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.