Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

September 22, 2010


Filed under: Budgets and Spending,Organizational Issues,State and Local HLS — by Mark Chubb on September 22, 2010

This week we learned that the longest recession since the end of the Second World War ended last December. I for one am glad somebody shared this fact, because it’s not so obvious from where I sit at the moment. Judging from the fiscal effects on the homeland security and emergency management employment markets, the housing market is not the only part of the economy underwater.

My personal employment situation is far from secure, as I have held a limited-term appointment for the last two years while a colleague served a three-year active duty assignment with the National Guard. With his separation from active service, he will resume his former position at the beginning of October, which leaves me about a month to find new employment while we work together on the transition.

As I have surveyed the homeland security and emergency management employment landscape, a couple of things have become all too readily apparent to me. First, the vast majority of positions on offer at any given time are with federal agencies or contractors. Second, most of these are located in the Washington, DC metro area or at least in the eastern half of the United States. And third, the pay afforded federal employees and many of their contractors is vastly superior to anything on offer at the state or local level, unless of course you work in a unionized police or fire department with tenure-based compensation.

Put simply, emergency management and emergency preparedness pays squat all and you will be hard-pressed to find employment in a federal agency without veterans preference credits, highly specialized skills, a top secret security clearance, a willingness to relocate and good connections. Professional homeland security and emergency management practitioners, especially those at the state and local level, are generally over-educated and under-compensated. Those without educational credentials are often far better paid than those with them, even when work experience is taken into consideration.

This is not the first time these observations have occurred to me. I married a city planner. We met while working for the same city back in the mid-1980s. She quickly made me aware of just how lucky I was to be working for the fire department, where my position afforded me a salary superior to hers despite no educational prerequisites and only comparable experience.

My wife was laid off 15 months ago despite 25 years of experience and a graduate education. She has had one interview for a position since then. Prospects for her re-employment as a city planner are bleak to non-existant. And no one seems willing to look beyond her previous job titles or the duration of her unemployment to see the skills she offers in terms of strategic thinking, public engagement, business process development and project management.

In light of current economic conditions, I am, of course, concerned that I may soon join my wife among the ranks of the long-term unemployed. But I am also concerned that the situation, if indeed we are in some sort of a long, slow recovery, has not been accompanied by the sort of strategic realignment necessary to improve efficiencies and accountability for outcomes in the future that should have become evident to all as a result of the collapse that precipitated it. And this should be a very real concern to anyone committed to the homeland security enterprise for many reasons.

Chief among these is the evidence that our so-called recovery will exacerbate social and economic tensions that pit the haves against the have-nots. Income inequality remains at unprecedented levels and is increasing even as the ranks of those in poverty increase. This creates ideal conditions for radicalization, which is already far too apparent in our domestic political discourse as well as our international relations and security situation.

The second problem this poses is the tendency to centralize expertise and capability for generating and implementing solutions far away from the sources of the problems. Failing to engage and develop local capability remains a significant vulnerability, especially since so many of the investments made in recent years have gone to already “fat” agencies and the production of paper plans that largely sit on shelves collecting dust. Efforts to slim these agencies down as the fiscal crisis dragged on have led to cuts of brain and muscle leaving the fat largely intact.

The strong tendency to preserve the status quo ante leaves many pressing problems unaddressed. Not the least of these is the need to diversify the ranks of our public safety forces so they can more effectively engage the communities they serve. (Why is it such a large percentage of the adverse impact employment discrimination cases reaching the U.S. Supreme Court in recent years originated in fire service agencies?)

I interviewed with a fire department just last week that serves a community where the Hispanic/Latino population is approaching 20 percent. Of their 400 or so uniformed staff, four are women and only one is Hispanic. In the city where I live and work, the vast majority of rank and file public safety staff in the police and fire departments live far outside the city they protect despite making a median salary more than twice the median wage. In other words, we are exporting our wealth and importing skills required to supply essential services.

These signs suggest that homeland security and emergency management are in retreat rather than advancing. Police and fire service agencies and their unions are setting the agenda at state and local levels while the federal agenda remains focused inside the Beltway and on staying off of the front pages of the few remaining national newspapers.

If making our country safe is about the decisions we make today to produce a better future for ourselves and others, we should think very seriously about the strategies informing this situation. Judging by the investments we are making (or not) in local expertise, capabilities and evaluation we may well have things back-to-front.

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September 22, 2010 @ 2:10 am

To cut a long story somewhat shorter, if there is no market for your skills you need new skills. If you are reading this from a submarine, thanks for everything. If you need a lifeboat, somebody is building those. It’s a big market. The lake is bigger so keep fishing it and keep up with the angling post. Chances are you need a fishing boat, so somebody is building those. Keep both oars in the water and wear a floatation device or have one handy. My seat is a floation device and the men are Airborne.

