“There is a quality even meaner than outright ugliness or disorder, and this meaner quality is the dishonest mask of pretend order, achieved by ignoring or suppressing the real order that is struggling to exist and to be served.”
The harsh quote is from Jane Jacob’s 1961 masterpiece, The Death and Life of Great American Cities. I thought of the quote as I read Presidential Decision Directive 8, harshly titled — but in a different sense of harsh — National Preparedness.
Jacobs was not talking about homeland security as we know it now. She was writing about a different kind of government program focused on a different kind of homeland security:
… there is a housing project with a conspicuous rectangular lawn which became an object of hatred to the project tenants. [Government representatives were] astonished by how often the subject of the lawn came up, usually gratuitously… and how much the tenants despised it and urged that it be done away with. When [a goverment representative] asked why, the usual answer was, “What good is it?” or “Who wants it?” Finally one day a tenant more articulate than the others made this pronouncement: “Nobody cared what we wanted when we built this place. They threw our houses down and pushed us here and pushed our friends somewhere else. We don’t have a place around here to get a cup of coffee or a newspaper even, or borrow fifty cents. Nobody cared what we need. But the big men come and look at the grass and say, “Isn’t it wonderful! Now the poor have everything.”
I do not mean this as a criticism of PPD 8. I tend to agree with Palin’s analyses over the past few days. PPD 8 seems to be a modest evolution of HSPD 8, with more attention to a broader set of stakeholders, and with at least the hint of more flexibility about what preparedness means.
I also do not intend this to be a critique of the men and women who worked (I am told) even before the Obama Administration to author and socialize this evolution of homeland security doctrine. I agree with Teddy Roosevelt’s words, spoken more than 100 years ago:
It is not the critic who counts…. The credit belongs to the man [and woman] who is actually in the arena….
I translate his words to mean it is easier to comment on PPD 8 than it was to bring it to fruition. Here are some initial reactions to PPD 8.
PPD 8, to me, is another example of “the dishonest mask of pretend order, achieved by ignoring … the real order that is struggling … to be served.” Such dishonest masks characterizes much contemporary rhetoric marking the struggle to make room for something other than a technicist worldview about governance.
It might be less pretentious to express more narrowly my view PPD 8 is a recent example of the struggle in homeland security between an effort to impose pretend order and the burgeoning emergence of real order.
I wrote about this dynamic in 2010 for an analysis of the Quadrennial Homeland Security Review. It is a struggle — in bare metaphorical terms — between Newtonians and Darwinians.
Newtonians see homeland security as a machine whose parts need to be integrated into a cohesive whole, a whole – perhaps — governed by a National Preparedness Goal. Darwinians see homeland security as the emergent product of multiple complex adaptive systems.
Both approaches value order. Newtonians achieve order through understanding how to use power. Darwinians achieve order by shaping — as they can — variation, selection, and replication. One approach is not troubled by pretend order. The other approach avoids the artificial, not for esthetic reasons, but because of its waste.
When I compare PPD 8 with the Quadrennial Homeland Security Review, I am encouraged to think the Darwinian forces are edging ahead in the struggle. But when I compare PPD 8 with HSPD 8, the questioning WTF? refrain comes to mind.
Was the squeeze that produced PPD 8 worth the juice?
PPD 8 supports an “all of Nation” approach.
The 2007 National Homeland Security Strategy’s vision was:
The United States, through a concerted national effort that galvanizes the strengths and capabilities of Federal, State, local, and Tribal governments; the private and non-profit sectors; and regions, communities, and individual citizens – along with our partners in the international community – will work to achieve a secure Homeland that sustains our way of life as a free, prosperous, and welcoming America.
So how is PPD 8 different? If anything HSPD 8 is more expansive with its “all of planet” approach.
PPD 8 supports “an integrated, all-of-Nation, capabilities-based approach to preparedness.”
Or, as several analysts have already noted, we now focus on capabilities, not scenarios.
As I understand it, rather than relying on a dozen or so major catastrophe scenarios, the new emphasis will be “maximum of maximums (MOM).” As best as I understand MOM, it means figuring out the worst of the worst things that can happen to a particular jurisdiction, and then working on figuring out what capabilities that situation would require.
How is this not switching from 15 really horrible scenarios to 1 outright ugly and horrible mega-monster scenario?
I know some Newtonians felt chained to the 15 scenarios (almost all of which ended up with the feds showing up to help). I know Drawinians who treated working on the 15 scenarios as the price they had to pay to get the grants to develop capabilities they wanted. Is the evolutionary advance that the Newtonians will now be chained to a different rule set? The Darwinians are already strategizing about how to use PPD 8. Newtonians are waiting for implementation guidelines.
And maybe I’m missing something really significant here, but what is new about the emphasis on capabilities based planning?
Surely one recalls the HSPD 8 spawned Target Capabilities List (TCL):
The TCL describes the capabilities related to the four homeland security mission areas: Prevent, Protect, Respond and Recover. It defines and provides the basis for assessing preparedness. It also establishes national guidance for preparing the Nation for major all-hazards events, such as [my emphasis] those defined by the National Planning Scenarios.
HSPD 8 went from the 15 planning scenarios to 37 TCLs that would allow one to prepare for those scenarios. The TCLs were (are?) grouped according to common, prevent, protect, respond, and recover capabilities.
Does the PPD 8 focus on prevent, protect, mitigate [new?], respond, and recover mean a new set of “core” capabilities are needed? Or are the old ones still ok?
Can Jurisdiction X, whose MOM differs from Jurisdiction Y’s MOM choose to focus on capabilities that are different from Jurisdiction Y? Does the homeland security ecosystem allow for different “scalable, flexible, and adaptable” capabilities in different parts of the enterprise, or does the homeland security machine demand “a unified system with common terminology and approach?” Or is the answer both?
