Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

May 11, 2012

National Preparedness Report: Voice, vision, and a reality beyond systems engineering

Filed under: Preparedness and Response,Strategy — by Philip J. Palin on May 11, 2012

This is the second in a two-part consideration of the recently released National Preparedness Report.  Please see the prior discussion immediately below.


As was the case with NSC-68, the National Preparedness series is being authored by a collective.  This is the way of government.  Recall that Jefferson’s draft of the Declaration was edited first by a committee and then by the entire Continental Congress.  It is unusual for clarity of thought to survive such a process.

I know — and respect — several individuals who are contributing to the National Preparedness series.  I don’t know their individual contributions and have not asked for their private critiques, concerns, or enthusiasms.  I empathize with their struggle to deal with the tensions involved in generating any document of this sort — and even more, the challenges to practically advancing policy.

I am using the National Preparedness series to press my arguments and make my own contributions to national resilience. The documents are helpful to this work.  I appreciate the outcomes, even as I unfavorably compare the outcomes to the Declaration of Independence and NSC-68.

At least I did not choose Shakespeare and Lincoln as your benchmarks.

The music of the Declaration reflects the remnant of Thomas Jefferson’s voice that survived the editorial process.  The clarity-of-argument in NSC-68 is a double-echo of the dialectic between Kennan and Nitze.   In some ways, the document is Nitze’s edit of Kennan’s Long Telegram.  Two superb minds engaging the same problem, disagreeing, agreeing, refining and reframing.  In the end, Nitze’s voice was strongest, but he would not have sung this song without Kennan’s prelude.

If there is a principal author of the National Preparedness series I do not hear his or her voice.

This is typical of most government reports, even those, as from GAO or CRS, who identify specific authors.  There are a host of motivations for this default anonymity.  Potentially the most powerful — and least credible — is the desire to achieve a tone of omniscient authority.

By contrast, in both the Declaration and NSC-68 any discerning reader is fully aware an argument is being offered, a case is being made, counter-arguments are anticipated, a dialogue is assumed… even as the author(s) scrambles for the moral high ground and persuasive preemption.  With all his personal confidence, network of influence, and even with the power of the President’s pen expected, Nitze does not proclaim.  He describes.  He questions.  He argues.

Why is that sort  of voice so rare?

This is a substantive, not merely stylistic difference.  The vain attempt for omniscient authority asserts right-and-wrong and a claim to compliance.  Offering an argument honors  and invites the independent judgment of your readers.

From section VI, A of NSC-68:

The full power which resides within the American people will be evoked only through the traditional democratic process: This process requires, firstly, that sufficient information regarding the basic political, economic, and military elements of the present situation be made publicly available so that an intelligent popular opinion may be formed. Having achieved a comprehension of the issues now confronting this Republic, it will then be possible for the American people and the American Government to arrive at a consensus. Out of this common view will develop a determination of the national will and a solid resolute expression of that will.

Again, this was a classified document.  No one was trying to pander to a political audience.  The document itself circulated among mostly elite circles at a time when both classified documents and elite circles were more tightly contained than today.  What would be the reaction of “intelligent public opinion” if the National Preparedness series included the quoted paragraph?

What might it mean if Nitze actually believed and behaved as if the stated assumption were true? Do we?


Homeland security suffers from taxonomy-obsession.

What is prevention?  How is it differentiated from protection?  Doesn’t mitigation sometimes prevent?  Sometimes protect?  Isn’t mitigation often a “response” to a prior event?  When does response become recovery?  Are some events non-recoverable?  I have asked each of these questions in earnest more than once. (“Hi, my name is Phil, and I’m obsessive-compulsive regarding the seams between the homeland security mission areas.”)

There has been a persisting tendency to perceive that if we could just accurately frame the homeland security domain and its principal parts, we could then assign roles and responsibilities with clarity, fund appropriately, and craft the best of all possible worlds.

Systems engineering was especially hot at the turn of the century, perhaps this discipline is more a part of the homeland security field’s DNA than we have fully acknowledged.  Are we hard-wired by the time-and-place of homeland security’s genesis to constantly cycle through requirements analyses? (There’s a vision of hell if I’ve ever heard one.)

Whatever its source, there is a continuing fascination with finding the right taxonomy.  Below, again, is the National Preparedness framework of five mission areas and thirty-one core capabilities.  Farther below is Carl Linnaeus‘ taxonomy for the animal kingdom: six classes consisting of various orders, then families and so on (by clicking on the image you can see a larger version).  The parallels are, I think, remarkable.

