Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

January 17, 2013

Sandy relief as approved by the House

Filed under: Budgets and Spending — by Philip J. Palin on January 17, 2013

On Tuesday evening the House of Representatives sent to the Senate a bill to fund a variety of measures related to the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy.

The  funding was authorized through an original $17 billion measure ( HR-152) presented by Mr. Rogers, Chairman of the Appropriations Committee .

An additional $33 billion was provided via amendment by Mr. Frelinghuysen.  The Frelinghuysen amendment sometimes substituted amounts specified in what Mr. Rogers has presented, but most often added new funding.

With smaller amendments and adjustments the bill appropriates $50.5 billion in supplemental funding.

Following are specific amounts.  The legislation often includes further detail on how and when the funding must be expended.

HR-152 as originally proposed by Mr. Rogers, Chairman of the House Appropriations Committee:

Department of Agriculture,Emergency Food Assistance: $6 million.

Army Corps of Engineers Investigations: $20 million

Army Corps of Engineers Construction: $9 million

Army Corps of Engineers Dredging and Repair: $742 million

Army Corps of Engineers Flood Control and Coastal Emergencies:  $582 million

Small Business Administration salaries and expenses: $10 million

SBA Office of the Inspector General: $1 million

SBA Disaster Loans: $100 million

SBA Administrative and Servicing Costs: $50 million

Coast Guard Acquisition, Construction, and Improvement:  $143, 899,000

FEMA Disaster Relief Fund: $5.379 billion

DHS Science and Technology $585,000

DHS Domestic Nuclear Detection Office Systems Acquisition: $3,869,000

Fish and Wildlife Service: $49, 875, 000

National Park Service: $234 million

Department of Interior, Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement: $3 million

Department of Health and Human Services, Public Health and Social Services Emergency Fund: $100 million

Social Security Administration Administrative Expenses: $2 million

DOD, Army National Guard, Military Construction: $24,235,000

Department of Veterans Affairs, Medical Services $21 million

Veterans Medical Facilities: $6 million

National Cemetery Administration $1.1 million

DVA Information Technology Systems $531,000

DVA Construction and Major Projects: $207 million

DOT, FFA Facilities and Equipment: $14,600,000

National Railroad Passenger Corporation (AMTRAK): $32 million

Federal Transit Administration Transportation Emergency Relief Program: $5.4 billion

HUD Community Development Fund: $3.85 billion

Frelinghausen Amendment’s Additional Funding

Several other amendments were offered, usually aimed at reducing a proposed appropriation or seeking cuts in other federal appropriations equal to the new appropriations.   But as far as I can tell — remember I’m only a blogger — the following is accurate as to what was finally appropriated.

Agriculture Department, Emergency Conservation Program: $218 million

Department of Commerce, NOAA: $290 million ($150 million of this was not approved via an amendment to this amendment) mostly on related to debris mapping, improved weather forecasting, and related research.

NOAA Construction and Repairs: $186 million

FBI salaries and expenses: $10,020,000

DEA salaries and expenses: $1 million

ATFE salaries and expenses $230, 000

Federal Prison System: $10 million

NASA Repairs: $15 million

Legal Services Corporation: $1 million

DOD Army Operations and Maintenance: $5,370,000

DOD Navy Operations and Maintenance: $40,015,000

DOD Air Force Operations and Maintenance: $8.5 million

Army National Guard Operations and Maintenance: $3,165,000

Air National Guard Operations and Maintenance: $5,775,000

Army Ammunition Procurement: $1,310,000

Defense Working Capital Fund $24,200,000

Army Corps of Engineers Investigations: $50 million

Army Corps of Engineers Construction: $3.461 billion

Army Corps of Engineers Operation and Maintenance (mostly dredging): $821 million

Army Corps of Engineers Flood Control and Coast Emergencies (mostly repairs): $1,008,000,000

Army Corps of Engineers Expenses: $10 million

General Services Administration (owner/operator of federal facilities): $7 million

SBA, added $10 million to original amount for salaries and expenses.

SBA Inspector General, added $5 million to original amount.

SBA Disaster Loan Program Account: $520 million

DHS Customs and Border Control Salaries and Expenses: $1,667,000

DHS, ICE Salaries and Expenses: $855,000

DHS, US Secret Service Salaries and Expenses: $300,000

Coast Guard Acquisition, Construction, and Improvements, substituted $274,233,000 for original $143, 899,000

FEMA Disaster Relief Fund plus up of $11, 487,735,000.

DHS S&T: Replaced $585,000 with $3,249,000

Department of Interior, Fish and Wildlife Service: Replaced $49,875,000 with $78 million.

National Park Service Historic Preservation Fund: $50 million

National Park Service Construction: $348 million instead of $234 million.

Department of Interior Operations: $360 million

EPA programs and management $725,000

Hazardous Substance Superfund: $2 million

Leaking Underground Storage Tank Fund: $5 million

EPA State and Tribal Assistance Grants: $600 million

Forest Service Capital Improvement and Maintenance: $4.4 million

Smithsonian Institution Salaries and Expenses: $2 million

Department of Labor Training and Employment Services: $25 million

HHS Public Health and Social Services  Emergency Fund: $800 million

DOT, FFA Facilities and Equipment: $30 million

Federal Highway Administration, Emergency Relief Program: $2.011 billion

AMTRAK: $86 million

Federal Transit Administration , Emergency Relief Program: $10.9 billion

HUD, Community Development Fund: $16 billion

As Senator Dirksen is regularly quoted as saying, “A billion here a billion there and pretty soon you’re talking about real money.”

The House approved the Disaster Relief Appropriations Act, H.R. 152, in a 241-180 vote. Among Republicans, 179 voted against it, and just 49 voted for it.  According to The Hill, the nay votes “were a protest against a bill that many conservatives say is too big and provides funding for things other than immediate relief for New York, New Jersey and Connecticut.”

December 6, 2012

Senator Coburn gives a second warning to homeland security

Filed under: Budgets and Spending,Congress and HLS,State and Local HLS — by Christopher Bellavita on December 6, 2012

Senator Tom Coburn fired another warning shot over the bow of the USS Homeland Security Enterprise.

On December 4th, the man likely to become ranking minority member of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee released “Safety at Any Price: Assessing the Impact of Homeland Security Spending in US Cities.” The 54 page report — well worth reading — “exposes misguided and wasteful spending” in the Urban Area Security Initiative (UASI) grant programs.

As if to emphasize “misguided and wasteful,” the cover features a toy truck, a toy 4 wheeler, a toy police helicopter, and a small R2D2 robot.

Coburn uasi report

The toys are immediately outside the US Capitol building. I’m not sure what that image is supposed to symbolize. It could mean somebody’s been playing around with Congress. Or maybe it is supposed to be a metaphor for the way Congress treats homeland security.

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The UASI report is the senator’s second recent warning to the homeland security enterprise.

Last October, he released “Federal Support For And Involvement In State And Local Fusion Centers.” That report questioned federal funding for fusion centers and concluded, among other things, that fusion centers do not contribute much to federal counterterrorism effectiveness, and DHS does not know how much it spent on fusion center support. (Spending estimates ranged — if “ranged” is the correct word here — from $289 million to $1.4 billion.)

The Fusion Center report hit a nerve. Within a week of its release, the International Association of Chiefs of Police, National Sheriffs Association, Major Cities Chiefs, Major County Sheriffs, National Governors Association Homeland Security Advisers Counsel, National Narcotics Officers Coalition Association, National Fusion Center Association, and the Association Of State Criminal Investigative Agencies issued a “joint statement” disagreeing with the report. (Eight public safety associations agreeing on anything in less than a week must be a world record.)

Their statement said, in part, “Simply put, the report displays a fundamental disconnect and severe misunderstanding of the federal government’s role in supporting state and locally owned and operated fusion centers and the critical role that fusion centers play in the national counterterrorism effort.”

Media attention to the Fusion Center report lasted about a week. I wonder how long interest in the UASI report will last.

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The UASI report has lots of material to provoke media outrage.

Some of the stories of questionable UASI expenditures are old news – for example the one about 13 sno-cone machines (p. 31). Other “questionable projects” were new – at least to me.

One city produced a series of videos titled “A Tale of Disaster and Preparedness.” The UASI report complains the “little more than common sense suggestions” in the video are “presented as a steady stream of jokes….” (p. 32).

I thought the preparedness videos were innocently compelling – sort of like Apple versus PC commercials. But as Will Rogers might have said, one person’s joke is another person’s misused taxpayer funds.

There was a somewhat too long description of a $1000, UASI allowable expense, entrance fee for a five day counterterrorism summit held on an island near San Diego. The Summit featured “40 actors dressed as zombies getting gunned down by a military tactical unit.” (p. 25)

The report even found some UASI money was apparently spent on “a true pork project – a hog catcher in Liberty County [Texas],” used (according to another source) to aid in catching and controlling unruly swine at holding sites. (p. 24)

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There are many other examples of UASI spending for things and activities that at a minimum activate a reader’s WTF response. But beyond the sometimes surreal stories, the report – addressed to “Dear Taxpayer” – is a serious critique of the $7 billion spent on the UASI programs over the past decade.

