Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

February 22, 2012


Filed under: Budgets and Spending,State and Local HLS — by Mark Chubb on February 22, 2012

I’ll make this post a short one. (I’d rather be in Christchurch, where today they marked the first anniversary of the devastating February 22 aftershock that claimed 185 lives.) The attention drawn by last week’s post, if not here at least on my personal website, has created quite a stir, at least where I work.

It seems any effort to critically evaluate our current situation is viewed as disloyalty. Tonight, representatives of organized labor appeared in public to make it very clear they do not like being called out for their affiliations. They like even less having their methods of operation, if not motives, called into question.

Homeland security does not need cheerleaders or band leaders or nannies. It needs people willing to ask difficult questions even when the answers prove troubling.

I am convinced that the systems we rely on to maintain secure communities are crumbling. Choices that once seemed easy are now almost impossible even for intelligent men and women of goodwill. Rather than discussing whether we repair a bridge before the next catastrophe, we are forced to invest in the response capability to handle its collapse. Instead of investing in quality public education, we argue about mandatory prison sentences for repeat offenders and lowering the age at which we impose capital punishment.

In many ways, this is the byproduct of a self-fulfilling prophecy that began taking shape when we started to question the very premise of public service in the late 1970s. Today, we have what we should have feared most: Civil servants paralyzed by ambivalence not apathy. When forced to choose between their welfare and that of others, the choice for many is altogether too simple, especially after years of being told to keep their opinions to themselves.

They may not want to make decisions, but they certainly have opinions. Often many different ones about the same subject. And they are all too happy expound them with militant fervor to anyone who will listen and many who would care not to.

Never mind their opinions conflict with one another or with fundamental laws of nature or the universe. But watch out if you dare to disagree with what they have to say!

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Comment by William R. Cumming

February 22, 2012 @ 8:06 am

There should be no confusion for civil servants. Service to the public and betterment of life for the public should always be the goal. The problem is that as you identify many civil servants have now faced a history of over 4 decades of criticism labeling them as the problem not the solution. This is not accurate but it does serve the purposes of those who have not governed, don’t believe in constructive governance, and certainly don’t want a stiff-necked civil servant arguing on the side of logic,honesty, or science or engineering, to prevent or disrupt catastrophic mistakes where the commons is exploited for private purposes.
The naked manipulation of the economy by the banksters and hedgesters and exploiters [asset strippers] has led the USA to a dead end and now many realize that without fundamental structural changes its not going to get better not just for the middle class but for all.

I am now openly predicting that DHS will be broken up over the rest of the decade once its guardian angel Senator Joesph Lieberman (I. of CT) departs on January 3, 2013. Why? DHS has failed to follow Congressional mandates like explanations in the QHSR and BUR to document the staffing and resources of each program, function, and activity of the DHS and how they contribute to Homeland Security.

It is rumored that Michael Chertoff in his briefings of Janet N. told her he had spent 50% of his time on FEMA policies and issues and organization during his tenure from late Winter 2004 until his departure on January 20, 2009. This may well explain a lot. It did not result in a fix of FEMA as the next catastrophic event exceeding $10-20B in damages will reveal. Today’s NY Times reveals chaos and confusion at NRC during the immediate period after the initiation of the event. What did FEMA and DHS do since they are accountable for offsite nuclear power plant safety in the USA for the 110 operating reactors? This is an example of how I doubt seriously many in the leadership of DHS or FEMA even understand the NRC REPP [Radiological Preparedness Program Regulations}or there role in a catastrophic nuclear accident. And the relationships between the Robert T. Stafford Act and the Price-Anderson Act have been left in a welter of confusion that only a definitive ruling by DoJ/OLC could sort out. No one knows how the US would handle a similiar event.

So DHS leadership has focused on substance almost not at all but organization and process. I still complement Secretary Michael Chertoff and President George W. Bush for their extraordinary expenditure of personal time and effort on immigration issues. This story is buried in the past but I am guessing their blueprint for reform not amnesty killed in the Senate by the ignorance of various Republican Senators will eventually become the blue print for either party.

I am reliably informed that DHS and FEMA almost always liaison on key issues by having the other departments and agencies come to their briefings. but in fact few in DHS understand the programs, functions, and activities of other departments and agencies. One example is few in the long-term recovery section of FEMA have any idea what HUD Section 8 housing is or what HUD Community Development Block Grants are yet this underpin much of long term recovery post disaster. FEMA continues to build and repair hospitals without HHS input. And much of the DHS Chief Medical Officer staff spends its time reading other better placed agencies reports and findings and trying to understand them. Merely to ask for all the substantive reports produced by that office would result in a shock for those who think it has accomplished much.

FEMA has assmebled over 4000 policy formulation documents trying to understand its own policies. Many have no authors or clearances identified and the distinction between internal and external guidance has long since broken down in the disaster programs.

If there is a change of administration and the PRESIDENTIAL TRANSITION ACT of 1998, as amended, requires the departments and agencies honor their mandates under that statute this year, it will be a shock to many departments and agencies as they look at the Bush Transition documents from 2008 how little the issues have changed and how little has been accomplished. And of course this should not be misconstrued as nothing having been accomplished. Some things have been including disposal of some failed Bush initiatives too numerous to document here.

So have fun bureacrats because government and good governance rests with you not the political appointees with the 8-9000 in their positions by political litmus tests and manipulations by this Administration may well be gone this time next year. With a new batch of largely ignorant appointees replacing those ranks that may have learned at least a little in the last four years.