The wild blue yonder is wild. Are the fish biting?


September 22, 2010 @ 3:03 am

66 Also in April, Gestapo officers in occupied Holland decided to release Anton Poelhof, a Dutch university student born in the East Indies, …

Bobbie to us. A razor keen intellect. No glory or profit. Nobody even said thanks. Nobody had to. When they find their goons won’t protect them, they scatter. Then comes the gathering. Work it out.


September 22, 2010 @ 3:20 am

“In 1961, the year Oakes was appointed editor of the editorial page, Harper and Brothers published his book “The Edge of Freedom: A Report on Neutralism and New Forces in Sub-saharan Africa and Eastern Europe.” But his principle areas of concern were human rights and civil liberties, manifested by anti-McCarthyism and consistent support of the civil rights movement; strong and early criticism of the Vietnam War (1963), making the Times one of the few papers to take such a stand and leading to personal attacks on him by President Lyndon B. Johnson, Dean Rusk and others; and advocacy of conservation and protection of natural resources. In 1966, he was awarded the George Polk Award for bringing to the editorial page “a brilliance, an intensity and a perceptiveness” that made it “the most vital and influential journalistic voice in America.”” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_B._Oakes

Still on the edge and more washed up politicians. 3,000 years of civil liberties won’t go without a fight. You can’t beat the history. Even if it’s a rough draft, it rough enough. It’s still justice. Underwater? Make moonshine and have a little rebellion. It’s as storms are to nature.


September 22, 2010 @ 3:40 am

Guys are on deadlines. I know. Do some jumping Jack flash. Sometimes I get good intelligence from the CIA. Sometimes it’s better from the Washington Post. You betting on history or betting the future? 3,000 to 1 odds are hard to resist. Undercover work is lots of fun, if done right. A lot isn’t right and money gets lost. Why hang the kids on a deficit? It’s the land of plenty, too do. The dictators can compete with dictatorships and regret it later. They can regret it until hell freezes over. Won’t change a thing.


September 22, 2010 @ 3:43 am

It’s a gas and the line is bad honey. What to do?

Comment by Claire B. Rubin

September 22, 2010 @ 7:47 am

As a counterpoint to your posting, Eric’s Blog asks emergency managers “Is it time to Retire?”


Comment by Potomac

September 22, 2010 @ 8:12 am

To add to the mix, the Obama administration’s OPM promulgated a rule expanding the ban on political appointees from taking career federal positions from 1 year to 5 years… a further disincentive for those talented folks who may otherwise have considered taking leadership roles in the HS/EM enterprise, and also leaving many qualified folks who have served in political leadership positions and remain dedicated to the mission despite partisanship, on the side lines searching for a safe port.

The veterans preference for federal employment, especially in DHS, is particularly troubling, and leaves me torn, because while I do feel we owe an obligation to our service members, I am troubled by the further creep of military perspectives over time into our civilian homeland security enterprise and broader government, that at its core must interact and support civilian state, local, and private enterprise. One needs only to look to the post-war Iraq society building mission that was forced on our military to realize how incompatible these cultures and missions are, and unfortunately could serve as a precursor if we completely militarize our federal workforce over the next decade or two.

That said, thank you service members. I just don’t know whether it should automatically put you at the front of the line for all federal positions. You leadership and talents will get you there on your own merit.

Comment by Dan O'Connor

September 22, 2010 @ 8:14 am


Thanks for sharing. I have empathy for the predicament you find yourself in. The recession (YOU KNOW THE ONE THAT ENDED LAST YEAR) killed off 7.9 million jobs. It’s increasingly likely that many will never come back. If the recession is over, I’m glad someone took the time to let us all know.

I cannot see how we can prosper and owe at the same time. I also find some merit in the theme of History Detective’s first posting.

That said, the business of homeland security is a fickle one and does not lend itself to traditional markets or measures. When a Gov’t; whether a local, State, or Federal is your primary customer or your target market, you’re not an entrepreneur, you’re an extended Gov’t employee…and that kinda sucks. Any time one is part of large, often regulatory in nature institution, there seems to be a less than robust market to seek opportunity. So from that point of view, the HS enterprise is in and of itself a self limiting institution.

And, there is a great deal of cognitive dissonance in and around the definition and execution of security. There is a distorted reality in and how we are supposed to balance the desired security of a Nation while at the same time, foster and maintain a limited Government role of the people, by the people and for the people. In many instances this feels like a Divine Comedy.