Part 2 of the report: “The Politics of Risk” discusses the role of political influence in determining how homeland security money is allocated.

Tom Ridge is quoted as saying he was looking for a grant formula that gets “218 votes in the House or 51 votes Senate….”  Anyone still operating under the assumption that grant awards are – or ever were – based on objective measures of threat or vulnerability or consequence can benefit from spending time with Part 2.

Part 3 asks whether UASI grants have made the nation safer.

This chapter is the latest cover of the “Nobody Knows Whether Homeland Security Spending Is A Worthwhile Investment” song. The report (later) even brings up the Mueller and Stewart critique about acceptable and unacceptable risk. I thought their analysis was anathema in DHS and in Congress. Maybe not everywhere.

Part 3 also describes how homeland security money expands the militarization of state and local law enforcement, including the use of drones and “Long-Range Acoustic Devices” (i.e., sound cannons) in urban areas.

Part 4 was a bit disappointing. It offered a recycled critique that FEMA ineffectively manages grant programs, and shows a surprisingly naïve understanding of how measuring homeland security preparedness is different from measuring risk in the finance and insurance industries. The report avoids trying to explain the causes of this “mismanagement;” saying instead, “It is unclear why FEMA continues to have difficulties in [measuring the effectiveness of its grant programs] considering the experience and expertise of the private sector that is available to inform FEMA’s own efforts.”

How about “Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted?”

I thought the report all but gave up in Part 5: “Conclusions and Recommendations.” I did not see anything new here in the slightly more than one page final section.

DHS needs to address A, B, C…
DHS needs to demand Q, R & S from local and state partners…
DHS needs to implement a systematic approach to X, Y & Z…

Yes, DHS ought to do all those things.

But what is that old saying about insanity? About doing the same thing again and again and expecting different results? Those recommendations are not new insights.

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The UASI report missed an opportunity to break new ground in the decade long search for ways to bring more rigor, order, rationality, and common sense to the homeland security grant process.

On page 5, one finds this nugget of realpolitik:

“Any blame for problems in the UASI program, however, also falls on Congress, which is often more preoccupied with the amount of money sent to its cities than with how the money is spent, or whether it was ever needed in the first place. With so few accountability measures in place, there is almost no way to ensure taxpayers are getting value for their money, and more importantly, whether they are safer.”

The report blames the members of Congress for being more interested in sending money to constituents than figuring out the usefulness of those expenditures.

So what does the report recommend Congress should do to fix this primal cause of the UASI allocation problem?

The only recommendation I could find was in the last sentence of the report: Congress needs to … “demand answers.”

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Lorelei Kelly describes in another document  called  “Congress’ Wicked Problems,” — also released on December 4th — how and why Congress has become incapacitated, despised and obsolete.   She argues in its present state, Congress “cannot serve the needs of American democracy in the 21st Century.”

Kelly’s essay is especially worth reading in conjunction with the UASI report.

Someone who is sick probably can’t get better by demanding that other people get healthy.

Maybe the next step Congress could take to remedy the significant issues raised in the UASI report is to heal itself first.

I wonder if that healing will be on the agenda of the new ranking minority member of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.

July 25, 2012

Ungrateful, Unfeeling or Just Numb

Filed under: Budgets and Spending,State and Local HLS — by Mark Chubb on July 25, 2012

When Vice President Joe Biden addressed a hotel ballroom in Philadelphia this afternoon, he probably expected the blue-collar throng to be a friendly crowd. After all, firefighters have few friends in Washington, DC more loyal or admiring than he’s been. Few politicians appreciate the influence wielded by firefighters better than Mr. Biden, who once referred to them as Delaware’s third major political party.

As you might expect, the Vice President set a complimentary tone in his remarks, assuring firefighters that he and the President see them as the key to protecting America’s middle class. It was unclear whether he meant this literally or metaphorically. Perhaps it was both.

For the most part, the Vice President’s remarks suggested he was aiming to evoke the sort of mutual adulation that firefighters and politicians routinely share with one another in public. GIven the political season, Mr. Biden did not shy away from taking shots at the other side by suggesting the Obama Administration supports firefighters and their brothers and sisters in blue, the police, but those other guys, represented by Mr. Romney, do not.

Not long after he finished speaking, the reviews were in. Most firefighters were glad to see the second-highest ranking elected Democrat reaching out to the party’s traditional base at a union convention. But some expected more.

One of those who was not exactly thrilled with Mr. Biden’s remarks was the president of the Philadelphia local of the International Association of Fire Fighters, who expressed dismay bordering on disgust because the Vice President had not explicitly cited and endorsed the union’s victory in an arbitration case that awarded Pennsylvania firefighters protection against furloughs and a pay raise. City officials in Philadelphia, like those in Mr. Biden’s hometown of Scranton, Pennsylvania, which recently implemented unilateral cuts to all city workers’ pay in a desperate bid to avoid bankruptcy, are appealing that decision.

These are tough times for cities. And that’s because times have been tough for city-dwellers. Not only have many Americans seen the value of their homes plummet, but many have seen real wages shrink even as their workplace tenure has become more tenuous.

Firefighters face few of these problems. For the most part, their pay has been stable or increasing since the recession started . Their benefits remain far more generous than those available to comparably trained workers in similar occupations. (I know, firefighters think no one has a job like theirs. They are right about that, many far riskier jobs provide far less secure employment and much poorer pay and benefits. Take fishing for instance. Or driving a taxi.) And until recently, they could be reasonably confident that they would continue being employed.

Now that the recession has lingered far longer than anyone expected, many firefighters are finding themselves in much the same position as those they protect. And that doesn’t sit well with a group that sees themselves as different, even special.

Firefighters have a difficult time relating to the plight of cities. Perhaps this is because so few of them live there. In most urban communities the days when fire departments were composed of neighbors stepping up to help one another is long gone. Today, the fire department is just another municipal service we pay others to provide.

Mr. Biden suggested that firefighters are the very soul of their communities. I am sure he meant to imply this was true of the communities where firefighters work, not the ones where they live, since these are rarely the same place anymore. I’m not sure he didn’t get this the wrong way around though.

Like Mr. Biden, though, I still admire firefighters. After all, it’s hard not to like anyone who enjoys his or her job as much as firefighters do, especially when they take so much pride in doing it well. But this does not make firefighters special. Neither do the risks they take. Although firefighting has its dangers, firefighters succumb to these far less often than one might imagine. The same things that kill other workers in far less dangerous occupations claim firefighters lives too, and take many more of them than fires do.

What makes firefighters special in my book is the peculiar compassion they show for others in their times of greatest need. Mr. Biden recognized this when he spoke of the selfless actions of responders to the Aurora theater massacre. Sure, these men and women faced perils in responding to an active shooter call. But the actions they took caring for the wounded was not simply about confronting risks or the skillful performance of well-practiced routines. It was also about the concern they showed not just for the physical wellbeing of those involved, but for their emotional and psychological welfare as well.

You can’t really train people to do this. They either feel empathy or they do not. The fact most of them do feel empathy means that the mere act of showing up when needed is the point at which they add the most value.

This value can easily get lost in debates about what the work people do is really worth. It can also get lost in the heat of a political fight for the heart and soul of a great nation whose public servants like her people have started to become just a little too numb to the pain most of us share.

 

July 11, 2012

Fiscal Cliff and Slippery Slope

Filed under: Budgets and Spending,State and Local HLS — by Mark Chubb on July 11, 2012

In Washington, D.C., a great deal of discussion surrounds competing conceptions of the fiscal cliff and what, if anything, the government should do to avoid going over it. As I have mentioned repeatedly in recent weeks, many cities around the nation find themselves on a slippery slope toward bankruptcy (or its equivalent) as they confront the lingering effects of the economic crisis and past political decisions by their elected officials.

This week another two California cities sought bankruptcy protection. San Bernardino and Mammoth Lakes join the likes of Stockton and Vallejo.

Such dire fiscal situations are  not limited to California. Public employees in Scranton, Pennsylvania received unwelcome news with their pay packets this week when city leaders kept their promise to unilaterally cut pay to the federal minimum wage rate of $7.25 per hour in a desperate bid to meet payroll. This confrontation with public employees unions and among elected officials at city hall follows an arbitrator’s ruling that awarded public safety employees significant compensation increases.

As I read news of these developments, I wondered why these experiences do not seem more salient to others and what, if any, effect they have on the debate in Washington, D.C.

