every year… and that means cuts in as revenues have declined.

So we’ll have new federal (national?) strategery, new names for presidential orders, more reorganizing, while no-one is keeping an eye on dwindling domestic state and local prevent/response capacity (except, perhaps, the military, which per the new QDR is readying itself for a vastly increased role in disaster and crisis response in preparation for its force posture in the post Iraq/Afpak conflict era). Surely this will be followed by a new NRF and a new NIMS, all quickly dumped on the state and locals in time for another Presidential campaign and the possibility of another change in administrations.

Don’t get me wrong, I am all for getting the strategery and the organizing correct – but perhaps we need a moratorium on reorganizing and strategies, limiting it to every decade or so. Naive, yes, for the folks in the EEOB don’t score points on their 18-24 month assignments by NOT reinventing the universe or getting a Presidential directive signed. Nevertheless, a thought. We can’t expect any system to work if it is never allowed to reach a point of stasis so that the folks working in it can operate it competently. We are creating the equivalent of the Redskins offense for the past 5 years, perhaps we are a bit too much like Dan Snyder in meddling with the team and the playbook.

Look forward to seeing the new “revisions” and words in 2011. And then new ones a few years after that, and then a few years after that. Good luck to the folks who are working hard and diligently on this, no doubt with the best of intentions as servants to our Nation, but I am not sure that further reorganizing slide decks and strategies and directives is how we can best advance the safety and security of the homeland. I pose the question, what should be really be doing that is useful if a Grand Strategy still eludes us? I am not sure its endless reorganizing, which is analogous to cleaning the office and the files and repositioning papers on the desk instead of doing real work.

Maybe we aught to have someone identify what the problem is first, before we start looking for new policy solutions? Is it horizontal integration (inter-agency, inter-disciplinary))? Is it vertical integration (international-fed-state-local-private-citizen)? Is it professionalizing the expertise among the system operators? How does the homeland security (and emergency management and emergency response) issue differ from the national security issue? Who is responsible for what? What exactly does resilience mean when put into action, and is it something the federal government can or should be responsible for in the homeland?

Maybe we should have a Presidential Commission look at this issue…?

Happy labor day.

Comment by Philip J. Palin

September 5, 2010 @ 2:57 pm

Dear Real: I notice that only 10 minutes separates the time stamp on your comment and my reply to Bill Cumming. The angles taken by our simultaneously written comments are different, but the substance seems to me similar. I also concur with the benefits you outline of having a Grand Strategy. Especially because we are without an effective Grand Strategy, it would be helpful to be a bit restrained and meaningfully focused with the Petite Strategies offered. It strikes me as significant that the state homeland security leaders found 12 or the 24 HSPDs to be non-strategic and, basically, inappropriate for the White House to weight-in on. More on this in my post Monday morning.

Pingback by Upcoming Changes in the Federal Homeland Security Structure? « In Case of Emergency

September 23, 2010 @ 6:34 am

[…] alone is interesting, but when coupled with this article by Philip J. Palin, of Homeland Security Watch, which says that several people have heard that the […]

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