And then comes the national preparedness goal (NPG). The PPD 8 version of the NPG is due in September 2011. I say “version,” because I thought we already had a national preparedness goal.
On March 31, 2005 (six years and a day before PPD 8 was signed), DHS issued its interim national preparedness goal:
[The] vision for the National Preparedness Goal is: To engage Federal, State, local, and tribal entities, their private and non-governmental partners, and the general public to achieve and sustain risk-based target levels of capability to prevent, protect against, respond to, and recover from major events in order to minimize the impact on lives, property, and the economy.
That reads like “whole of nation” and “preparedness capabilities” to me. The words may differ, but the semantics seem the same. Where is the evolutionary advance here? Do we really need a new national preparedness goal? If so, where is the demand coming from?
Then there is the matter of metrics in PPD 8:
… a comprehensive approach to assess national preparedness that uses consistent methodology to measure the operational readiness of national capabilities at the time of assessment, with clear, objective and quantifiable performance measures, against the target capability levels identified in the national preparedness goal.
Assessing preparedness — a code phrase that can be approximately translated into “what has all the money spent on homeland security bought the nation, and how do we know?” — has proven a hellish task.
Some people have suggested the way the Centers for Disease Control assess their capabilities of interest might be a model for the rest of homeland security.
I looked briefly at the CDC March 2011 report, “Public Health Preparedness Capabilities: National Standards for State and Local Planning.”
The 153 page, very well organized, document — based on lots of stakeholder input — describes 15 capabilities, further subdivided into functions, that are still further divided into tasks. (The report is structurally similar to several early DHS publications.)
The document deserves a closer reading than I gave it. It does include a number of measurable objectives (e.g., “Production of the approved Incident Action Plan before the start of the second operational period.”) But I ran across the following phrase 43 times: “At present there are no CDC-defined performance measures for this function.” (For example: Provide methods for the public to contact the health department with questions and concerns through call centers, help desks, hotlines, social media, web chat or other communication platforms.)
Like the rest of homeland security, the public health community still has some work to do on the measurement issue.
As I wrote in this blog two Octobers ago, there have been at least 6 well-funded pilot efforts to figure out how to measure preparedness. They all proved fruitless for reasons that have more to do with the wickedness of the assessment problem than with the lack of talent, skills and intellect of the people who worked the problem.
Jay Rosen provided a good synopsis recently about the nature of wicked problems that speak to this dilemma. After summarizing the characteristics of wicked problems, he writes
… we would be better off if we knew when we were dealing with a wicked problem, as opposed to the regular kind. If we could designate some problems as wicked we might realize that “normal” approaches to problem-solving don’t work. We can’t define the problem, evaluate possible solutions, pick the best one, hire the experts and implement. No matter how much we may want to follow a routine like that, it won’t succeed. Institutions may require it, habit may favor it, the boss may order it, but wicked problems don’t care.
Rosen suggests a way to treat wicked problems that might be considered for the preparedness effort:
Wicked problems demand people who are creative, pragmatic, flexible and collaborative. They never invest too much in their ideas because they know they are going to have to alter them. They know there’s no right place to start so they simply start somewhere and see what happens. They accept the fact that they’re more likely to understand the problem after it’s “solved” than before. They don’t expect to get a good solution; they keep working until they’ve found something that’s good enough. They’re never convinced that they know enough to solve the problem, so they are constantly testing their ideas on different stakeholders.
Assigning such creative, pragmatic, flexible and collaborative people to the measurement issue might be an evolutionary advance. My guess is they would include many of the people who developed and staffed the PPD. (Many. Not all.)
I think there is a simple test for the success of PPD 8:
Within 1 year from the date of this directive, the Secretary of Homeland Security shall submit the first national preparedness report based on the national preparedness goal to me, through the Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism. [my emphasis]
In case that language sounds familiar to you, here is something similar from the December 2003, HSPD 8:
The Secretary shall provide to me through the Assistant to the President for Homeland Security an annual status report of the Nation’s level of preparedness, including State capabilities, the readiness of Federal civil response assets, the utilization of mutual aid, and an assessment of how the Federal first responder preparedness assistance programs support the national preparedness goal. The first report will be provided within 1 year of establishment of the national preparedness goal. [my emphasis]
I don’t think this requirement to submit a national preparedness report was ever met.
The Post Katrina Emergency Management Reform Act of 2006 also required an annual federal preparedness report. I think one such report was written, and completed a few days before the end of the Bush Administration.
PPD 8 is a 6 page page stone tossed into the water. Its impact on the homeland security enterprise is neither predictable nor knowable. This is one of those situations where we will see causes retrospectively.
But we can fairly accurately predict how stakeholders will respond. As one either cynical or experienced person (or both) noted in a comment to one of Palin’s posts:
Just what we need, More Frameworks, yay! Let the interagency flogging begin and let the state and local stakeholders stand-by to shift course again and relearn new Federal stuff for the 3rd or 4th time this decade.
It need not be that way. PPD 8 is very clear that stakeholder involvement is an important part of turning words into actions that increase the nation’s preparedness.
PPD 8 notes several times that the Secretary “shall coordinate this effort with other executive departments and agencies, and consult with State, local, tribal, and territorial governments, the private and nonprofit sectors, and the public.” [my emphasis]
I do not know what “coordinate” or “consult” means in a Newtonian world. But it is the sine qua non of a social world that values variation, selection, and replication as the path to order.
Watching the changes in the homeland security enterprise over the past decade leads me to believe there is a real order struggling to exist and to be served in homeland security. The one word name for that order is federalism. It is accompanied by messiness, inefficiency and other faults that drive Newtonians crazy. But — like our republican democracy — pretend order is not one of federalism’s faults.
Let’s see how PPD 8 does without a mask.