Evidence that they are beginning to influence the policy debate beyond the Beltway is abundant. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie was quoted recently as pleading with Capitol Hill to stop sending him federal assistance to pay employees he cannot afford to retain and will have to layoff. At the same time, others around the country are clambering for still more aid in any form they can get it.

Grants to help communities hire law enforcement officers, firefighters and EMTs have existed for a long time, in many different forms. They did not suddenly appear with the fiscal crisis. But what did change was the requirement for local communities to come up with plans to match a portion of the aid they received by sustaining these positions over time. Likewise, grant applications that help jurisdictions avoid layoffs receive priority consideration in making awards without regard for circumstances contributing to these sitiations.

In many instances, this approach creates the same kind of moral hazard that the European Union’s effort to help Greece avoid default. Bailing out a government that made bad decisions and citizens who stand complicit (or in most cases simply sat by and watched) does nothing to correct the situation or prevent it from occurring again. Moreover, it may present an incentive to continue making the sort of bad decisions that led to the crisis in the first place.

Normally, I find little to agree with Gov. Christie and his party about. But from where I sit, he’s right to question whether the federal government is doing anything particularly helpful by sending grant monies to local and state governments for police officers and firefighters they cannot afford.

Interestingly enough, I have seen at least one proposal floated recently to expand AmeriCorps to serve rural communities’ public safety needs. Some local officials rebelled against this notion suggesting without irony that it amounted to little more than socialism in the form of a federal takeover of local service delivery. This criticism, however, ignores the fact that many communities simply cannot attract or retain enough volunteers to meet their own needs even if they can afford to train and equip them. I know many of these same officials would hold their noses and accept money, not people, if they were offered it even though they oppose the taxes used to collect and disburse it.

I am intrigued by the suggestion of an AmericCorps expansion. It appeals to me on several levels. First, it encourages national service without requiring it. Second, it rewards community service by offering educational assistance to young people who commit to a period of national service in an underserved community besides their own. Third, it transforms what might otherwise be a deadweight economic loss into a positive externality by providing kids who are finding themselves priced out of the market for education with an opportunity to earn the money required to earn their degrees. It also manages to do this without forcing kids to compromise by dividing their time and attention between the two tasks — working and studying — at once. By reducing the future debt burden on these young people, it also reduces economic uncertainty and accompanying long-term risk associated with burgeoning student debt.

The idea of offering students education or housing incentives to volunteer as firefighters has long proven successful. It has also proven antithetical to the labor movement who see students stealing living wage jobs from people who neither need nor desire a college education. I might find it easier to accept this argument if I thought communities could afford to hire firefighters on the same terms as current employees but simply chose not to. IT might also be easier to swallow if firefighters in so many communities were not overcompensated for their labor compared to similarly skilled workers, including those engaged in risky occupations.

Many, if not most, other countries employ a two-tiered hiring system for firefighters. In some cases, the entry level positions are held by a combination of working class recuits and conscripts, much like our own military has operated in times past. The officer corps, on the other hand, tends to be stocked with managerial and technical professionals recruited from post-secondary educational institutions, which is most certainly not true of our own local fire service leadership. Many foreign fire service officers possess professional qualifications in engineering or scientific disciplines, which is rarely true here.

If every jurisdiction that enters bankruptcy exits in a fashion similar to Vallejo, such a course of action may not end up being such a bad thing. Somehow, though, I doubt this will be the case. Recent grand jury findings concerning the Orange County Fire Authority’s employee compensation arrangements and operational inefficiencies delivering emergency medical services suggest that particular community did not learn such lessons from their dance-with-economic-death in mid-1990s. (To be fair, their fiscal disaster arose from different circumstances entirely. Nevertheless, they formed the fire authority for the ostensible purpose of avoiding unsustainable fiscal circumstances that already affected many municipalities that depended upon the county for support if not service.)

If federal officials really want to help local communities, creating a win-win like the suggested AmeriCorps expansion just might work. But for that to be the case, local and state officials of both left and right political persuasions will have to lose their fear of their own public employees, abandon ideological posturing about for purely political purposes, and lose their learned  indifference to accepting help that comes with strings attached. Here’s hoping more wake-up before hitting bottom.

June 27, 2012

Coming Soon to a City Near You

Filed under: Budgets and Spending,Futures,State and Local HLS — by Mark Chubb on June 27, 2012

If all went as expected last night, Stockton, California is now on its way to becoming the latest and largest American city to seek bankruptcy protection. This news comes a little more than a week after North Las Vegas, Nevada declared a state of emergency in a desperate (and some say illegal) attempt to mitigate financial catastrophe by forcing concessions from its unions. Meanwhile, cities across the nation are preparing to layoff firefighters and police officers, including Detroit, which expects to cut 164 fire department positions in the very near future.

To those cops, firefighters and public safety administrators to whom these headlines do not seem all that shocking, they certainly are depressing. I am not, however, among those in either camp. I know that this too shall pass. The sooner we get started, the sooner things will get better.

Here’s a case in point: A few years ago, Vallejo, California declared bankruptcy. Today, citizens and elected officials alike have renewed pride in their community by investing in new ways of doing business and restoring a shared sense of commitment to one another’s welfare and their city’s future. This vision is grounded in the understanding that the obligations of citizenship extend well beyond paying taxes or voting in elections.

My uncle is among the Vallejo residents who pitched-in, spoke up and helped reinvent this solidly blue-collar community. We’ve spoken at length about his experiences, which have also informed his critically-acclaimed novels and short stories.

Like many of his neighbors, my uncle took up residence in Vallejo over fifteen years ago when the cost of housing drove him out of San Francisco where he worked and Berkeley where he lived. Vallejo was affordable and accessible if not upwardly mobile or particularly happening and hip.

The U.S. Navy’s closure of the Mare Island Shipyard a few years earlier meant the city had already seen its salad days. That said, jobs paying a reasonable wage could be found relatively easily. Median salaries covered the mortgage for modest homes that afforded residents a toehold on a middle-class lifestyle.

As home values began appreciating with the loosening of lending practices, city revenues shot up. People were no wealthier than before. Salaries had not increased all that much, but the ability to live beyond one’s means had.

Mandatory collective bargaining and binding-interest arbitration with public safety employees meant civil servants saw regular and healthy pay increases as city coffers remained full. The year before Vallejo entered bankruptcy, the median firefighter salary and wages (with overtime) exceeded $157,000 and the contract awarded employees a nine percent pay increase. (Most cops were doing even better.) Great work if you can get it, eh? But a hard nut to cover if your citizens’ median household income is around $59,000.

In the years since, housing prices and middle-class incomes from employment in the private sector have both collapsed. Unequipped to respond flexibly like their private sector counterparts, public employers trimmed positions and services until they had no easy choices left.

I am neither anti-employee nor anti-union. But I would like to think I am pro-common sense. And my sense of the situation is that too many cities and their public safety employees are on the same slippery slope Vallejo was. If so, this week’s headlines suggest many are now losing their footing.

The problems confronting public safety agencies and their employee unions is simple: Structural deficits are inevitable when contracts award employees wage and benefit packages whose costs exceed the rate of increase in revenues, often by a rate of three, four or five-to-one. The precipitous decline in property values has only exacerbated and sometimes accelerated the inevitable conflict between what was promised and what is possible.

When public entities enter bankruptcy, employees become creditors. The citizen-owners’ ability to pay determines what creditors will get. And citizens’ willingness to do for themselves determines their future — that of the community as a whole and the employees who once assumed the community depended upon their intervention alone.

Communities across the country are rediscovering their ability to do for themselves what they reckon they cannot do without. What most communities discover after entering the bankruptcy process is that they were not nearly as dependent on firefighters or cops as they once thought.

Even in those few instances where time really makes a critical difference to the ultimate outcome, sudden cardiac arrest for instance, communities like San Jose, California are finding ways to mobilize citizens as first responders. CPR-trained citizens can (and do) download a smartphone app that notifies them when a cardiac arrest call is received near them. The app not only alerts them to respond, but also advises the location of the nearest publicly accessible automatic external defibrillator.

The efficacy of this approach is already clear. In a few short months since its release, several citizen “saves” have been documented. Statistical evidence of effectiveness will come in time.

We may not want to encourage people to use this sort of technology to enable them to fight fires or enter dangerous environments to perform rescues without training or protective equipment, but we can take advantage of their proximity and access to technology to inform how public agencies respond.  By doing so, we can clearly achieve improved efficiencies even if we do little to increase effectiveness.

Communities across the country face hard choices. Stockton, Detroit and North Las Vegas share little in common besides their parlous fiscal circumstances. If they are lucky, their citizens will find it increasingly acceptable to reduce their expectations of public servants and increase their expectations of one another.

If public servants want to avoid the inevitable outcome of such a reckoning, their choice is just as clear: Forget about maintaining the status quo and find ways to engage communities, increase efficiency and reduce costs by leveraging not just levying citizens. As more communities confront the harsh realities of their unsustainable fiscal practices and union contracts, it will become clearer to all that communities exist for their own welfare, not that of public employees.

