Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

October 13, 2015

Goaltending: National Preparedness

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on October 13, 2015

Last week a second edition of the National Preparedness Goal was released.

The Goal itself has not changed since the 2011 original:

A secure and resilient nation with the capabilities required across the whole community to prevent, protect against, mitigate, respond to, and recover from the threats and hazards that pose the greatest risk.

There is also considerable continuity between the original details and the new details.  According to a FEMA Information Sheet on “What’s New”:

The refresh of the National Preparedness Goal centered on discrete, critical content updates based on lessons learned, real world events and the results of the National Preparedness Report. In working towards development of the second edition of the Goal, FEMA and its whole community partners focused on assessing the existing core capabilities. Resulting updates to the core capabilities include changes to select titles and definitions and the addition of one new core capability – Fire Management and Suppression.

The National Preparedness Goal is part of the policy/strategy apparatus emerging from Presidential Policy Directive 8 released in late March 2011.  In the PPD the President directed the Secretary of Homeland Security to coordinate federal — even “all-of-nation” — implementation.  For richer or poorer, the Goal is widely perceived as FEMA-centric. (As noted below, I don’t think this is healthy or necessary.)

Thursday I intend to give particular attention to one change from the 2011 edition that I consider a potentially important positive.

But first a comment on the context and limitations of this sort of document: In my experience the homeland security professions — federal, state, or local — tend to receive the vast majority of “national” policy and strategy statements with skepticism at best and more often with disdain.

The story is told of a First Responder delegation meeting with a President’s Homeland Security Adviser.  After an hour-long discussion of policy, strategy, operations and tactics, the Senior Official encouraged one of those who had not contributed to share his thoughts.  The Big City professional responded, “With all due respect sir, just tell us what we have to say to get the money.”

The defense, foreign policy, and intelligence communities are also interested in money.  But they self-consciously engage in making and critiquing policy/strategy in order to shape their budget and spending context.  This can sometimes be cynical.  In some cases, even corrupt. But by-and-large the nexus of policy, strategy, and money is a crucial arena for thinking through and refining where resources will be spent and why.

It is an entirely fallible process, but in the traditional national security space the active participation of a wide array of professional, academic, political, commercial and other interests can generate substantive benefits across the strategy-to-tactics continuum.

President Obama has been very clear from the beginning, “I believe that Homeland Security is indistinguishable from National Security — conceptually and functionally, they should be thought of together rather than separately.”  As some readers may recall, I disagreed with the President on this matter.  But in any case, for this policy formulation to be effective, the homeland security professions are required to engage the policy-strategy-budget process with a skill and resolve equal to national security veterans.

This “refresh” of the National Preparedness Goal offers another opportunity to do so.

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Comment by Tom Russo

October 13, 2015 @ 4:30 pm


A most interesting post and one that requires some unpacking.

So you wrote “defense, foreign policy, and intelligence communities are also interested in money” and so I take it, homeland security competes with these industries for those funds? That is a big lift and being in the trenches with responder types, we see the reduction of funds and, as a result, the erosion of capabilities.

I have looked at, studied and wrote on this topic of the origins of homeland security and agree with your position in contrast to that of the President “Homeland Security is indistinguishable from National Security” believing it needs to be. My view…the origins of national preparedness began prior to the WWI when only a few pushed for more while most, including Congress…ignored the need or funding for preparedness. As a result, Germany was running around in tanks while the US was still charging with the calvery on horses.

So direct us to your earlier posts on this topic for a refresh of your views.

Comment by Philip J. Palin

October 14, 2015 @ 3:12 am


I testified before the House Homeland Security Committee on the merger. My main point was (is):

For more than fifty years, the National Security Council has ably served the Commander-in-Chief. Every element of the NSC’s organizational DNA reflects the responsibilities and power of the Commander-in-Chief. In foreign and defense policy – and the intelligence agencies supporting foreign and defense policy – the President’s authority is preeminent. The NSC has been a creature of that preeminence. Even with the legal, budgetary, and direct command-and-control authority of the President, the NSC can have difficulty doing what is needed to coordinate defense, foreign affairs, and intelligence policy. But after fifty years there is an authoritative NSC institutional ethos that well serves the President and the nation.

This same ethos may well be counter-productive in solving Homeland Security problems and especially in addressing the three priorities I have set out. For the purposes of domestic counter-terrorism and prevention, mitigation, response, and recovery the authority of the Commander-in-Chief is not what matters. Most of the Governors will not respond positively to a command and control approach. Neither
will the Adjutants General, nor County Sheriffs, nor most Mayors, nor police chiefs, nor emergency managers, and then there is the private sector that actually owns most of our critical infrastructure. These are partners who must be cultivated.

My full prepared testimony is available here.

Comment by John Comiskey

October 14, 2015 @ 5:44 am


My current research builds upon the ambiguity that is HLS.

