Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

July 21, 2014

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Filed under: Congress and HLS — by Philip J. Palin on July 21, 2014

DHS_graphic

Did you see it in your Sunday paper?  I saw it in the New York Times.  This weekend I was outside the Washington Post’s service area, but it must have run there as well.

Above is the graphic that makes up most of the full-page: a wire-diagram for DHS Congressional oversight.  You can read more on the ad campaign and the substance behind it at:

http://www.annenbergpublicpolicycenter.org/security/

July 2, 2014

QHSR: tension between HS and hs

Filed under: Congress and HLS,General Homeland Security,Strategy — by Arnold Bogis on July 2, 2014

I’m a week late to the QHSR discussion and while I don’t have any big thoughts, I do have a few small ones.

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There are some problems at the foundation of the QHSR. Issues that point to underlying confusion of what homeland security is, or at least an unclear characterization of what it should be, at the federal level. However, this isn’t the fault of the DHS staff who put together the review, but rather the direction of Congress. As readers are reminded of in the report itself, the scope of the QHSR is:

Each quadrennial homeland security review shall be a comprehensive examination of the homeland security strategy of the Nation, including recommendations regarding the long-term strategy and priorities of the Nation for homeland security and guidance on the programs, assets, capabilities,budget, policies and authorities of the Department.

Soooooo…the Department of Homeland Security (let’s call it capital HS) is mandated by Congress to review the current Administration’s homeland security strategy that includes the work of other agencies (counter-intuitively, I’m going to refer to the whole enchilada encompassing what anyone might wish to include in homeland security as lowercase hs), while at the same time providing DHS-specific recommendations on force structure, authorities, budget, etc. I haven’t checked the authorizing language, but on a quick review of the last DOD QDR (which is supposedly the model for the QHSR) , it pretty much focused entirely on the last half of that charge.  There was little to no language that pointed to the concerns of their national security “partners” or the military’s analysis of the National Security Strategy. Instead it focused on questions of force structure and the impact of sequestration on the military.

In this matter, the important difference between DOD and DHS is that DOD has a long tradition, and specifically, a mature relationship with Congress.  DHS, on the other hand, seems to be generally regarded by many (if not most) lawmakers as the sole actor in the hs sphere.  The consequence being that anything that is considered a hs issue by Congress often becomes a HS issue by default.  A dumping agency.  Even if it is a topic long worked by experienced professionals elsewhere in the government.

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Contrasting examples of this can be seen in the chapters on bio and nuclear threats. At it’s creation, I do not believe any of the agencies or offices brought to DHS a primary role in either arena (outside of FEMA’s responsibility post nuclear attack).  But in the wisdom of a few, since that time the agency has grown both an Office of Health Affairs (OHA) and the Domestic Nuclear Detection Office (DNDO).

I can see the utility of a health office for the protection of the DHS workforce, not unlike the equivalent in DOD.  Perhaps over time they develop particular expertise to contribute to the larger efforts of the government as a whole.  Instead, projects such as the never-quite-right Biowatch placed them in a bureaucratic competition with agencies with long-standing expertise in public health, such as the CDC (the center of biosurveillance), and those newer offices with a concentration of expertise and responsibility, like ASPR (ESF-8 lead, partner in the National Disaster Medical System, and the government developers of new medical countermeasures through BARDA). The QHSR seems to acknowledge this, as it stresses a whole of government approach to public health and bioterrorist threats. DHS went hs rather than HS in addressing biological threats.

The reverse is true for nuclear terrorism. After identifying the issue and stressing the importance due to the possible consequence of such an attack (if this is so important to HS you’d think FEMA would have gotten it’s act together by now regarding planning for such an event…but I digress), the QHSR takes an entirely parochial view of the subject.

We prioritize a sustained, long-term focus on preventing nuclear terrorism through two foundational capabilities: (1) nuclear detection and (2) nuclear forensics. These capabilities are aimed at preventing our adversaries from developing, possessing, importing, storing, transporting, or using nuclear materials.

In stark contrast to bio-events, nuclear terrorism can and must be prevented.  And that prevention is likely not to occur along the pathways of the “Global Nuclear Detection Architecture” or due to forensic capabilities. It happens because while large, the amount of special materials required for a nuclear terrorist attack are finite, thus possible to secure or eliminate at the source.  Hoping that THE major plank in preventing such an attack is detection of very hard to detect materials with the cooperation of others sitting along a spectrum of competence, corruption, and cooperation would be unwise.

I am not suggesting detection and forensics are unimportant, only that they are secondary to securing and eliminating fissile material.  Yet the QHSR focuses on these capabilities because that is what the DNDO does.  So DHS went HS for addressing the nuclear terrorism threat.