June 10, 2012

Setting Our Sights Higher: On a Secure and Sustainable Recovery

Filed under: Budgets and Spending,State and Local HLS — by Mark Chubb on June 10, 2012

Last week, Republicans hounded President Obama unmercifully for a statement he made during a Friday press conference that suggested, “the private sector is doing fine.” The administration’s efforts to recast these remarks in the context of overall employment growth and economic performance since the start of the recession did little good.

Not long after the President made his remarks, Gov. Mitt Romney, the presumptive GOP nominee for president, rushed to add his two cents’: “[President Obama] says we need more firemen, more policemen, more teachers. Did he not get the message of Wisconsin? The American people did. It’s time for us to cut back on government and help the American people.”

Sadly but not surprisingly, both men missed the mark.

To be sure, President Obama does have some pretty solid statistics on his side. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, more occupations and most private sector industries have seen sharp drops in employment losses over the past year if not some pretty good gains. And the economy is growing at a rate of about two percent per annum. The same cannot be said for public employment, where job cuts in health and social services, education and general government services continue to climb. Were it not for this drag, economic growth might well be a full percentage point higher.

Romney’s reference to last week’s gubernatorial recall election in Wisconsin was intended to reignite enthusiasm among the base for a rejection of government as the solution to America’s economic woes. What he didn’t mention though was the votes in California that approved pension benefit cuts for public employees in San Jose and San Diego. The notion that those who receive a public paycheck are getting a pretty good deal is not limited to a few disgruntled rust-belt states, and seems to be focused not so much on how many are employed or even what they do but on how well they are being treated compared to the rest of us.

Both men chose incorrectly to emphasize the impacts of recent job data and elections, for better or worse, on cops and firefighters. Interestingly enough, the data suggests these occupations are indeed doing just fine. But the data show just as convincingly that what can be said for public protective services cannot be said of other segments of the public sector vital to our security and prosperity.

When politicians speak of police officers and firefighters, they almost invariably seek to invoke strong emotions, some good and some bad. Those who feel secure, see cops and firefighters as guardians or warriors standing up for the common good, patriotic exemplars of loyalty and dedication to American values. Those who feel less secure, often fear the consequences of losing the protective influence of these public servants or the opportunities to join the middle-class these solidly blue-collar occupations offer many of the less-skilled in our society.

Interestingly enough, teachers, although capable of evoking similarly strong emotions, strike a different chord with the public. Teaching is clearly a profession not an occupation. It requires education and experience to do well. The best teachers inspire as well as inform. The worst take more interest in their status and their subjects than their students’ success.

Although all public sector unions have aligned themselves historically and financially with the political left, those who work for government in the health, education and social service sectors have aligned themselves philosophically with this end of the political spectrum as well. They believe government can and should be a powerful force for good in our society.

Firefighters and cops are not so certain about this. Their rhetoric, individually if not collectively, is often, if not always, far more consistent with the philosophies espoused by the right: Government should stick to its core functions and let markets and individuals sort out and deal with the rest. In many ways, this is little more than a convenient, simple and very straightforward way of saying they want their slice of the government pie first.

Other state and municipal occupations, like city planners, building inspectors, social workers, public health practitioners, traffic engineers, parks and recreation employees, and utility and sanitation workers, require extensive technical or professional education or oversight. And their roles are often overlooked when it comes to considering the impacts of a failing economy on our security and prosperity. (If not for roads, water, sewers and other services, what business would survive?)

Until very recently, it was not at all unusual to see fire and police chiefs rise through the ranks with little or no formal education. These days, more cops come to the job with education than firefighters, but education, and the critical thinking and curiosity it implies, has little to do with individual advancement in either occupation at the lower levels of most organizations.

The story of public sector job losses is striking and stands in stark contrast to the tale told by private sector employment statistics: Public sector jobs that require professional and technical education or experience are under-valued and unemployment in these fields leaves incumbents with few private sector opportunities of comparable worth. Private sector job losses have been largely, although by no means exclusively, concentrated among those with less education or experience. And the cuts to government employment rolls in the health, education and social sectors leave them with fewer opportunities to acquire or advance the ability to compete for future jobs.

Although it pains me to say so, Romney’s partly right: We don’t need more cops and firefighters. Mr. President, it would do you well to acknowledge this, and demonstrate that your administration’s commitment to a secure and sustainable recovery starts with looking after those who need our help most.

– + – + – + –

An interesting postscript: Shortly after posting this, I read a summary of Wisonsin Gov. Scott Walker’s remarks on CBS’ Sunday program Face the Nation. In short, Walker disagreed with Romney’s interpretation of the recall results. He suggested his “reforms” were aimed at protecting core public safety programs like police and fire protection. And it’s true that Walker’s legislation repealing collective bargaining rights for most state and local government workers exempted police and fire unions. (Not so in other states, like Indiana, that followed his example.) Is this another example of a politician pandering to public safety unions, or is it genuine reform?

June 8, 2012

House action on DHS appropriations

Filed under: Budgets and Spending — by Philip J. Palin on June 8, 2012

Yesterday, June 7, the House approved the fiscal year 2013 Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Appropriations bill by a vote of 234-182.  The White House has threatened a veto unless key changes are made in conference with the Senate.

Lots of important details in the bill and related report.  Following, without comment, is a long excerpt from  pages 115-116 of the Committee Report dealing with FEMA programs.

MISSION

State and Local Programs help build and sustain the preparedness and response capabilities of the first responder community. These programs include support for various grant programs andtraining programs.

RECOMMENDATION

The Committee recommends $1,762,589,000 for State and Local Programs, $1,137,623,000 below the amount requested and $412,908,000 above the amount provided in fiscal year 2012.

As part of the budget request, the Administration proposed including the Firefighter Assistance Grants and Emergency Management Performance Grants under this program. The Committee again denies this proposal and recommends funding for both of these grant programs as separate appropriations, consistent with prior years.

In fiscal year 2013, FEMA proposed a new grant program called the National Preparedness Grant Program under State and Local Programs. This proposal is denied due to the lack of Congressional authorization and the lack of the necessary details that are required for the initiation of a new program to include grant guidance and implementation plans.

The Department should work with the appropriate committees of jurisdiction to obtain the necessary authorizing legislation and to clearly define the Federal role and reassess the most effective delivery of support and resources to sustain and improve homeland security capabilities prior to submittinga budget request for such a program. Additionally, the Committee met with and heard testimony from numerous stakeholders that expressed concern not just with the grant proposal but also with the lack of stakeholder outreach prior to the program’s introduction. The Committee considers this lack of outreach concerning and it should be addressed.

Due to these concerns, the Committee continues the grant structure as enacted in fiscal year 2012. The funds provided for State and Local Program grants are to be allocated by the Secretary of Homeland Security according to threat, vulnerability, and consequenceto assist high-risk urban areas, States, local and Tribal governments, and other homeland security partners in preventing, preparing for, protecting against, and responding to acts of terrorism.

May 29, 2012

“… it is not fish they are after.”

Filed under: Budgets and Spending,Business of HLS — by Christopher Bellavita on May 29, 2012

“The charm of fishing is that it is the pursuit of what is elusive but attainable, a perpetual series of occasions for hope.” — John Buchan

Homeland Security Research Corp. (HSRC) describes itself as “a Washington, DC-based international market research and strategic consulting firm serving the homeland security community.”

Two years ago, it projected that

Over the next four years: the U.S. HLS-HLD (i.e. federal, state and local governments, and the private sector) funding will grow from $184 billion in 2011 to $205 billion by 2014. The market will grow from $73 billion in 2011 to $86 billion by 2014.

In another 2010 report– about the private sector’s role in homeland security — HSRC notes:

The private sector procurement of homeland security related products and services represents 15-16% of the total US Homeland Security market. The US private sector HLS market is larger than the combined federal aviation, maritime and land transportation HLS markets. Over the next five years, the US private sector HLS market is forecasted to grow … from $7.7 billion in 2010 to $11.2 billion by 2014.

(To digress, this report contributed to my personal collection of favorite homeland security facts by pointing out The US private sector controls 86% of the nation high-priority infrastructure sites.” The usual estimates typically cite an 85% figure. Since the 85% number has no basis in anything beyond rhetoric, I admire the attention to precision suggested by 86%.  I also respect the creative addition of “high priority” to the otherwise mundane term, “critical infrastructure.”)

A third HSRC 2010 report points out that DHS is just part of the homeland security enterprise:

While the DHS plays a key role in homeland security, it does not dominate the US counter terror … market. The combined state and local markets, which employ more than 2.2 million first responders, totaled $15.8 billion (2009), whereas the DHS HLS market totaled $13.1 billion. …In spite of the fact that nine years passed since 9/11 with no successful terror attack on the continental USA, periodic, multi-year Harris polls, reveal consistent growth of public concern about another major terrorist attack.