If you are over 45 you probably have a vague memory of Linnaean taxonomy from 7th grade science.  If you’re under 45 and/or a biologist you know this system has been mostly superseded by other descriptive systems.  Linnaeus sought to distinguish by function. Many of the newer systems highlight origins and relationships.

Linnaeus advanced our understanding.  The five mission areas and 31 core capabilities also advance our understanding.  But the greatest value will almost certainly emerge from recognizing and making sense of the relationships across the mission areas and core capabilities.  There are, and will need to be, functional divisions within the homeland security “kingdom.”  But these divisions are means, not ends.

The November 2011 version of the National Preparedness System closes with the following two paragraphs:

While the National Preparedness System builds on a number of proven processes, it will evolve to capitalize on new opportunities and meet emerging challenges. Many of the programs and processes that support the components of the National Preparedness System exist and are currently in use; others will need to be updated or developed. As the remaining PPD-8 deliverables are developed, further details will be provided on how the National Preparedness System will be implemented across the five mission areas in order to achieve the National Preparedness Goal.

This document describes a collaborative environment and living system whose components will be routinely evaluated and updated to ensure their continued effectiveness. This environment will be supported through collaboration and cooperation with international partners, including working closely with our neighbors Canada and Mexico, with whom we share common borders. In the end,the National Preparedness System’s strength relies on ensuring the whole community has the opportunity to contribute to its implementation to achieve the goal of a secure and resilient Nation.

The National Preparedness System is emerging.  As it does, can it find a unique voice, well-matched to its extraordinary mission, capable of effectively advancing the purposes articulated in PPD-8?  As it emerges, can the National Preparedness System avoid the reductionist specialization that is endemic to modern organizations? With the second annual National Preparedness Report will we read and believe that relationships are being fostered across mission areas and core capabilities, among jurisdictions, and between private, public and civic sectors?

Linnaeus warned, “Nature does not proceed by leaps.”   Neither does the best policy-making.  But each can grow, change, and evolve.

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Comment by William R. Cumming

May 11, 2012 @ 7:50 am

We can often learn important things when their is a published minority point of view, no false unamity, second opinions, B-team efforts. But today all seem to desire a collective wisdom that lessens the need for options or keeping thinking. August 1914 seems the best example of the end point of being forced to stop thinking and execute plans.

So exactly how does a system of domestic crisis management and domestic crisis leadership and communications get built in the current doctrine? Should the WH be the EOC in a crisis, why or why not?

Should their be established roles and interconnections that can operate in various crisis situations from nuclear war, a nudet, or some other catastrophe? Why or why not?

And why does the Congress continue to be so inept in dealing with fundamental issues of domestic crisis management?

There are almost 1000 policy analysts in DHS alone! Wondering what they provide as options?

Comment by Philip J. Palin

May 11, 2012 @ 11:17 am

Bill, In the following I do NOT intend, at all, to be channeling current DHS, FEMA or other policy, just offering a personal judgment:

I think the worse the event, the more local (as local as possible) crisis leadership is needed. For example, it seems to me clear enough that in 2005 local leadership in New Orleans (maybe more broadly) was not prepared for the predictable surprise of the levees breaking. But my preferred solution is to advance a policy/strategy to encourage, reinforce, facilitate the strengthening of local, county, parish, tribal, intra-state regional, state, multi-state regional and private-public-civic readiness and resilience. I am not in favor of a centralized national crisis management system. (I am in favor of a national professional-development process, a national education process, and even a national planning process, but I am radically Jeffersonian when it comes to operations/leadership.)

Again, I am not claiming this is entirely congruent with official doctrine, but based on my own reading of strategic/operational potential, I see this sort of local center-of-gravity at the core of a great deal of the emerging National Preparedness System. Will the locals — meaning counties, states, etc. and non-official players — embrace the potential and their roles/responsibilities? I’m not sure. But these frameworks, seriously and honestly engaged, probably depend less on DC expertise and much more on dispersed expertise.

Why I think this is the better option would require more time than I have right now, but beyond personal experience I draw a good deal of my theoretical understanding from Elinor Ostrom’s work on what makes (and unmakes) resilient communities.

I will also readily admit to having sufficient uncertainty that I want to hear alternative perspectives.

Comment by William R. Cumming

May 11, 2012 @ 2:51 pm

Question? Would all argue that the NPR is a status report on the present, analysis of the past, or what should happen in futuro?

Am I wrong that the NPR is largely cast in the future tense?

