Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

November 20, 2013

Senate Hearing on Threats to the Homeland

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Arnold Bogis on November 20, 2013

In case you missed it, last week the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs held a hearing on “Threats to the Homeland.” You can find the member statements and written testimonies, as well as a higher quality video, on the Committee’s website: http://www.hsgac.senate.gov/hearings/threats-to-the-homeland

The witnesses included:

  • The Honorable  Rand Beers

    Acting Secretary
    U.S. Department of Homeland Security
  • The Honorable  James B. Comey, Jr.

    Director, Federal Bureau of Investigation
    U.S. Department of Justice
  • The Honorable  Matthew G. Olsen

    Director, National Counterterrorism Center
    Office of the Director of National Intelligence

I did not note anything particularly insightful or new in the testimony or answers to Senators’ questions. Lots of cyber, lots of Al Qaeda, lots of “Homegrown Violent Extremists” (HVEs), a little bit on other terrorist threats and active shooters.

However, if I missed something interesting please note it in the comments.

 

 

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14 Comments »

Comment by William R. Cumming

November 20, 2013 @ 5:59 pm

THE DOG DID NOT BARK!

Comment by William R. Cumming

November 21, 2013 @ 9:21 am

Being somewhat astounded in the lack of posted comments on this blog and given retirement from FEMA over 14 years I have decided to post 10 questions that might have been asked at the confirmation hearing of Mr. Johnson last Wednesday or the Threat Update hearing on Thursday!

Should anyone want my or others answer request that Phil repost on the FFF!

1. Do the benefits exceed the costs of the GWOT now?

2. Does the HS enterprise as currently constituted make sense on any basis and if so how?

3. Have the non-HS programs, functions, and activities now housed in DHS remain so?

4. Should federal disaster relief become a formula or block grant based objective criterid continue to be “free”?

5. Should all radiological protection and prevention missions be removed from DHS?

6. Should the 72 FUSION CENTERS be eliminated?

7. Should the HS scientific and engineering effort of DHS be upgraded?

8. Should border security, customs, and immigration issues be removed from DHS and consolidated into an independent stand-alone Executive Branch agency?

9. Should there be a statutory restriction on long service retired military in DHS?

10. Should there be a standard of 25 years and out for all of DHS retirement?

Comment by William R. Cumming

November 21, 2013 @ 9:23 am

Phil! Edits to my questions are welcome! Or additions!

Comment by Philip J. Palin

November 21, 2013 @ 11:10 am

Bill, Good questions. But since the original post is by Arnold, I will defer to his interaction. I’m not sure I have any particular insight on DHS. I work with parts of the elephant, but am not sure I would recognize a picture of the whole animal presented out-of-context. In any case, I’m really not much of a “structuralist.” I’ve spent most of my career trying — with varying success and the opposite — to do some good despite structures or even using structural dysfunctions to facilitate good. I fully recognize the value of better structures, but don’t have much else to contribute especially when the issue is a very large structure.

Comment by Donald Quixote

November 21, 2013 @ 2:22 pm

That was an interesting question regarding cost benefit analysis for the amount of valuable intelligence derived from fusion centers regarding terrorism as compared to state and local criminal information sharing.

The private sector cyber information sharing discussion, although not new, was also interesting.

Thanks for the posting.

Comment by JD

November 21, 2013 @ 3:53 pm

Arnold, sadly this has become policy/political theater. “There is bad stuff, we need to be risk based, etc.” Not sure we should expect more, or can. We are always fighting the last war. Perhaps its human nature, and perhaps we should be designing our systems to overcome that? Would Americans want to hear what really keeps these leaders up at night? HGE and CVE issues have been on our radar certainly since the Oklahoma City bombing. We can handle that pretty well. Cyber, WMD, synthetic bio, gene splicing, 3D manufacturing, etc. There are zombies everywhere…

Bill, I’ll bite:

1. Do the benefits exceed the costs of the GWOT now?

Depends on your perspective and timeframe, and whether the means justify ends, or not. That is our dilemma. (I’m avoiding getting snarky about the President declaring the GWOT was over in his first term and banishing the terminology from the White House.)

If the goal was “no further catastrophic attack on the US homeland,” so far… yes. Ends justify means, so far.

If you look at the loss of trust in government and U.S. credibility since 9/11, the loss of lives, the failure to achieve any strategic end-state balance within the longstanding nation-state system, the appearance of our fumbling into the endzone in both combat theaters, and the over-reliance on whack-a-mole kinetic power instead of as much soft power, failure to develop any global legal-institutional frameworks to address this challenge, all in the midst of generational upheaval across the Levant, perhaps not.