That concern suggests opportunity:

Future small scale terror attacks (successful or not) will maintain this trend in the future. [sic] For example, the failed 2009 Christmas attack aboard a flight bound for Detroit and the attempted car-bombing in New York’s Time Square (February 2010) resulted in immediate White House intervention, Congressional hearings and a radical air passengers screening upgrade program costing over $1.6 billion.

But even if the federal budget does not come through, there’s still state and local government.

Most analysts overlook the fact that the OMB federal rules demand that state and local HLS activities must be financed at the state, county and city level. Annually, all the states and over 40,000 counties and cities fund $53-$62 billion of their HLS activities, while the federal government supplements this spending with grants valued at $3-5 billion annually.

———

“Fishing is a delusion entirely surrounded by liars in old clothes.” — Don Marquis

A recent two-day Counter Terror Expo was sparsely attended, writes Andrea Stone in Huffington Post.

“This is probably one of the worst I’ve been to in years,” said Jason Henry of Field Forensics, a Florida manufacturer of explosives and hazardous-material-detection devices that was incorporated in September 2001. “Nobody’s walking the show.”

“It was not as well attended as we expected,” said Mark Anderson, a representative of FLIR, which manufactures sophisticated thermal imaging equipment for police and the military and was an event cosponsor. …

“Unless a war pops up somewhere else, the homeland security mission will become much more important [compared with a declining DoD mission],” said John Gritschke, a manager for Laser Shot, a Texas-based maker of training videos.

… Despite the low attendance at the expo, most exhibitors said business was good.

That bothered Benjamin Friedman, a Cato Institute analyst.

“Our panicked response to 9/11 has made a kind of self-licking ice cream that tries to keep us worrying about terrorism and sells us defenses against it,” Friedman stated …. “This conference is a small part of that.”

“The good news is that austerity has meant that there is less money for homeland security, shrinking the homeland security industrial complex and bringing it into increased competition with its far bigger cousin, the military industrial complex,” Friedman added.

But one can always count on human nature’s self destructiveness.

Whether it’s war fighters or cops, Patricia Schmaltz of Virginia-based A-T Solutions sees a vibrant market for her company’s antiterrorism training classes. “I don’t see peace on Earth coming anytime soon,” she said.

“We would definitely support it but we don’t see it,” Schmaltz said. “So long as there are bad guys and nutcakes out there, we’ll be in business.”

———

Meanwhile, in a completely unrelated story, Rebecca Shlien reports the third annual Homeland Security Bass Tournament took place on Friday, May 18th in Decatur, Alabama.

… [Roughly] 300 current and retired firefighters, police officers, first responders and military troops came to cast a line—and not only from North Alabama.

[The tournament’s founder said] “I know we’ve got one [participant] here from Iowa, we’ve got Kentucky, Tennessee, Georgia, Mississippi and Florida, so we draw them from quite a ways…. The jobs that these guys have, there’s a lot of tense, a lot of stress involved, and to get out there on the water and go fast in a bass boat, spend a few hours catching some fish, it really helps you unwind.”

If you’re interested, you can watch a video about last year’s Homeland Security Bass Tournament here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LtxiA43BrnY

“Many men go fishing all of their lives without knowing that it is not fish they are after.” — Henry David Thoreau

April 12, 2012

Government of the People: It can be complicated

Filed under: Budgets and Spending,Preparedness and Response — by Philip J. Palin on April 12, 2012

Last week FEMA released it’s Threat and Hazard Identification and Risk Assessment (THIRA) Guide.  This is a key element in implementation of PPD-8, the achievement of the National Preparedness Goal, and for justifying grant requests under the newly consolidated DHS grant program.

As otherwise explained by FEMA administrators, the THIRA includes a five step process for identifying top priorities:

  • Identify the threats and hazards of concern – What could happen in my community?
  • Give the threats and hazards context – Describe how a threat or hazard could happen in my community, and when and where it could happen.
  • Examine the core capabilities using the threats and hazards – How would each threat or hazard affect the core capabilities identified in the National Preparedness Goal?
  • Set capability targets – Using the information above, set the level of capability a community needs to prevent, protect against, mitigate, respond to, and recover from its risks.
  • Apply the results – Use the capability targets to decide how to use resources from the Whole Community.

This is a gross simplification, but a jurisdiction — or much better, collaborative jurisdictions — can use the THIRA to identify threats, vulnerabilities, and consequences.  Then using the 31 core capabilities in the National Preparedness Goal, the jurisdictions can think through what they need, what they have, and any capability gaps they want to fill.  Then they make their case for federal funding to preserve current capabilities or fill current gaps.  Presumably they will also decide where to focus priorities with or without federal funding.

Pretty reasonable all-in-all.  But if you are anywhere around this process you already know many are not happy (to be understated).

Unhappiness was probably guaranteed.  There’s a lot less money to distribute.

The Department and OMB amplified the unhappiness by eliminating most of the the individual grant programs (buckets, rice bowls, etc.).  Ever read,  Who Moved My Cheese?

I perceive — on absolutely no authority — that someone decided if the states and locals are going to scream and shout anyway, let’s go ahead and rationalize the process.  Instead of DHS dividing up the cheese, let’s devolve this process to the states so that key strategic decisions are made holistically by those closest to the vulnerabilities, threats, and options.

No one asked my opinion, but I might well have offered such advice.

Glad no one asked for my advice.

On March 20 there was a hearing of the House Homeland Security Committee, Subcommittee on Emergency Preparedness, Response, and Communications.  It was an old-fashioned sort of hearing. Authentic questions were asked. Complicated answers were accepted without attack.  Democrats and Republicans were civil to each other and often agreed with each other. They especially agreed that consolidation of DHS grant programs was a bad idea.

The strongest testimony of the day was probably that of Michael Nutter, Mayor of Philadelphia, following is an excerpt of his prepared testimony, very close to what he said aloud:

We are very concerned about the increased role which states will play in determining where and how funds would be spent:

With increased authority, the Commonwealth will likely augment the already bureaucratic processes required to purchase equipment. Even now, prior to increased oversight and authority, the Commonwealth has added additional layers to the equipment acquisition process thus limiting the ability of local jurisdictions to spend down their grant funds and obtain much needed equipment

Further, the Commonwealth already has a track record of re-distributing funding away from urban areas and re-allocating that funding to other areas of the Commonwealth. For example, in FY2011, PEMA reallocated the State Homeland Security Grant Program (SHSGP) funding away from the Philadelphia Urban Area to other Task Forces within the Commonwealth.

The SHSGP distribution is historically based on population index, economic index, and critical infrastructure points. Based on this formula alone, the Philadelphia Urban Area was slated to receive the largest award amount. While we were bracing for a 50 percent cut due to an overall decrease in funding, we actually received an 85.46 percent reduction in the SHSGP grant.

There are nine Task Forces in the Commonwealth. One received a 50 percent SHSGP cut and the others received 25 percent reductions. This demonstrates a disproportionate impact on Philadelphia that does not align with the historical grant allocation guidelines.

Subcommittee members seemed unanimous in their concern and amazement at such behavior by Pennsylvania.  Evidently antipathy to the executive branch — either federal or state — can be especially effective at bringing legislators to common cause.

I was reminded of a meeting last month with public safety leaders in a city overlooking the Pacific.  When someone (not me!) suggested seeking State support for a homeland security measure the immediate response was raucous laughter.  It was the sort of laughter that renewed itself, grew stronger, and actually caused one firefighter to laugh himself into tears, which of course prompted even more laughter.

About three months ago I was in an urban county’s Emergency Management Agency listening to one complaint after another aimed at FEMA.  Perhaps sensing some impatience on my part, the Director said, “Oh, don’t think we’re being too tough on FEMA.  They’re our best friends compared to (insert name of state capital).  We actively hate (insert name of state EMA). FEMA wants us to focus where we don’t want to focus, even though we sometimes should (latter phrase probably inserted only for my benefit).  The state is just pure incompetent.”

The picture at the top shows a 30 foot statue that stands in a plaza between Philadelphia  City Hall and the Municipal Services Building. Conceived  in bronze by Jacques Lipchitz,  it shows several human figures entwined in each other, holding each other, perhaps lifting each other up (or is it holding each other down?). It’s convoluted, even confusing.  The statue is called “Government of the People”.

Who says modern art isn’t allegorical.

March 28, 2012

Dedication

Filed under: Budgets and Spending,State and Local HLS — by Mark Chubb on March 28, 2012

I once thought dedication to duty was the hallmark of public service. especially among public safety professionals. Dedication seems to have taken on a different connotation though these days.

When people speak of dedication to public safety now, it usually refers to the commitment of resources without the need for justification, evaluation or competition. Dedicated resources are preferred. Competition for resources is not. The only thing worse than having to compete for resources is having to prove the resources allocated were spent well.