CRS’ report the 2014 National Security Strategy: Authorities, Changes, Issues for Congress is informative here.

A National HLS Strategy is both a statutory requirement and useful (facilitates strategic direction).

No one argues that NS and HLS are mutually exclusive. They are inherently interdependent.

My greatest sense is that HLS policy facilitates State and local participation in a way that NS cannot (and largely should not) facilitate NS participation.

Though not substantively different from the 2011 NPG, the 2015 NPG demonstrates sense making in a still nascent field. As important is the Strategic National Risk Assessment as it provides a template for risk awareness and assessment.

On a related topic, Ray Kelly’s new book Vigilance captures, albeit in a NYC and NYPD sense (and a controversial sense), the essence of HLS. All disasters are local: locals can be and should perceived and recognized as partners with value to add.

Comment by Philip J. Palin

October 14, 2015 @ 9:38 am

John: Thanks. I agree the state/local interface is not a natural fit with typical NSC modalities. I would add the private-public interface also benefits from an attitude and approach considerably different than how a NSC staffer works with a bunch of various Deputy Assistant Secretaries.

From where you sit — and you have had several interesting seats — what would it take for the state/local homeland security players to more proactively and positively engage the federal policy-strategy-budget process?

Comment by Donald Quixote

October 14, 2015 @ 10:37 am

No truer words need to be spoken:

The Big City professional responded, “With all due respect sir, just tell us what we have to say to get the money.”

Until there is honest stress-testing and true accountability for tangible results and evaluated preparedness for these funds, the system and nation will not progress. The real national preparedness goal may be to have this updated and often ignored National Preparedness Goal to keep the reduced funds flowing. As long as nothing significant happens and catches us short, does it really matter? As long as we can dodge the bullets on our shifts, we have apparently succeeded. Others can deal with the consequences when luck runs out on their shifts for they will be the failures (due to obvious lack of federal grant funding).

For Mr. Kelly’s accurate statement that all disasters are local – is disaster response and preparedness funding all federal? What is the responsibility of state and local organizations and what does being over-whelmed really mean anymore for Stafford? We have discussed Matt Mayer’s research and writings before.

Hopefully in the future homeland security and national security shall be two of the largest circles on a national strategic Venn diagram – not one enormous confusing one. A person can dream.

Comment by Tom Russo

October 14, 2015 @ 3:37 pm


So, while the NSC Act of 1947 included “domestic” in its mission, authority, etc. and while not needed for over fifty years, I take it from your comments that that particular mission is confounded from a top down authority by the fact that state and local jurisdictions are independent of federal authorities and could elect to run in other missions?

I’ll follow up and read the link which I am sure will provide further background.

Comment by William R. Cumming

October 15, 2015 @ 3:14 am


I have long suggested that there be established an HLS budget code. Note 045 is state and local assistance.

Any Presidential Directive carries with it no funding for programs, functions and activities.

Comment by William R. Cumming

October 15, 2015 @ 3:30 am

The largest portion of the DoD budget supporting state and local HLS is the 95% share of the total budget for salaries, training, equipment of the NATIONAL GUARD, whether or not federalized under Title 10 of the US Code.

In a federally declared disaster or emergency under the STAFFORD ACT almost all activities of the NATIONAL GUARD are reimbursed by FEMA whether or not federalized.


What should be argued is the premier mission of the National Guard?

Comment by William R. Cumming

October 15, 2015 @ 9:02 am

So a de facto alliance in Syria with Assad’s forces, Russian forces, Iranian forces, and Kurdish forces aligned?

Comment by Vicki Campbell

October 15, 2015 @ 1:35 pm

And why should we expect anything less or else, Bill? We’re the ones who have much less business than anyone else being their doing what we’ve been doing. We’re the ones who couldn’t figure out that Assad was much better for everyone concerned than ISIS – and that a choice between the two was always the only realistic choice available – just like in Iraq, and Libya, etc., etc. But then what we’ve really been doing over there has never had much to do with fighting terrorism, etc., now has it…. As almost any serious resistance leader, including in Syria, will tell you, (and certainly has tried to tell the west many times) it almost always does them much more harm than good to have the type of foreign intervention “supposedly” on their behalf, because it invariably propels the nation to close quarters and unite around the head of the country, no matter who that may be – and de facto obstructs the real work of any truly democratic resistance movement.

I’m really not trying to pick on you, Bill, but we have so royally screwed up the Middle East, and brought such a massive, unconscionable amount of death, destruction and displacement to literally millions of innocent people – who no one in their right might could possibly argue wouldn’t be much better off without a single American ever having set foot on ME soil – that I just have to say that the above concerns about “alliances” feels pretty sad in comparison to what we should be most upset and concerned about (and I’m not saying you’re not) – which is our own abjectly immoral behavior as a nation, and the horrible impact we have had on millions of others, who have done absolutely nothing to us. And now we’re just planning on doing more of the same as the new solution. Talk about incompetent….

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