Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

September 19, 2011

Homeland security at the local level

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Arnold Bogis on September 19, 2011

“What if a politician were to see his job as that of an organizer, as part teacher and part advocate, one who does not sell voters short but who educates them about the real choices before them?”

–President Barack Obama

A recent Andrew Sullivan blog post grabbed my attention and made me immediately consider the evolution of homeland security at the local level:

Brian Brown tracks the rise of localism in politics and the private sector:

Rather than the top-down hierarchical strategy of directed control, companies like [Starbucks] are developing organizational cultures manifested through smaller networks in which local knowledge matters…The organizations that have made these adjustments — or were founded based upon them, such as Apple, Amazon, and Google — are reporting higher job satisfaction, faster innovation, and greater profits than organizations still laboring under the old methods.

Unfortunately, the rest of the quoted article makes a weak case for too much emphasis on top-down planning and too little on bottom up development of policy solutions (truth be told a case to which I am very sympathetic, but the author mistakenly characterizes or simply misunderstands efforts originating from both ends of the  government spectrum). It did, however, remind me of the importance of this core issue.

Shortly after President Obama took office, I wrote a short opinion piece hoping that the rhetoric of the campaign, as well as the stated preferences of some of the President’s advisers, would result in a fundamental redistribution (does this make me a socialist?) of homeland security authority from the federal level through the states and out to the local cities, counties, and other local governing arrangements.

The shortcomings of homeland security efforts are well known. Among them the failure to instill a “culture of preparedness” in the public and accusations that guidance emanates from Washington without any consideration of local conditions. This stems from a federal point of view that considers homeland security an extension of national security dictated from inside the beltway. Change will require upending this perspective.

I am certainly not the first to write about the importance of a local focus on homeland security.  What, if anything, has changed in the power dynamic between various levels of government in regards to homeland security?

Perhaps because I am personally not in a position to witness it, I have my doubts that any real power/influence/decision making has been delegated to the non-federal level. Without a doubt, communication, information sharing, and even perhaps intelligence dissemination have improved.  A result of both the philosophies of those currently(and most recently) in positions of influence and recent events (such as the BP oil spill and Hurricane Irene), inter and intra-governmental communication and consultation are held in high regard.

What of actual power or influence?  Recently, some cities and states have rejected federal immigration enforcement guidelines due to what law enforcement officials in those jurisdictions judge is a negative safety cost/benefit analysis for their residents.  This is an assertion of local authority, not a re-conceptualization of the division of homeland security authority.

Has that happened?  Is it possible?  Have I missed a change in this story–whether positive or negative (entirely possible, as I have little insight into the daily interaction within government and between government and NGOs, private business, citizens, etc.)?

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Comment by William R. Cumming

September 20, 2011 @ 1:11 am

Empowering down the chain emphasized even by the famous engineer DEMING wherein Japan manufacturing did so but not necessarily USA. Building block approach of bottom up always seems better to me just because local conditions often can and do make absurd dictates from above. But also I would argue little effective communication between the layers of the federal system. Not sure why but few Governors want regional solutions. Few Mayors and CEOs want regional solutions. It is a big country and difficult to govern from almost any standpoint. But many local governments are really not effective operating entities with over 90,000 of them but many have no sue or be sued authority, or independent taxing authority, or perhaps with a decline in population or revenues even a de minimu public safety apparatus.

Oh and probably should mention the 500 federally recognized Indian Tribes which under US law have some elements of sovereignity. Add NGO’s and others and all in all a complicated piece of governing machinery.

Comment by Philip J. Palin

September 20, 2011 @ 7:31 am

Arnold, You wonder aloud, “I have my doubts that any real power/influence/decision making has been delegated to the non-federal level.”

I could argue that in many of the most important ways power/influence/decision-making never left the local level.

But you also remind us, “…assertion of local authority (is) not a re-conceptualization of the division of homeland security authority.”

As your quote at the start highlights, the real issue is whether or not there is a level of shared participation, collaboration, and deliberation across levels of government and between government and non-government sources of power/influence/decision-making.

I do a fair amount of work at the grass-roots. Two strong impressions:

1. The Feds are now MUCH better than five years ago at recognizing the authentic competence of non-Feds. Policy, strategy, and doctrine — especially related to whole-of-nation and whole community — are making a difference.

2. Receptivity and effectiveness depends on local conditions and attitudes.

In my experience local receptivity is especially dependent on whether or not someone has taken the time and made a sustained effort to “educate them about the real choices before them.” No amount of money, meetings, and such will make up for this educational process. With this educational process in place money, meetings, and more can contribute a great deal.

Comment by Tom Russo

September 20, 2011 @ 11:56 am

Is Homeland Security an extension of National Security?

What are the pros and cons of the question “Is homeland security an extension of national security? Like Phillip…I spend much time at the grass-roots level and the following came to mind as I read Arnold’s post. I’m sure other notions can be added to these lists.

The Cons:

? grants in the early years evolved to become all hazards, reflecting local vulnerability assessments
? Recognition that locals are in charge of response and recovery, especially post Katrina
? Feds “lean forward” in anticipation of imminent disasters (i.e., hurricanes). They do not wait for the Governor to declare an emergency and than wait for the request.
? U.S. citizens upending recent potential terrorist plots, demonstrating citizen awareness, action and shared responsibility for preparedness and response.

The Pros:

? Homeland security grant funds are drying up as the nation feels safer
? Centers for Disease Control grant funds are drying up as the nation feels safer
? Hospital Preparedness grant funds are drying up as the nation feels safer
? Fusion center intelligence dissemination remains a one-way street

Comment by William R. Cumming

September 21, 2011 @ 7:49 am

Hey TOM at least the theory is that NATIONAL SECURITY is an extension of Homeland Security! Since the DOD is all about the care and feeding and “control” of the ARMED FORCES at least in theory they are largely offshore. Of course this is not really accurate. The tail is much much longer than the teeth.

It is really not a “Defense Department” except for those who see the world only through the vision that any force capable of inflicting damages on US lives and property is “dangerous”! I thought Robert Kagan’s “Dangerous Nation” had some useful insights but unfortunately his follow up book did not live up to his volume 1!

On another blog I recently asked for pro and con arguments as to whether Saudi Arabia or Israel was or was not an ally! NO USA treaty arrangements with either that I know of.

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