Fire services, unlike police, often have the luxury of dedicated funds if only because many of them operate outside county or municipal governance under special purpose districts. Most of these districts are funded by ad valorem taxes on real property. Since the beginning of the Great Recession or Great Reset or Whatever We’re Calling It Today — which led to the collapse of home prices — these special purpose fire districts have found their revenues not only constrained but falling for the first time in decades.

Some of these districts have managed to scrape by on reserves accumulated before the crash. Others have raised incremental tax rates to make up for the shortfall. But the revenues available from such quick-fixes and meagre cost-cutting gestures are running out. Now they are looking for alternatives.

The most popular alternative to the labor unions is amalgamation of fire service agencies. Contracting out administration of a fire district is preferable it seems to contracting out firefighting or ambulance transport services because it doesn’t affect bargaining unit members.

Union advocates of mergers and consolidations tell anyone who will listen that such moves will achieve scope and scale economies for citizens who will benefit from maintenance of existing staffing levels and response times. The experience of jurisdictions that have actually gone through the merger or consolidation process tells a different story.

Most combined fire service agencies achieve little economic benefit in the short-term. In fact, they often see short-term cost increases as the affected organizations struggle with integration (sound familiar, DHS?). Just as the turbulence begins to give way, these organizations often see the increased influence of combined bargaining units and new demands on the organization make it more difficult to settle labor agreements without experiencing increased operating costs. In the end, the best most combined fire agencies can achieve is reducing the rate of growth in their expenditures, which buys them time before the need for another reorganization.

It’s overly simplistic to assume that either the economy or the unions are to blame for this situation. Clearly, both parties played their parts. Elected officials and many administrators acted out supporting roles along the way too.

Cities and counties have been struggling with these problems for a bit longer. The power of the fire department to play on emotions for its share of the budget pie has been consistently and credibly eroded. Fire incidents and deaths are down. But the costs of providing fire service keep going up. Efforts to demonstrate any credible relationship or correlation between fire service inputs and fire outcomes has proven consistently elusive. Paying more for fire service does not generate better outcomes, especially when most of the increased cost goes into pay and benefits for employees who live outside the locales they protect.

In this context, merging municipal fire departments with fire districts often does little to improve the quality of fire service for either entity even when it secures the jobs of firefighters. More often than not, cities use resources from adjacent suburban and ex urban areas to prop up service delivery in the urban core. Competition among municipal departments for scarce city revenues makes it difficult if not impossible to balance the books so both cities and adjacent ex urban areas support their own weight despite any efficiencies achieved through joint oversight.

Scholarly studies of the situation paint conflicting pictures. Two impressive exposés on the effects of fire service cutbacks in New York City in the late 1960s and 1970s do demonstrate, however, what happens when cutbacks send a clear signal to the community that its protection is no longer a priority of government. In The Fires, Joe Flood chronicles the effects of the RAND Fire Project on urban policy. Flood paints a sympathetic picture of firefighters and the victims of urban blight. Although he would have readers believe that the effects of disinvestment in fire services were bad for cities, his analysis suggests a gradual shift in focus from services to outcomes led to better building codes and more attention to land use patterns that produced many other benefits.

An earlier work by Deborah Wallace, A Plague on Your Houses, presents compelling evidence that this withdrawal of urban fire services from the South Bronx and other neighborhoods under Mayor Lindsey sparked an underclass diaspora that spread drug abuse, crime and communicable disease across the city, if not the country. Wallace’s account is grounded not in sociology or urban policy, but rather public health and epidemiology. Clearly, forcibly uprooting and transplanting an entrenched urban underclass proved misguided and disruptive for both communities — those displaced and those receiving them. But the effects of these changes on fire service are less clearcut.

If the case for not cutting fire services seems clear enough — it can produce severe unintended consequences, consider three other scholarly efforts that look more closely at the fire service itself. The first, Crucible of Fire by Bruce Hensler suggests the form and function of today’s urban fire services is more the reflection of firefighters’ influence upon their service than the imprint of the urban environment and its demands upon them. Like their brothers and sisters-in-arms, firefighters it seems are always fighting the last war. In contrast, two other efforts, Eating Smoke by Mark Tebeau, and The Fireproof Building by Sara Wermiel, suggest that most of the credit for improvements in urban fire safety should go to engineers and fire insurance underwriters, not firefighters.

Social and political activism among firefighters is not new. In fact, it could reasonably be argued that accumulating and exercising social and political influence was always one of the primary purposes of these organizations. In Cause for Alarm, Amy Greenberg, follows this thread backwards several decades and illustrates how placing fire services under municipal governance was intended to curb rampant abuses of process and power. Alas, as we see today, these efforts have ultimately proved futile.

As I write this, the International Association of Fire Fighters is holding its legislative action conference in Washington, D.C. At the opening plenary session, IAFF General President Harold Schaitberger said it as clearly as anyone could. Commenting on the union’s political priorities following last year’s efforts by governors and legislators in Wisconsin, Ohio and Indiana to repeal collective bargain rights for public employees, “If you mess with one of us, you mess with all of us.” He equated the effort to defend public employees from attack by politicians to a fight for the very survival of the middle-class. A parade of speakers, including politicians, political activists and union leaders followed to reinforce the message: Firefighters must be active politically to prevent further erosion of pay and benefits.

If this is the litmus test for fire service political support, then I can see why we have a problem. Looking at the problem critically and considering the evidence for and against continued investments in fire service based upon past precedents is not an option. Firefighters will tell you they already know the right answer, they don’t need more evidence much less debate. (See a recent blog post by former deputy fire chief, lawyer and physician’s assistant John K. Murphy for example.)

These days, it seems, firefighters are dedicated to putting whatever effort is required into protecting their jobs, pay and benefits. We can only hope citizens and elected officials are equally dedicated to constructively shaping public priorities to reflect their interests in efficiency and accountability.

 

March 20, 2012

Worth Another Look: The application of cost management and life cycle cost theory to homeland security national priorities

Filed under: Budgets and Spending,Preparedness and Response — by Christopher Bellavita on March 20, 2012

I have no idea how many articles, reports, books, opinion pieces, news stories, journal articles, videos, tweets, or other data and information products have been generated during homeland security’s first decade.

Whatever the number, topic or quality, they represent homeland security’s literature.

As a part of my day job, I’m interested in learning what we know about homeland security, and what we don’t know about it that we should know.

Starting a year or so ago, I asked friends and colleagues to tell me about interesting reading and related materials they believe are worth a second look. Thanks to their efforts, I’ve gathered a collection of about 100 brief reviews of items worth another look. And by brief, I mean less than 500 words.

One day I hope to gather the reviews under a single cover (or whatever the eEquivalent of “cover” is) and make them available to people who care about homeland security.

Until (and if) that happens, I plan to post a few of them occasionally on this blog.

———————

Arnold’s “being sent to the minors” post reminded me of the following article, suggested by Robert Giorgio, the Cherry Hill, New Jersey, fire chief.

The article first appeared in May 2009.  Some of the context and language has been overcome by events.  But Robert and I agree the life cycle cost idea continues to have merit — probably even more than it did 3 long years ago.

———————

The Application of Cost Management and Life Cycle Cost Theory to Homeland Security National Priorities.

By Robert Hall and Erica Dusenberry Dimitrov

The homeland security enterprise remains unable to identify the total costs to acquire and sustain specific homeland security target capabilities or national priorities over fixed periods of time. This problem has persisted since the start of federally supported DHS grant funded programs.

Homeland security officials realize that initial DHS investments did not consider the cost of wear from use, maintenance expenditures, rehabilitation costs, and replacement funding streams. Many local governments also neglected sustainment costs in their homeland security fiscal planning.

Once the excitement of a new capability has worn off, sustainment issues emerge.  The costs of maintaining new capabilities have to be compared with other core expenditures. Knowing the full cost of a capability provides decision makers and analysts with a more accurate fiscal picture as they debate local policy choices.

Hall and Dimitrov do more than agree it is critically important to determine the costs associated with achieving and sustaining target levels of capability. They suggest how to do it.

They recommend using life cycle cost theory (LCC), a methodology for assessing the total cost of owning an asset. LCC is intended to aid decision makers understand the full costs of obtaining and sustaining preparedness capabilities.

LCC helps quantify the costs of the people, planning, organization, equipment, training, and exercise that make up a capability.

The Government Accountability Office supports using LCC to determine what agencies and jurisdictions can afford, to prepare coordinated spending plans, and to develop lifecycle cost practices.

LCC can help local, state, and federal officials forecast annual support and replacement costs for homeland security programs. LCC can also generate data necessary to monitor the cost drivers that waste limited investment funds. The authors claim adopting LCC will assist in maturing cost management practices and help to avoid what they term unprofitable pitfalls.