Grants have completely inebriated the playing field and thought process. Injecting artificial capital into organizations creates artificial needs and thereby artificial jobs. As I previously mentioned;
(http://www.hlswatch.com/2010/04/20/smarting-from-grant-crack/) it creates behavior issues that are distorted by proposition. It also affects the landscape in terms of employment and opportunity.

There are many competing interests “out here”. Too big to fail is also too big to fix…too big to fix is too big to change. So while we’ve had nearly ten years of “across the board improvement” we have not addressed our national foibles and our vulnerabilities are still the same. Is this position we find ourselves in a manifestation of our belief system or a systemic reality based on our evolution?

There is great opportunity to inject resilience and HS practices into our agri business, food industries, JIT logistics, etc. But the institutions in and of themselves do not want or maybe better stated, cannot stop the machine they find themselves part of.

There are so many definitions of HS and MANY agendas within the “enterprise”… even the word itself has a nebulous connotation.

So is there someone to hang a blame shingle on? I guess it depends on who’s assigning.

The market is saturated with faux experts, snake oil salesman, and some great thinkers. We tend to eschew the thinkers because they pose the toughest questions. This is my opinion.

All of the aforementioned directly affects your and I daresay many others predicament.

Often time’s life doles out requirements that we meet and often unbeknownst to us, shapes our situation. There is a reality in this and also, once accepted, a degree of freedom.

So, the harsh reality; if you want to work in this field, you have to go where the jobs are. Our grandfathers traversed this Nation in the 30’s looking for work. Families were split and extended over time to find work. It, unfortunately, is the future as well.

If you couple the employment opportunity concentrations with the fact that most people are unable to sell a home and/or afford homes in the same areas these jobs are located; viola; geographical workers! So from that point of view, the bank bail outs, TARP, the stimulus etc did little to nothing for most Americans.

In fact, I’d make the case that the coupling of a very dire job market with this fiscal witchcraft may have…may have, crippled many Americans forever.

A dire prediction, I know, but the banking loan requirements, housing loan requirements, unemployment, and extended negative outlook economically creates decision matrices that permanently affect people and limit decision making.

So one has to go where the jobs are and constantly evolve…almost revolve in remaking skill sets and broadening the breadth of capability in an inversely proportional opportunity landscape.

Blah blah blah….this doesn’t help you or anyone else in this state. But there must be adaptation.

I’ll leave you with this; I know people who live 800 miles from their places of employment, rent little apts, and see their kids a couple of days a month because that’s what the job market dictates. Like you, their fields of experience are part of the enterprise and they must go where the work is. Housing markets plummeted leaving people trapped. Same people were unemployed for long periods of time and created credit woes that are forcing people into new realities and unpleasant paradigm’s.

This may be the new American Dream….

Sarcasm aside, there is not a great deal of choice in this and the only choice people have at this point is to adapt or die.

Comment by William R. Cumming

September 22, 2010 @ 8:29 am

Well Mark thanks for sharing your personal situation and good luck. Would like to talk with you at some length of blog.

You are not alone but that does not make it any easier for you or your wife. The world wants “can-do” types not those that ask “why” at least occasionally.

But your post actually understates the problem? Why? Our country has adopted a federal system reinforced by the Constitution. But the failure to fund necessary elements of that federal system including public safety have caused me to call for broad scale legal and budget reforms. The system is broken and if Hurricane Katrina did not reveal to some that STATE and LOCAL governments were a week foundation for HS/EM it should have done so. Corruption has ended competence in many communities and even STATE governments. There is a veneer of anti-corruption effort at the federal level but largely ineffectual. Competent legal, procurement, and OIG staff are always understaffed and underfunded. No one wants to be told. But Congressional staff and members continue to pressure the Executive Branch on behalf of grantees and contractors. Sometime legitimate but ofter just fronting for campaign contributors. Also the seasoning and development of competence is a long term issue. Read the writings of Alfred North Whitehead and C.P. Snow. Basically our system (US) is not in great shape.

It has become take what you can get and no sense of community or worrying about those in need, but purely insulate yourself as much as possible. This is not a recipe for long term success. Obama may get it but he does not show “it”!

Nonetheless here are the top ten reforms and changes immediately needed to help reform HS/EM and of course there are many others including many others I have suggested.