We may have taken too tactical an approach, and there is a lot of bad stuff existing and in the future that can hurt people, the economy, and our way of life. I think we are in for a hard few decades ahead, or we’re lucky we had a fairly stable period since WW2 until 9/11. Perhaps that time was the aberration, and we are generationally stuck with that memory?

2. Does the HS enterprise as currently constituted make sense on any basis and if so how?

Yes, somewhat, aside from its hijacking by the national security/CT/intel-centric beltway folks – perhaps the big mistake was PPD-1 unifying the NSC and HSC before “homeland” policy and perspective could really gel.

I see DHS as an 80 percent solution, but I would like to see something useful out of the headquarters agencies (I&A, NPPD, S&T, Policy, OCP). Don’t think they’ve delivered much ROI, just noise and paperwork. The operational agencies have been strengthened, USCG, CBP, ICE, SS, even FEMA post-PKEMRA. No emergency managers truly like FEMA in DHS; I think you’d agree – its still a reluctant partner – hell, GSA is building the new FEMA HQ outside the fence line at St Elizabeth’s in case it is ever yanked out. Not sure it would be strengthened by yanking out, though, short of rethinking an enterprise-wide restructuring for handling disaster response (think of unifying the USAID’s OFDA and FEMA and DoD disaster relief enterprise).

So the 20 percent that I’d put the most attention towards are all those HQ elements (I&A, NPPD, S&T, Policy, OCP, etc. The operational components and the state and local “partners” are like marionettes trying to be coordinated by too many different puppeteers.

The most useful thing Jeh Johnson might do in two years is get good advice on options for re-organizing that HQ part of DHS in the first year, and then knock the pieces around in the last year, leaving a saner HQ organization for the next secretary. He’ll need some good advisers who think strategically about the whole system.

3. Have the non-HS programs, functions, and activities now housed in DHS remain so?

Yes. See reference to FEMA, above. Its is hard to split completely the left of boom and right of boom functions into different organizations. I am not sure what string you could pull out of this sweater. Good example is the USCG which gives great ROI because of its entire safety to security spectrum capabilities. You couldn’t split out is HS and non-HS missions without decreasing efficiency and increasing cost.

4. Should federal disaster relief become a formula or block grant based objective criterid continue to be “free”?

Yes, let’s try something new, since nobody likes the current system, not the states, not the locals, and I can’t believe FEMA like it either. The formulas used now are messy and inconsistently applied. Block grants are an interesting idea. Look also at the rewards/incentives for FEMA personnel and contractors in fixing problems, often, it means their part-time workforce would get demobilized earlier… so there is a perverse incentive to keep the paperwork and projects flowing for longer times and more dollars. I think FEMA still has a JFO open related to the Northridge earthquake.

5. Should all radiological protection and prevention missions be removed from DHS?

No. Perhaps the science research pieces at DNDO and S&T, but there is an important part the border agencies and stakeholders in the enterprise must play in this game, whether it be a 3-Mile Island/Fukushema scenario or a terror/nation-state event.

6. Should the 72 FUSION CENTERS be eliminated?

No. Doing more good for getting cops to work across boundaries than they are given credit for. The funding balance needs to be resolved between local and federal share, and I am not a fan of the effort to build a one-size fits all model… I think that will stifle innovation and adaptability. I don’t mind that “if you’ve seen one fusion center you’ve seen on fusion center for this reason.” Perhaps they might shift from less intel to more investigation and operational coordination. They should also be better integrated with the FBI JTTFs. This is small funding to bring LE organizations together. Goodness tends to result in the long run when that happens, especially for bureaucratic, siloed institutions.

7. Should the HS scientific and engineering effort of DHS be upgraded?

No. It should be downgraded. DHS does this poorly in an effort to copy the DoD model. Perhaps shifting more towards technology transfer from other government, university, and private sector fields for homeland applications would make more sense, and not costs nearly $1B year. The “Manhattan Projects” for the homeland have largely failed in ROI.

8. Should border security, customs, and immigration issues be removed from DHS and consolidated into an independent stand-alone Executive Branch agency?

No. This is really a mirror question to #3. Same answer in reverse. This is really core DHS work.

9. Should there be a statutory restriction on long service retired military in DHS?

No, I think that would unconstitutional. You are the lawyer, Bill. Certainly against EEO.

But it does have an impact having so many of those folks around, I sense either a lot of retired-place folks double dipping, or folks that have very big bureaucratic, institutional mindsets that make DHS more bureaucratic than adaptable. And it skews the age and salary bands up, limiting opportunities for the next generation of folks to learn to really run this machine to face the threats of the future.