To illustrate their claim, Hall and Dimitrov apply the LCC methodology to the Explosive Device Response Operations (EDRO) target capability.

The authors conclude the article by identifying next steps needed to develop and apply LCC methods to national preparedness. These actions include:

  1. Focusing on capabilities aligned to the national priorities in the National Preparedness Guidelines.
  2. Conducting a national-level LCC analysis for each national priority capability.
  3. Creating and sharing prototype tools with jurisdictions to facilitate use of this methodology.
  4. Creating a central Web-enabled database to share cost models among jurisdictions.
  5. Incorporating LCC tools into future grant management systems for use by state and local jurisdictions.

The article is three years old.  I wonder what, if any, progress has been made employing LCC or something close to it to homeland security.  If limited progress, why?  If something like this has spread within the homeland security enterprise, I wonder what effect it’s had.

 

March 7, 2012

What’s Good for Us

Filed under: Budgets and Spending,State and Local HLS — by Mark Chubb on March 7, 2012

Efforts to improve the efficiency and accountability of government services, as I discussed last week, are more likely to involve questions of quality than quantity. This, of course, presents certain problems, in part because our judgments about such things are influenced not only by different perspectives but also different values.

As the nation’s political discourse has become more hostile and divisive, I have discerned equally clear and consistent calls for consensus. To me, these calls often strike a dissonant chord, that comes across more like, “Be reasonable, do it my way,” than “What can we do that will satisfy everyone.” I chafe at this suggestion not because I dislike agreement (or alternatively, like disagreement), but rather because of the dangers such mindsets pose in monocultures.

Sadly, too many public safety organizations present just such problems. Not long ago, many public safety organizations suffered under the self-imposed oppression of autocratic, top-down management styles. Today, the pendulum has, in too many instances, swung too far the other direction. Some agencies are, in the words of a colleague, in danger of letting “the inmates run the asylum.” (The corollary to this perspective goes something like this: “You don’t have to be crazy to work here, but you might find it helpful.”)

Recently, some people have tried to convince me that this new cultural orientation reflects a generational shift in the workforce, others argue it is evidence of maturity or even diversity. (“We all agree, so anyone who disagrees with us is not only wrong but self-serving, petty, immature and intolerant.”) Consider me less than convinced.

Instead, what I see is a growing tendency to promote consensus as a way to avoid making decisions. It works this way: If I agree with you or you with me, I will support you and urge others to follow your direction. If what you suggest does not benefit me, even if it might arguably benefit others, I will not only refuse to support you, but I will actively organize others to oppose you. Moreover, if you don’t take the hint and desist from the course of action I dislike, I will attack you personally.

I find some of the most supportive and compliant people in my organization are the youngest and least senior employees. That is not to say, however, that they are the least experienced or mature. Note this distinction: Many of the employees with limited tenure in my organization defer to positional power not only because they lack tenure, but also because they often bring diverse experience outside public safety agencies to their positions. Put simply, they appreciate their positions in the organization and are usually more prepared to play them because they have no expectations of preferential much less deferential treatment. In many cases, they view their jobs as just that: a job, not an entitlement or a calling or a vocation or a profession. They work to live, not live to work.

Much of the conflict I experience in the workplace involves what I term “violent agreement.” Put another way, “Be careful what you ask for, you just might get it.” These days, it seems when people get what they want it often comes to them as a surprise. The problems this poses are amplified by the fact that many of their requests come in without goals or priorities attached.

This problem operates at all levels of the homeland security system. When I worked for a regional professional organization of public safety executives in the mid-1990s, I cautioned the board I worked for that their requests of Congress to expand federal grant opportunities would come at significant cost to them in the long run. As more resources became available, I suggested, more people would begin lining up at their desks with their palms extended. And as the line grew, they could expect that it would require them to pile the bills higher and higher to meet any one demand just so they could move on to the next one. And if, heaven forbid, the money stopped flowing, so too would the gratitude and support they received from those lining up to tell them how important and respected they were.

I would like to say I was proved wrong in my prediction, but sadly the evidence suggests otherwise. In addition to what I predicted, we have also experienced something I only feared. Ready access to more resources clearly made many public safety organizations less creative, flexible and responsible. In many ways, this has made them less reasonable as well. Not only are many public safety professionals unprepared to respond to calls for new ways of doing things close to their core business, they are also incredibly incensed that anyone would have the temerity to expect this of them. Two of the many examples of this that have come to my attention in recent weeks involve the cities of San Jose, California and Phoenix, Arizona.

In San Jose, an IBM Global Business Services team has recommended significant changes in the way the city manages fire department resources. For starters, they have openly questioned the practice of allocating firefighting resources to equalize or at least minimize disparities in response times across a geographic area. They have rightly noted that evidence of the effectiveness of this strategy is not only lacking, but that much of the evidence that does exist suggests marginal improvements in response times greater than three minutes and less than ten minutes do not pay in aggregate. In other words, they are inefficient because it costs more to shave a few seconds off average response times than any additional firefighting crew can ever hope to save in fire losses. The same can be said of emergency medical service, where the evidence points to bystander interventions, particularly CPR and automatic external defibrillators as key factors in improving outcomes in cases of witnessed cardiac arrest.

What makes the San Jose case even more interesting is the fact that IBM suggests a risk-based resource allocation as an alternative. This would result in staffing fluctuations based on trends in call volume and severity. It might also result in more units, staffed with fewer people being based in more flexible locations. Which is to say, it sounds an awful lot like the way private-sector ambulance services manage themselves already.

This, of course, not only frightens, but also angers firefighters. You see, EMTs who only ride ambulances get paid far less than firefighters. Using firefighters to perform roles as EMTs may make them more productive, but it does not improve efficiency and is thus steadfastly opposed by most firefighters.

Meanwhile, in Phoenix, the management consulting firm Management Partners, has recommended replacing many uniformed officers with lower-paid but similarly or better-qualified civilian staff. This and other interventions, including new technology for compiling electronic patient care reports in the field, could save the city as much as $5.1 million per year.

Both cities face some formidable challenges in implementing their consultants’ visions. San Jose has already cut staffing by 18 percent since the recession began. Their firefighters union is openly hostile to absorbing any further cuts.

Phoenix Fire Chief Bob Khan has defended his department’s performance by arguing that joint labor-management committees have already begun implementing many of the consultant’s recommendations. I suspect this means they are happy to implement the ones they like — those that do not offend anyone, but expect a fight over the rest.

All this leaves me wondering why, in an era when public safety employees like many in the public itself openly question the old saw, “What’s good for GM is good for America,” they still believe that what’s good for them is what the community wants, expects and supports. When job security, pay and benefits trump public safety, I have to wonder. I wonder no less though when these same things (masquerading as public safety) are said to trump efficiency and accountability.

It is not my place to tell the public they cannot have public safety, efficiency and accountability all at once. It is not my responsibility to defend job security, pay and benefits that far exceed the median household incomes of those who pay for these services. And it is not reasonable to assume they – the public – will tolerate public service leaders who will accept or make such arguments for very much longer.

 

February 22, 2012

Disloyal

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!

February 15, 2012

Love Is Not Enough

Filed under: Budgets and Spending,State and Local HLS — by Mark Chubb on February 15, 2012

You may have noticed that I have become a bit less regular about posting in my usual Wednesday slot of late. This reflects the combined effect of having too few cogent ideas about what to say and too little spare time to reflect on expanding the list.

The shortage of time arises largely from the demands of my day job as a local fire chief. If you ask the firefighters who work for me, they would probably tell you that the lack of cogent ideas is also closely connected to the job. As they like to tell me, CHAOS stands for Chief Has Arrived On Scene.

I’d like to think I am just as capable of coming up with something insightful and useful to say as I ever was. But that may be less true than I would like to admit.

Lately, the nasty issues swirling around me in my day job have come attached to people with equally nasty attitudes. People in local government are feeling very fearful and stressed about the future of their jobs. Although I would like to reassure them that things will turn out alright, they wouldn’t believe me even if it was true. And it may not be.

The little fire district I work for grew up too quickly. Now a fully-paid, career fire and rescue service employing almost 70 people, it was a volunteer outfit composed of civic-minded citizens for much of its existence. The real change began in the 1980s and 1990s when property values started to climb and development intensified. A municipal incorporation formalized governance of a part of the district, but much of it remains unincorporated even today. As the district took on paid employees, they gradually displaced the volunteers. Union representation of these employees means constant vigilance for evidence of skimming work, which means volunteers will probably never return.

Instead, the represented employees seem most likely to either work themselves out of a job or drive their employer to insolvency. It should be clear enough without much effort or thought that the first option is not terribly likely. The alternative may be on the horizon, but efforts to delay the inevitable reckoning have worked so well so far that few people believe it is actually possible.