1. The domestic crisis management system to the extent it exists depends on the existence of STATE and LOCAL public safety (that includes police, fire, EMT, HAZMATS, EM, public health, etc) being in place and operative. This may or not be the case depending on the event. My change or reform is that for the top 500 metropolitian areas that up to 25% of the public safety budgets including EM and HS as far as staffing, training, equipping, logistics, standard setting,and education be funded on an annual basis by the federal government. The STATE and LOCAL match would be 75% but clearly given state and local finances a transition period may require up to 50% federal contribution. We know that DOD budget execution authority in each fiscal year now exceeds 50% of all STATE and LOCAL budget execution authority including education. This must be accomplished as soon as possible. By the way a new standard on EM competence has just been approved that ends an almost 20 year effort to supplement NFPA 1600 which already is the approved national standard on EM and Public Saftey. This new development involves actual credentialing of Public Saftey and EM staff. So perhaps a stipend from the feds for all maintaining their credentials even beyond the 500 top metropolitian areas.

2. REDUCE the number of local jurisdictions from the current 90,000 to no more than 30,000. There are currently 4200 county jurisdictions but at least 600 contain fewer than 10,000 population. This consolidation has already occurred in a number of other countries. The de facto reduction in local units of government could be accelerated by the federal government only providing assistance to units of local government that have sue or be sued authority and/or general taxing authority.
3. Each Governor should sign an executive order designating his or her LT. Governmor as the principal for HS/EM STATE Crisis Manager with a portfolio that includes supervision of, development of, management and operation of, a state wide crisis management system that is all-hazards. This could be done immediately according to my reading of all the laws of the states. This does not mean the Governor is precluded from acting as principal in an actual incident or event and the EO is in fact and law a delegation of Gubernatorial authority.
4. The new Congress (the 112th) creates a JOINT COMMITTEE on Federalism. Largely staffed by members of Congress that were former governors or high ranking state officials or mayors or CEO’s of local government this Committee would review all legislation for its impact on federalism and file a FEDERALISM IMPACT STATEMENT for each piece of legislation. This could also take the form of a parallel organization to the Congressional Budget Office.
5. The President of the USA by Executive Order establishes that the VP is the principal person in the Executive Branch to oversee federalism issues. And in each Department and agency a formal designation of an appointee at the Assistant Secretary or above level be designated as the “FEDERALISM OFFICER” overseeing all impacts on federalism by that department or agencies programs, functions, or activities. Each component of the department or agency would have a designated liasion with expertise in federalism to liase with the FEDERALISM OFFICER.
6. Federalization of “terrorism” law has now continued throughout the last 4 decades of history. A comprehensive review by the Attorney General of the US of all federal statutes that utilize any definition of terrorism or other applicable statutes used to prevent or provide anti-terrorism and counter-terrorism law enforcement or HS authority all state statutes that utilize that term or otherwise that impact anti-terrorism and counter-terrorism efforts and prevention and law enforcement should be examined and reviewed to determine whether any direct or indirect conflicts exist and how those should be resolved given our federal system. Issues of comity should be included in this analysis by the AG as well as efficiency and effectiveness.
7. Each Governor shall designate in writing or by EXECUTIVE ORDER a person or office that has its primary responsiblity as implenting and operating under EMAC or any other mutal aid or mutual support agreement or contract at the STATE level. Mayors and CEO’s should be encouraged to do the same.
8. Only two states have mandated a standard for fire trucks with regards to fire truck couplings, New York and Florida. This should be made a federal standard and enforced with appropriate funding to make the standard applicable as soon as possible.
9. The TITLE VI of the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act, formerly part of Public Law 920 of the 81st Congress, commonly known as the Federal Civil Defense Act of 1950, provides that the President or his delegate may hire up to 100 foreign nationals each year to assit in what for want of a better name I call “resilience”! This authority should be immediately exercised since a great deal of foreign expertise on HS/EM exists and is not systematically made known or utilized by the US. This would facilitate this effort. Note that US SAR teams are patterned on SWEDISH STANDARDS, as an example.
10. A cadre of private citizens that are screened and trained should be provided annual stipends to maintain that training as a reserve corps for US HS/EM augmentation. Given current pay standards suggest the stipend be the same as the non-means tested STAFFORD ACT individual assistance amount which now is around $31,000. This stipend also should not be means tested.
11. The STAFFORD ACT should be clearly revised to provide for BNICE accidents or events, including WMD and CBRNE incidents and events. EPA, NRC, and DOE emergency response technical units should be directly authorized for activation and deployment in all such incidents and events. Funding and staffing for this effort should be provided.
12. THE NATIONAL GUARD should be funded and staffed to fullfill the mission assignments it has with regards to Military Support to Civil Authorities and should be the lead within DOD on such issues, not NORTHCOM.

Well hey at least its a start.

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September 22, 2010 @ 5:02 pm

[…] Homeland Security Watch » Underwater A not happy post about the state of homeland security and emergency management. Also a peek into the balance between locals and federal response funding and priority. (tags: funding emergencymanagement homelandsecurity) […]

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