525,600 minutes – how do you measure, measure a year? In daylights, in sunsets, in midnights, in cups of coffee. In inches, in miles, in laughter, in strife.
Can homeland security be measured? Consider a couple of possibilities:
One current project is concerned with supply chain resilience. What is a resilient supply chain? How does it behave? How does it deal with threats and vulnerabilities? According to interviews with senior supply chain owners, operators, and various experts no one has visibility over any single supply chain, much less the entire Supply Chain (like God, capitalized). A supply chain seems to work best when it is widely distributed among several sometimes-competing, sometimes-collaborating players who may or may not share what they know. The Supply Chain is a complex adaptive system beyond measuring or managing in anything like a traditional understanding of these terms.
A second project is concerned with deterrence. Is deterrence a short-term or long-term outcome? How is it achieved? It seems to be the outcome of how positive and negative sanctions are applied to a well-defined audience for a specific purpose, often at a particular time-and-place. Is there any way to accurately predict what mix of positive-and-negative, time-and-place will be most effective? How do you measure absence? Isn’t this what deterrence means, the absence of something unwanted? Almost everyone agrees that deterrence is an affective outcome, it is most effective when it influences motivations and unconscious tendencies. How do you measure progress toward such a goal? What does success look like?
It is reasonably clear and widely accepted that supply chain resilience and deterrence are each sub-elements of homeland security. Yet I am not at all sure how any of the three, including homeland security, are to be defined — to be made finite — and thereby measurable (as traditionally understood).
I believe homeland security (as a practice, perhaps even a weird sort of verb), if effective, produces a public good called homeland security (a noun). How do we assess such effectiveness?
The task of measuring performance in the production of public goods will not yield to simple calculations. Performance measurement depends instead on estimates in which indicators or proxy measure are used as estimates of performance. By utilizing multiple indicators, weak measures of performance can be developed even though direct measures of output are not feasible. Private goods are easier to measure, account for, and relate to cost-accounting procedures and management controls.
Private goods are easier to measure because we can exclude potential users from consumption. The private good of shelter is measured by, in part, the number of homeless… those excluded from shelter. How would we exclude consumption of effective deterrence? How would we exclude free-riding on effective supply chain resilience? How would we exclude effective homeland security? Why would we exclude?
Despite the complications, Congress wants better performance measures. GAO is a principled and persistent advocate of performance measures. Any senior official with the temerity to quote Dr. Ostrom would, I expect, be received rather skeptically in most Hill hearing rooms. Most “masters of disaster” would, in any case, welcome meaningful measures. So we keep looking.
Recently a senior FEMA official pointed to a possible relationship between mid-term sales-tax revenues, long-term recovery, and resilience. This made some intuitive sense. We were encouraged.
After a disaster sales-tax revenue almost always shows an immediate spike. For example, according to the Tuscaloosa News in the month following the April 27 tornado, local sales tax revenue of $2.5 million was about $160,000 higher than the same period in 2010 and about $300,000 more than in 2009.
What about one year or more later? Sales tax revenue is a leading indicator, the FEMA official argued, for a whole host of other indicators: population, recovery of the retail sector, sustainable government services, overall economic activity, and more. If following the immediate spike there is a long-term slide in sales-tax receipts this is almost always evidence of non-resilience. The reverse is also true he suggested: stable or higher sales tax revenues signals a range of resilience.
According to the Greater New Orleans Community Data Center, “City of New Orleans sales tax collections for the first six months of 2011 are at $78.5 million — higher than any other six–month period post–Katrina, and only 2 percent lower than the same months in 2005.” Taken alone this could seem a sign of extraordinary resilience, especially for a city with a considerably reduced population and in the midst of a deep national recession.
Other indicators are mixed: New Orleans school enrollment is 63 percent pre-Katrina numbers and the rate of violent crime is 80 percent higher than the national average. New Orleans has not seen the collapse in employment of other places in the nation, but the biggest employment sectors — energy, tourism, and shipping — are all in decline.
Is New Orleans struggling or strong? Resilient or just hanging on until the next big one?
Greensburg, Kansas is widely celebrated as a premier example of resilience in its creative, courageous response to the May 2007 tornado that devastated the community. Between 2009 and 2010 Kiowa County — Greensburg is the county seat — saw sales tax revenue grow about 3 percent. Does this quantity fairly capture the resilience of Greensburg?
How do we measure homeland security? As input or output, might be the next question.
There is a Hebrew word — transliterated as ‘esher — that is usually translated as happy or blessed. This is the noun form of a verb — transliterated as ‘asher — that means to advance, go straight, make progress.
Do we achieve the noun by experiencing the verb or is experiencing the noun what motivates the action?
“How blessed (‘esher) is the man who finds wisdom and the man who gains understanding. For her profit is better than the profit of silver and her gain better than fine gold. “(Proverbs 3:13-14)
Gold and silver can be precisely measured, valued, and excluded. Wisdom is worth even more, but resists unambiguous measurement. I don’t think wisdom can be excluded (in the economic sense of the term), but it can certainly be elusive.