A careful examination of how this has come to pass is pretty informative. First, firefighters have been incredibly effective at making themselves look busy, if not useful. An ever decreasing fraction of their work involves fighting or preventing fires. Factors beyond their control or ken have seen to it that this work is less necessary now than ever. Emergency medical calls and a host of other responses have filled the void left by decreasing fire activity, and now occupy 70 to 80 percent of fire service workload. The skills required to perform many of these new roles take hundreds of hours to acquire and maintain even when they are rarely used or tested.

This has made firefighters seem indispensable, which brings me to my second observation. When I was a kid, firefighters were respected, but not really revered. There was rarely a long line of applicants competing for jobs in the fire department. The work was dirty, hard, poorly paid and involved impossibly long hours. (and this remains the case in many other countries.) That changed quickly here starting in the 1970s. Today, firefighters in my community like many others earn salaries far above the median household income. And we work for a reasonably well-off community, so that’s saying something. You don’t have to look hard for evidence of how well-paid our firefighters are. The parking lot tells quite a tale, as my wife’s unemployed city planner friends have remarked on more than one occasion.

Unlike the volunteers they replaced, few of the firefighters in my agency live in the community they protect. A few live more than 100 miles away. The 48-hour work schedule accommodates this, and few demands beyond attending calls, training and performing routine maintenance means such long shifts present few hazards. Despite their unusual work schedules, firefighters in my agency get ample time-off. Our average employee works just a little more than 42 hours per week after vacation, holidays and other time adjustments.

By making themselves available to handle almost anything anyone might think to throw at them, firefighters have managed to do what no other public servants have yet accomplished: While much of the public loathes government, citizens love firefighters and rarely think of them as government employees. In fact, many people have no idea that the people protecting them are paid, much less paid well. Many people seem genuinely surprised when they learn that the firefighters work around the clock.

How could this have escaped their attention? Easily it turns out.

This brings me to my last observation: Firefighters show up. Always.

With all due respect to my friends the police, this is not true even of other emergency services. We have become so accustomed to waiting for service and not getting what we really want when it does arrive that we are genuinely surprised and generally delighted when someone responds at all.

Because firefighters have taken it upon themselves to be indispensable, they almost always look busy. Even when they aren’t particularly effective.

Truth is, we aren’t much more effective at putting out fires than we were right after they replaced the horses with motorized fire engines. Even now, if a fire gets a good enough head-start in any building, we will always play catch-up, which means waiting for the fire to consume enough fuel and get small enough again that we can put it out with the water and personnel available. Sometimes, I think the more overmatched we are, the more overwhelmed we look, the more impressed people are with our performance.

Fires don’t much care whether we have a good attitude or a bad one. When firefighting was all we did, I knew a lot of firefighters you wouldn’t want to take out in public. With the advent of emergency medical service, we have had to emphasize the soft-side. Firefighters these days are experts at displaying empathy. As such, they endear themselves to almost everyone they encounter. In the small number of instances where this does not happen, the other party often comes across worse, so firefighters can get a free pass even when they might not deserve one.

All of this may seem pretty cynical. And it probably is. People may love firefighters, but this economy has meant giving up a lot of other things we love. If firefighters become too expensive, they too shall pass. And their lack of strong connections in the communities they serve will be what decides their fate.

This should concern homeland security professionals if only because they too have come to depend on firefighters’ willingness to take on added jobs. If not firefighters, then to whom shall we turn to protect our communities?

February 13, 2012

First blush look at the DHS budget

Filed under: Budgets and Spending,DHS News — by Philip J. Palin on February 13, 2012

An online version of the full 200 plus page President’s budget proposal is available from the White House.  The Department of Homeland Security budget proposal starts on page 117.   The total DHS budget amount is nearly the same as last year.  There are, however, some important internal shifts.

Homeland Security Funding Highlights per White House and OMB (direct quote from budget proposal):

Provides $39.5 billion,a decrease of 0.5 percent or $191 million,below the 2012 enacted level.The Budget continues strong investments in core homeland security functions such as the prevention of terrorist attacks,border security,aviation security, disaster preparedness, and cybersecurity.

Savings are created through cuts in administrative costs and the elimination of duplicative programs.The Budget also supports disaster relief through a cap adjustment, consistent with the Budget Control Act.

Makes $853 million in cuts to administrative categories including travel, overtime,and fleet management,and eliminates duplicative and low-priority programs.

Maintains frontline homeland security operations, supporting 21,186 Customs and Border Protection officers and 21,370 Border Patrol agents to facilitate legitimate travel and the movement of goods while strengthening border security.

Supports the recovery of States and communities that have been devastated by disasters and emergencies with $6.1 billion for FEMA’s Disaster Relief Fund, which includes $5.5 billion in disaster relief cap adjustments pursuant to the designation established in the Budget Control Act.

Strengthens Government cybersecurity by providing $769 million to improve security of Federal civilian information technology networks while enhancing outreach to State and local governments and critical infrastructure sectors.

Promotes innovation and economic growth by providing $650 million to fund important research and development advances in cybersecurity, explosives detection, and chemical/biological response systems.

Eliminates duplicative, stand-alone FEMA grant programs, consolidating them into a new National Preparedness Grant Program to better develop, sustain,and leverage core capabilities across the country while supporting national preparedness and response.

Aligns resources with risk in immigration detention by focusing on criminal aliens, repeat immigration law violators, recent border entrants, immigration fugitives,and other priorities,and expanding resources for electronic monitoring and intensive supervision.

Initiates acquisition of a new polar ice breaker and continues recapitalization of Coast Guard assets, including $658 million to construct the sixth National Security Cutter.

End of quote

–+–

Earlier today, practically simultaneous with the release of the President’s budget,  DHS distributed to many previous grant recipients guidance that will administratively advance the consolidation of FEMA grants referenced above.

January 25, 2012

SOTU: ‘Osama’s dead, GM’s alive’

Filed under: Budgets and Spending,Congress and HLS,Events — by Mark Chubb on January 25, 2012

A short time before President Obama delivered the annual state of the union address to a joint session of Congress, a media outlet I follow Tweeted a summary attributed to Vice President Joe Biden: “Osama bin Laden is dead, GM is alive.” The president spoke for more than an hour this evening, but that just about sums it up from a homeland security perspective.

The elimination of bin Laden and the routing of al-Qaeda’s leadership since President Obama took office is arguably the singular foreign policy accomplishment of his presidency. His administration achieved much of its success on this front by all but ignoring promises it made to its political base and taking actions even his Republican predecessors seemed to shy away from in scale if not necessarily in scope.

It might not be fair to suggest that President Obama’s admiration for the military expanded with his ascendence to the office of commander-in-chief. The two most significant role models in his young life beyond his own mother were his maternal grandparents in Kansas. His grandfather, he reminds us, served in Patton’s army while his grandmother assembled bombers back home. The experiences that shaped them clearly left an indelible impression on him as a young man and inspire his sense of duty even today.

The president’s address tonight made it clear that he sees the armed forces as a model of what America can be when it tries to be its best. In many ways, I agree. The U.S. armed forces are truly a model of diversity, innovation and adaptability. But what can be said of the armed forces cannot necessarily be said of the armed services.

Of those American institutions that did not atrophy from lack of attention or loss of investment, many have become sclerotic as money, influence-peddling and political polarization have conspired to clog the arteries of our democracy. The resulting death spiral threatens the American Dream and has all but snuffed out our faith in a better future. From his opening remarks to his conclusion, the president called upon Americans to see in the can-do example of our fighting forces the inspiration to revive our democracy and the incentive to renew our nation.

As with previous addresses, the president emphasized the need to establish clear priorities and make smarter choices. He called on Congress to work with his administration to create an America “built to last.” To do this, he called for the restoration of an economy “where everyone gets a fair shot, everyone does their fair share, and everybody plays by the same set of rules.”

Calls for renewed investments in education, energy innovation and infrastructure took center stage once again this year despite the president’s acceptance of the need to make further spending cuts in other areas, including entitlements. At several points, he noted how government investment had created the very opportunities our men and women under arms have fought to protect and that have benefited the wealthiest among us.

The president’s address not only displayed the rhetorical strengths for which he is rightly admired by supporters and reviled by opponents. His remarks also revealed a growing sense of pragmatism and purpose. The president made it clear that he will meet Congressional obstruction with action. One particularly clear indication of his intentions come from his emphasis on regulatory reforms that will enable some of the savings from defense cuts to be put to work on “nation-building right here at home.”

Before President Obama arrived on Capitol Hill tonight, Speaker of the House John Boehner remarked to the media that the president’s address would amount to little more than a campaign stump speech. Clearly, this president knows the campaign has already begun. And he knows too that re-election is no certainty. But he also seems more committed to reinforcing his accomplishments and taking the fight to his opponents than he did last year.

Something tells me any effort by Republicans to prematurely rewrite Biden’s pre-SOTU summary to serve as an epitaph for this administration — “Obama’s dead, America’a alive” — have another think coming.

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