Comment by Philip J. Palin

May 11, 2012 @ 4:13 pm

Bill: Seems to me most of the language and analysis in the National Preparedness Report focuses on the data generated by State Preparedness Reports. The SPRs gather data on the recent-past. In this way the NPR is an analysis of the recent past. The NPR also highlights examples suggesting a snapshot of the present. There certainly is attention to implications, lessons-learned, and gaps-to-be-filled in the future.

According to the document itself, “…the 2012 NPR serves as a baseline evaluation of the progress made to date toward building, sustaining, and delivering the core capabilities described in the Goal. Taken together, progress across the 31 core capabilities highlights trends in national preparedness, emphasizing where the Nation has developed significant strengths and underscoring areas to improve.” (NPR, page 60)

Comment by William R. Cumming

May 12, 2012 @ 9:29 am

Respectfully I would suggest the STATE Preparedness Reports are at least 50% in error and maybe even deliberately falsified.

I would also suggest that it is the rare Governor or Mayor that really understands the vulnerabilities of the state or local government and how much it is reliant on outside assistance, including the 95% funded national guard.

Almost no Governors or Mayors are conversant in logistics systems, communications, and what exactly happens if governmental organizations are prevented by the event from responding. Much less if there is widespread contamination.

But hope does spring eternal. A new Heritage Foundation Report on a year later at FUKSIHIMA may be worth a blog post on HLSWatch.com.

Comment by Philip J. Palin

May 13, 2012 @ 7:19 am

The following was received from an individual who has requested anonymity and did not want a direct comment to be traceable. I appreciate his/her(?) confidence. I do not personally know the source.


The SPRs are profoundly suspect. Even when the intent is entirely honest, the states’ focus is almost always on non-catastrophic risks.

The level of preparedness for non-catastrophes is probably about as good as outlined in the NPR. Preparedness for catastrophe is far less robust.

What Mr. Palin calls the “emerging” National Preparedness strategy gives much more rhetorical attention to catastrophic potential than current grant-making gives the same. This is a particularly difficult gap to overcome. When the states, who originate grant requests and spend whatever is granted, don’t really engage the worst-case we are all put at higher risk.

I’m writing from inside the beast (state not Fed). I appreciate the empathy. Short of an actual catastrophe, I’m not sure what can really be done to align a reasonable strategy (PPD-8,NGP, NPS, NPR, ETC) to actual reality.

But to be clear, there is much less alignment than the NPR suggests.

Comment by Arnold Bogis

May 13, 2012 @ 11:22 pm

I don’t disagree with your general argument, though I’m not sure the comparison is fair. The National Preparedness Report is a product of a strategic vision (if it can be considered that), not the articulation of that vision itself.

NSC 68 is closer to a government strategic document, as the Long Telegram is probably best considered a policy piece. (And it was later revealed that Kennan strongly disagreed with the military-focus of the U.S. containment policies.)

Better perhaps to compare it with the first homeland security strategy said to be largely authored by Richard Falkenrath during the Bush Administration?

Comment by William R. Cumming

May 14, 2012 @ 2:20 am

It is always helpful to read the exact language for the mandate for an annual preparedness report from PKEMRA 2006!

Comment by Philip J. Palin

May 14, 2012 @ 4:16 am

Arnold, The Falkenrath strategy — and it is also my understanding he was the principal author — is a good example of my core argument. There is a distinctive voice and a largely consistent argument. A strategic vision is reinforced, reinserted, re-argued again and again across the document.

I disagree with a fair portion of the “Falkenrath Strategy”, but I perceive it is the best written and best argued of such documents emerging from the post-9/11 era. My ability to both appreciate and disagree — to join in the argument — is an important benchmark of the document’s quality.

Such core arguments, weaving in and out of operational details are, I think, what gives policy/strategy papers their fundamental value. The strategic vision briefly sketched in PPD-8 is bold, but it will require ongoing and equally bold advocacy to achieve real impact.