We also need to reflect about the impact of so many veteran-preference hires on DHS. Basically you can’t get a job unless you are a veteran. This will have an impact on the culture of a civilian agency charged with working with state local tribal territorial and private sector folks. It will need to be rebalanced one day.

10. Should there be a standard of 25 years and out for all of DHS retirement?

Yes, unfortunately the way the world seems to be going economically, it looks like it will go the other direction for most government employees, and the rest of us, too. I think the badged, law enforcement DHS agencies do this, or close. Sadly, a fair and sound retirement for workers seems to have gotten caught up in the entitlement policy conflict, especially for civilians.

Comment by William R. Cumming

November 21, 2013 @ 4:19 pm

Thanks to all for inputs. The “right” answers tomorrow!

Comment by Donald Quixote

November 22, 2013 @ 10:20 am

JD

You make a great point regarding the benefits of information sharing by the fusion centers. However, should their formal missions be more clearly defined to match what they are really doing and maybe should be doing for the greatest benefit for their users? Would this modification reduce their current funding sources or force the fusion center participants to jointly self-fund them? We are paying for A and getting B. B is great, but with A funding?

The common definition of homeland security continues to be an issue for this subject. If homeland security is everything, then the fusions centers are spot on. Fund away. We still have checks in the checkbook!

Comment by JD

November 22, 2013 @ 11:05 am

Don, concur with you. Some core similar requirements make sense, but I am more worried that our knee jerk, top-down, one-size fits DHS approach will fail to meet the reality of the way our local communities work, and will also create rigid policies, and systems. By selecting one “thing” to do, we are excluding another “thing” and reducing adaptability.

I suppose we need to answer, “what is getting fused?” That might be a helpful start. Is it useful? Maybe the users (locals, not DHS) need to generate the requirements.

Also concur that our definition is still problematic. I don’t think that is going away as long as we confound CT, security, and all-other-crime-and-hazards. But if, as (I think is) supported in other criminal justice and even counterinsurgency works, a lot of this stuff is inherently in the same jumble of bad networks and bad people, then the bigger mission set should still support the core mission set, and do more overall good in the process for taxpayer.

Comment by William R. Cumming

November 22, 2013 @ 12:09 pm

Phil! Strucures in the modern world may be the medium!

See:
Herbert Marshall McLuhan, CC (July 21, 1911 – December 31, 1980) was a Canadian philosopher of communication theory. His work is viewed as one of the cornerstones of the study of media theory, as well as having practical applications in the advertising and television industries.
McLuhan is known for coining the expressions the medium is the message and the global village, and for predicting the World Wide Web almost thirty years before it was invented. Although he was a fixture in media discourse in the late 1960s, his influence began to wane in the early 1970s. In the years after his death, he continued to be a controversial figure in academic circles. With the arrival of the internet, however, there was renewed interest in his work and perspective.

Comment by Philip J. Palin

November 22, 2013 @ 2:12 pm

Bill: I’m prepared to agree with you. In any case, in a mass-oriented society structures are at least one of the key mediums. But over thirty years ago I discovered that — for whatever reason — my angle on structures is not productive… or at least has not been. I’m much better than the average bear at start-ups and within large organizations I have had some success with “intrapreneurial” innovation. But whenever I have attempted to really engage in significant structural reform, the outcome has not been happy. So I mostly leave it to others who seem to have the taste, talent, and tools. As you seem to have. Thanks for the very interesting Q&A.

Comment by William R. Cumming

November 22, 2013 @ 4:28 pm

Every organization needs a “skunk works” IMO!

Comment by Donald Quixote

November 22, 2013 @ 4:58 pm

JD

The continued challenge for the fusion centers is the reasonable measurement of the value and return on investment for the funding, if it is terrorism focused or directed by Congress. We may have to accept that the returns on investment metrics are a little fuzzy. Should that bother us or do we ignore it like many other projects and programs associated with words homeland security as too difficult to clearly measure – but they are keeping us safe? If nothing happens, they must be working. Are the fusion centers connecting the terrorism dots? Is that a realistic primary focus today, or should it be a criminal information and intelligence focus that overlaps with terrorism when encountered or researched for additional information to support investigations and operations?

We may need the answer if more members of Congress ask the same questions and link funding to the measurable\observable\valuable outcomes for these precious resources. Or not.

Comment by William R. Cumming

November 23, 2013 @ 1:19 pm

De Facto hold by Senator Coburn on Johnson?

Senate in recess? Could Obama appoint?

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