Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

June 7, 2011

“How can we then make decisions who have so well unlearned to decide.”

Filed under: Budgets and Spending — by Christopher Bellavita on June 7, 2011

The National Priorities Project — whose mission is to make “complex federal budget information transparent and accessible so people can prioritize and influence how their tax dollars are spent” — reports

The United States has spent more than $7.6 trillion on defense and homeland security since the attacks of September 11, 2001.

Total homeland security spending since September 11, 2001 is $635.9 billion.

The Congressional Quarterly [subscription required] points to a 2009 article estimating Al Qaeda’s annual spending ranges from a low of 10 million to a high of 300 million dollars a year.

Even anything close to that ratio represents a massive return on Evil’s investment.

“We are continuing this policy in bleeding America to the point of bankruptcy. Allah willing, and nothing is too great for Allah,” bin Laden said in a 2004 interview.


Yesterday, Jessica reported:

[T]he House approved a 2012 Homeland Security Appropriations bill that slashes homeland spending by $1.1 billion dollars (2.6% decrease) for this year…,” including a 52% percent cut for the Science & Technology Directorate.

Meanwhile, some of the same congressional representatives who recently criticized DHS for not demonstrating what the country has gained from previous years’ homeland security spending, now warn that cuts threaten to undo the progress we’ve made in preparedness over the past decade.

I suppose a foolish consistency remains the hobgoblin of little minds.


“[T]he Pentagon doesn’t know how it spends its money,” says Oaklahoma Senator Tom Coburn.

One might say the same thing for homeland security, “because homeland security funding flows through literally dozens of federal agencies and not just through the Department of Homeland Security,” says the National Priorities Project


I am confused by what is going on in the budget world.

On the one hand, it reminds me of a sculpture in the Columbia Center — the tallest building in Seattle and a target included in al Qaeda’s original 9/11/01 hit list. I think the sculpture is called “Climbing the ladder of success.”

You may note none of the climbers have heads.  As if thought, rationality and consistency have no place on a trip to success.

On the other hand, the steaming semantic gyre of budgets, cuts, expenditures, threats, vulnerabilities and missions reminds me of a poem that appeared in the August 19, 1944 issue of the New Yorker. The century’s second war was ending, quickly to be replaced by another, more complicated one.


Lincoln said in 1862 we must “think anew and act anew.” As we move into homeland security’s second decade, after its largely knee jerk first decade, we can be guided helpfully by Fenton’s question: “how can we then make decisions who have so well unlearned to decide.”


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Comment by William R. Cumming

June 7, 2011 @ 4:03 am

Few in the Executive Branch actually understand how the budget forces policy and now many will be learning on a catch up basis.

Comment by William R. Cumming

June 7, 2011 @ 12:25 pm

With respect to decision making in crisis management the problem is often decision overload. Despite my advocacy of decision support systems in civil security and civil emergency mangement DOD and the Armed Forces are well ahead of the civil sector in this arena. Too bad more of the S&T effort in DHS did not follow this path before falling prey to what will be historic reductions in its funding and flexibility. Again in the one arena that DOD culture might have enhanced HS and EM the second stringers migrating from DOD to DHS had little of the competence and imagination necessary to drive innovation over the last decade. More is never necessarily better!

Comment by bellavita

June 7, 2011 @ 4:21 pm

Bill — do you have examples of “DOD and the Armed Forces [being] well ahead of the civil sector in [the decision support] arena? Are the crisis situations faced domestically sufficiently similar to the tactical crises DoD faces?

Comment by Nick Catrantzos

June 7, 2011 @ 5:00 pm


Perhaps the essence of our decision making is more akin to old- fashioned dialing in of a radio station than an act of precision and accumulated knowledge redolent of an older century’s ingenuous confidence in science or positivism. Thus we are ever adjusting and tuning, alternatively overshooting and undershooting the mark until one day, triumph. The static subsides, the station is dialed in perfectly. Only the program’s format has changed, the music is now cacophonous, and we wonder whether the effort behind dialing it all in with such precision was out of proportion to the object sought.

Then again perhaps, like Camus, we find there is nobility in the struggle.

Ours is a nation of Darwin Awards and eyeblink attention spans. What amazes is not that we are slow learners but that we are doughty, cantankerous, and resilient enough to survive repeating our mistakes till we tire of them or outgrow them. In the meanwhile, our decision and resource allocation processes must confound our enemies as much as they amuse our own reflective practitioners.


Comment by William R. Cumming

June 7, 2011 @ 7:07 pm

Chris! Let’s take one small issue–heads up display–which is a type of decision support system. How many in the Public Safety arena have access to heads up display. Private Sector ESRI doing a good job helping feds, STATES and their local governments on GIS but nothing like total dependence of DOD systems on GIS. Disclosure two of my former soccer players work for ESRI!

All! Repeat all DHS and FEMA issued maps should be interactive at this point and at least locate some critical infrastructure.

I understand a major issue in the recent play of National Level Exercise 2011 was rerouting around destroyed Mississippi River main stem bridges.

There are over 20 atmospheric models used by various federal agencies for various purposes and DOD adds probably another dozen. How to choose? Is that a decision that might be supported in advance?

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