Comment by John F. Morton

May 14, 2012 @ 9:51 am

The comparisons between the various National Preparedness documents and NSC-68 are apt, for the period since 9/11 and Katrina represents a transition to a new strategic environement that is post-industrial and digital. The National Security Act of 1947 and NSC-68 established the National Security System we have today that reflects a thinking that went back to Wilson and the Preparedness Movement of 1916. The creation of DHS was an attempt to extend this paradigm along the Federal interagency horizontal dimension of governance by bringing together the proverbial 22 agencies. This industrial-era, top-down approach has perpetuated a federal-centric security and resilience system that is a single point-of-failure. The solution is not some sort of further lateral interagency fix akin to what Goldwater-Nichols achieved in 1986. What is needed is a codified structure and process that addresses the intergovernmental vertical dimension of governance in this Federal Republic–i.e., Federal, State, Local. Such would refer back to what this Nation was prior to World War One and industrialization, i.e., its Constitutional roots. The 21st century is becoming a post-industrial era driven by bottom-up, decentralized, networked ingenuity and freedoms. Witness what social media is achieving in disaster response, e.g., the work of Ushahidi in the Haitian response. The House report on Katrina said, “The preparation and response to Hurricane Katrina show we are still an analog government in a digital age.” It is time for serious implementation of a National Preparedness System to replace the National Security System for security and resilience, and that is an intergovernmental challenge that must acknowledge a bottom-up lead whereby the Federal Government is ONLY an enabler. In sum, we are moving in the right direction, slowly, but someone needs to call a spade and spade and provide a visionary framework. Here’s mine: Network Federalism.

Comment by William R. Cumming

May 15, 2012 @ 1:24 am

John Morton’s comment seems apt to current situation. Note that the very first HOMELAND SECURITY STRATEGY published in July 2002 was in fact a Congressional mandate.

Because of the short period of record I fully expect some skilled revisionist history to document how NSC-68 was not the driver some think and that the COLD WAR was as much a product of the USA as the demised Soviet Union and great power relationships. What the LONG TELEGRAM seemed to do successfully was give out a warning as to the true nature of Stalinism in the context of Allied Victory.

Comment by Philip J. Palin

May 15, 2012 @ 5:31 am

Mr. Morton, I like your Network Federalism notion. I perceive the Constitution has persisted as well as it has because it reflects what we would now call complex adaptive theory.

Bill, To your point about the role of NSC-68: A document never really drives. At most a document gives a driver some direction. This is true of NSC-68, the Declaration, the Constitution, sacred scripture…

Only when words communicate meaning (either prospectively or retrospectively) and meaning compels action, do words influence. Different drivers may interpret the directions differently. (As Nitze read Kennan differently than Kennan intended.) You and I may disagree over a constitutional provision or a scriptural command.

I am trying (not very effectively) to suggest that a document — such as the National Preparedness Goal, National Preparedness System, or National Preparedness Report — is most meaningful, usually most compelling, when it becomes an object of argument. When I think a set of words does a good job of describing where I want to go and you do too, but we disagree on some important aspect of the destination described, then the document has come alive in our minds and has real influence.

When we argue over Nitze, Nitze wins; argue over Jefferson and Jefferson wins; argue over Madison, Madison wins. I very much want the National Preparedness collection to compel argument.

There is a crucial difference between words being argumentative and words motivating argument. We have plenty of speakers and writers who are argumentative. I am concerned we are losing the ability to motivate — or engage in — sustained argument. Sustaining argument is especially important to a new profession such as homeland security.

Comment by John F. Morton

May 15, 2012 @ 6:41 am

Nitze was an Acheson man from Wall Street (Dillon Read, the Goldman Sachs of its day), both hardliners compared to Kennan and the likes of Forrestal. His task was to lead an NSC team to draft the nation’s security requirements. (The NSC, a creature of the National Security Act of 1947.) NSC-68 was prompted by the Soviet atomic bomb test, the fall of China and the knowledge of Klaus Fuchs’ betrayal to the Russians of Edward Teller’s Super program (the H-bomb). NSC-68 hit Truman’s desk in April 1950 (prior to Korea), and it formalized the notion of continual preparedness in an era total war. NSC-68 explicitly proposed the mobilization of science for national security in a manner that would not drain resources from efforts supporting general domestic prosperity. A departure from Truman’s own predilections and contrary both to New Deal sensitivities and conservative isolationist Republican dogma, NSC-68 had to be sold. And sold it was by the administration’s extensive network of sympathetic conduits in the press. Taking all of this together, we had a threatening strategic environment at a time when we were trying to rebuild Europe that concentrated the Establishment and in part thanks to the media the national mind. We don’t have that now. So a lot of the National Preparedness discussion is happening in an echo chamber without the benefit of Life, Time, the New Yorker, the New York Times, etc. Nuclear terrorism does not have the traction right now when it competes with the price of oil, mortgage defaults, Greece leaving the EU, California’s debt crisis and Trayvon Martin. NSC-68 drove resource allocations, i.e., Pentagon and AEC R&D and procurement to meet the Cold War threat. So what we had then was an Establishment and nation fixated on the strategic threat, a structure to manage the response all the way to 1989 and a policy document that committed future policy documents to resource that response fully to the benefit of bureaucratic, industrial and workforce consituencies. I say again: we have none of that now. So as Lenin said, “What’s to be done?”