And just for fun document FEMA SES positions on March 1, 2003 when DHS opened its doors and how many FEMA has now and how DHS used the 26 SES jobs taken from FEMA for staffing its own needs since the predecessor agencies and departments basically destroyed DHS early efforts by not transfering adequate staffing and overhead, in particular the DoJ.

A very tough place to work even without a FUKISHIMA and of course what kind of report should FEMA have produced already on FUKISHIMA problems and efforts of the Japanese first responders.

YUP! I am a glass is half-empty or maybe more kind of guy.

Comment by William R. Cumming

February 22, 2012 @ 8:17 am

As a personal note, the best General Counsel I ever worked for in FEMA during my 20 years and the only female died yesterday morning about 1 year after her husband. Patricia Gormley was a courageous, tenacious, and incredible person and I feel lucky to have known her. Converting to NAVY JAG from her Marine Corps rank as Major and finishing her career as the very 1st 4-striper {Captain} female JAG officer in the Navy she retired and became the Counsel to the Inspector General at the Veterans Department. From their she became the first political appointee to be the GC at FEMA when it became a non-career reserved position. She served very ably from late summer 1990 until she left on January 20, 1993. Two of her primary accomplishments were her personal and official support to the so-called Trefry Commission, a blue ribbon panely headed by Retired 4-star General Andrew Goodpaster, and Julia Taft, later Ambassador for Refugees isses at the State Depart and other distinguished people. It stands as a landmark report on how personnel security issues can be manipulated by those who run it and its helpful analysis of granting of clearances to gays and lesbians also is a landmark. That report is available on the FAS FEMA webpage thanks to Steve Aftergood of FAS who attended all the open sessions of the panel.

Pat inherited a largely undisciplined OGC in FEMA and turned into a first rate legal office although always understaffed and underfunded in my time from 1979-1999. She did a wonderful job of clearing brush so that the forest could be seen.

I have no spoken to her since her departure either before or after my retirement but my sympathy to all her family and friends. She will be buried alongside with her husband in Arlington Cemetery.

Basically I loved her, unrequited of course.

Comment by William R. Cumming

February 22, 2012 @ 8:21 am

Corection: Michael Chertoff was confirmed as Secretary DHS and sworn in January 2005, 8 months before Hurricane Katrina made landfall.

Comment by Dan O'Connor

February 22, 2012 @ 9:09 am


Really excellent POV this morning. Do you read the tea leaves about a potential DHS deconstruction or are you basing your hypothesis on certain metrics or trends you are seeing?

Do you think Congress has the impetus to use the QHSR and BUR as a scalpul and cut up DHS or a hammer and just smash it?


Loyalty is always a real two way street and alot of times that is forgotten by those who ascend.

The most loyal thing we can do is challenge and point out alternative POV’s in decision making…it keeps everyone thinking and hopefully focussed on the mission at hand.

Comment by William R. Cumming

February 22, 2012 @ 9:18 am

The President has announced one major reorganization effort publicly already. Confusingly it was labeled his seeking reorganization authority. He has not done so. Before Regan Presidents had reorg authority that fast tracked it because unless either house rejected it it automatically became law. In 1982 SCOTUS in US v. CHADA ruled the one house veto was UnConsitutional. But all a President has to do is send it to Congress.

Yes I do have some insider info but only that reorg will be a major effort in the Obama second term. DHS keeps getting mentioned as a target. FEMA’s mitigation and flood insurance efforts make no sense in the current FEMA or DHS. Once that apple falls much will follow.

Comment by William R. Cumming

February 22, 2012 @ 9:23 am

DAN! Until proved otherwise I would argue that the DHS’ QHSR and BUR are totally inadequate for almost any serious purpose, especially reorganization.

Look at one issue in depth, mandated by the Homeland Security Act of 2002, the organization of DHS regions, and you understand that nothing has been accomplished on that major mandate by the three DHS Secretaries so far. This alone indicates that DHS wants a centralized approach to all HS and does not understand it is a big country. This election may well prove that more than ever.

The next big reorg up looks like housing and housing finance IMO!

Comment by William R. Cumming

February 22, 2012 @ 9:26 am

Whatever the outcome of the Presidential election, if Elizabeth Warren and former Governor Kaine lose their senate campaigns there is absolutely no chance the DEMS will retain control of the SENATE.

There have already been announcements by some Republican candidates not on reorganization but on elimination of certain departments and independent agencies. Who knows what time will tell?

Comment by T. Sturm

February 22, 2012 @ 10:04 am

“It seems any effort to critically evaluate our current situation is viewed as disloyalty.”

This is a real problem for me. I enjoyed your last post and have thought much in the last week about volunteer firemen and civic duty. I believe that open and honest criticism is not just a right but an honest civic duty, especially as members of the HS enterprise. Particularly since the legally mandated check on HS (the privacy and civil liberties oversight board) has languished in a state of complete castrated futility under two presidents so far.

But, as you say, far too often are inside critics despised as disloyal or drummed out for rocking the boat. All organizations exist to survive. How do we change that culture? For one, more transparency (forced and unwanted a la anonymous, or embraced as my peers would have it) will be key. If DHS is to survive it will be because the citizens are embraced as operational partners, not potential threats.

Encouraging people to be open and honest takes courage, and you should know that you have at least encouraged one person to be even more so.

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