Comment by Philip J. Palin

May 15, 2012 @ 7:23 am

Mr. Morton, What I hear you suggesting is that the “sales job” is now more difficult, more diffuse… many more players to engage and persuade. This makes the sales job even more important, and I agree. It also requires more sales sophistication than 1950. (Death of a Salesman was written in 1949. Long-time techniques were being quickly superseded.)

“What’s to be done?” My answer returns us to the National Preparedness documents: their radical strategic theses and their bold objectives. At this point, our rhetoric, our argument, our tone should highlight the boldness, the difference, the challenge. Like Jefferson and Nitze (and Lincoln, Kennan, and more) we need to compel attention to what has changed and is changing. How do we crystallize the transition?

I am self-aware, by the way, that my rhetoric, my approach to argument will not do this, not on this topic at this time and place. I learned a rhetoric that was nearly-dead when I was barely born. But I hope there might be a twenty-or-thirty something who hears in my old-fashioned analysis a provocation for communicating in words, images, and a variety of new forms a meaningful message.

As Mr. Morton has written, the old theses have died. The new theses are emerging. But we have not yet found an “Aaron” to articulate the new truths the prophet sees and knows, but cannot say.

Comment by John F. Morton

May 15, 2012 @ 10:35 am

Please, call me John. I looked again at your original post and note your point about the “collective.” The collective at work behind the NSA of 47 and NSC-68 were Dillon Read and other Wall Streeters who represented a new Wall Street around Baruch, Harriman and others. The second tier was Forrestal and Eberstadt. I think (Bill Cumming correct me if I am wrong.) that Kennan’s telegram was in response to a request from Treasury to give his assessment of the Soviet response to the creation of Bizonia in Germany, the ramifications of a German currency in the U.S. and British zones. It was inspired not by State but by Treasury. That tells us something. In other words, that act was arguably divisive on a par with the Berlin Blockade, though less obvious. I digress. But this collective that formed around WWI were of the Washington-New York axis that was Progressive, New Deal and liberal. They saw America’s role as expansive and an alternative to Gilded Age plutocracy and Old World order, and latterly the stop-gap against Bolshevism. After serving the Democratic administrations in unbroken power through the Depression and WWII they were in the bureaucracy, connected to liberal corporatism with allies in the media (Luce, the Alsops, Lippmann) to get things done that needed to be done. You’re right to say it was akin to the Founding Fathers and the continuity from the Declaration through the Constitution to the first three administrations of the Federal Republic. What of that do we have now? To your point about next-gen Aarons. I think you have something there. Somehow we need to create something akin to the Foreign Relations Council which came out of that post-WWI generation to deal with rebuilding Europe in the twenties, specifically via the means of restructuring German reparations. By connecting the “liberal” titans of Silicon Valley and social media around some idea of a Continental Congress for the 21st century would do it. (This would be the new “homeland security techno-industrial base, cyber, if you will, which is crying out for a solution to cyber-security and resilience AND some sort of governance structure and process.) But it would have to have a “new Wall Street” component along with thought leaders in homeland security from DC, CHDS and such. I don’t think the Ivys or the usual DC think tanks are it somehow. They are too tied to the old top-down, hierarchcal, federal-centric system that is wedded to the military and the dollar as the basis of the international monetary system. Not say those priorities are wrong. Just saying that they must put their time, talent and treasure to serve arguments to support those priorities. If we take security and resilience as OUR priorities, then we are drawn to pursue wholly different lines of discussion. Phil, if I may, I think that can be done. You, Bill and I along with many, many other Aarons just need to start forming our Committees of Correspondence and knit these people together to begin to characterize the discussion space correctly. Characterizing the site before they start pushing dirt is what those in environmental remediation have to do first before they decide on what technology, what process can be used. I don’t see this being done yet. But we are getting close. And I don’t think this discussion will break into the media anytime soon, barring a Pearl Harbor. But if we have done our work amongst ourselves, then when needed, our people will be there and ready to put things together like Eberstadt and Nitze.

Comment by William R. Cumming

May 15, 2012 @ 3:18 pm

Interesting further comments by John and Phil. In the next six weeks, respectfully Phil, SCOTUS will prove the Constitution is a driver.

Also looming large, and always remember I would end US membership in NATO, a looming question for the 2012 Presidential race is how willing the USA is to again bail out a Europe struggling to absorb still the shocks of the results of WWI and WWII and the Cold War. Europe is a dependency of the USA just as Central and South America. The question is should that dependency continue or end?

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