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One last small quibble with the Review: why did they have to include a “Black Swans” section?  I don’t mean addressing potential future events that could have a significant impact on homeland security.  Rather, why did they have to attempt to co-opt the term itself?  Hasn’t the mess everyone has made with “resilience” taught us anything?

Nassim Nicholas Taleb, author of the book “The Black Swan” that popularized the term, summarizes the attributes of these events: “rarity, extreme impact, and retrospective (though not prospective) predictability.” The QHSR has already violated the third attribute, and their list of four potential Swans have been previously suggested and analyzed elsewhere.  They are neither unforeseen or unexpected.

Personally, I’d prefer to think of Natalie Portman when considering Black Swans.

June 18, 2014

House Homeland Security hearing: “The Critical Role of First Responders: Sharing Lessons Learned from Past Attacks”

Filed under: Congress and HLS — by Arnold Bogis on June 18, 2014

Earlier today the House Homeland Security Committee held a hearing on “The Critical Role of First Responders: Sharing Lessons Learned from Past Attacks.”

What I thought was particularly interesting was in the current political climate this hearing is not about any contentious issue or other fodder for cable news pundits.  Rather, it actually seems to be a relevant review of local responder knowledge.

Okay…there might have been an underlying current regarding potential changes to homeland security grant funding.  But considering the low bar set these days, this hearing actually suggested that Congress was doing it’s job.

Witnesses

Deputy Commissioner John Miller
Intelligence and Counterterrorism
New York City Police Department
New York City, New York
Witness Statement [PDF]

Chief James Schwartz
Arlington County Fire Department
Arlington, Virginia
Witness Statement [PDF]

Chief James Hooley
Boston Emergency Medical Services
Witness Statement [PDF]

Dr. Brian A. Jackson
Director
RAND Safety and Justice Program
The RAND Corporation
Witness Statement [PDF]
Witness Truth in Testimony [PDF]

Jackson Lee, Representative from Texas, noted that first responders are not only providing homeland security but should be considered national security.

April 9, 2014

Boston Marathon Bombing Roundup

With the Boston Marathon quickly approaching, along with the one year anniversary of the Marathon bombing, you can imagine there has been a surge of related events and releases.

Here are some of the more informative, in case you missed them.

Today, the House Committee on Homeland Security held a hearing “The Boston Marathon Bombings, One Year On: A Look Back to Look Forward.” It mostly focused on the law enforcement-related decisions, and served as a podium to denounce the Administration’s stated plans to consolidate homeland security grants into one block grant to states.  However, it also contained interesting questions and answers/testimony on the current and future state of NIMS in disaster response.

The Committee’s page for this hearing can be found here: http://homeland.house.gov/hearing/hearingthe-boston-marathon-bombings-one-year-look-back-look-forward

A better quality video can be found here (apologies, but I couldn’t find one I could post on this blog): http://www.c-span.org/video/?318765-1/boston-marathon-bombings-anniversary-review

The Witness list with links to written statements:

Witnesses

Mr. Edward F. Davis, III

Former Commissioner, Boston Police Department and Fellow

John F. Kennedy School of Government

Harvard University

Witness Statement [PDF]

 

Mr. Edward P. Deveau

Chief of Police

Watertown Police Department

Witness Statement [PDF]

 

Mr. Jeffrey J. Pugliese

Sergeant

Watertown Police Department

Witness Statement [PDF]

 

Prof. Herman “Dutch” B. Leonard

Professor of Public Management

John F. Kennedy School of Government

Harvard University

Witness Statement [PDF]

Witness Truth in Testimony [PDF]
Two of those testifying, Dutch Leonard and Edward Davis, participated in the development of the report, “Why Was Boston Strong, Lessons from the Boston Marathon Bombing.” Among it’s conclusions:

 The report highlights a number of factors that contributed to a largely successful response and emphasizes what, exactly, made Boston Strong and resilient in the face of tragedy. It also provides a set of recommendations for jurisdictions to consider going forward. Among other findings, the authors urge responders:

•    To quickly establish a cross-agency, senior strategic and policy-making level of engagement and secure command post — with dedicated space for strategic, tactical and logistical teams — that looks to both the big picture and a longer timeframe.

•    To provide responders and political leaders with more training and experience in the doctrine of incident command in complex circumstances through exercises and utilization of regular “fixed events” to develop skills.

•    To develop a more effective process to manage the inevitable self-deployment of responders who in response to crisis arrive as independent individuals rather than in organized units.

•    To critically review current training and practice on control of weapons fire, which may call for new paradigms.

•    To design and routinely establish a staffing schedule for all levels of personnel ensuring rotation and rest that are essential to sustained performance when critical events last for days.

•    To consider a legislative change to the HIPAA regulations regarding release of information to family members about the health status of patients critically injured in an attack, in order to provide them the best care possible and to cater to their wide range of needs.

The National Preparedness Leadership Initiative, a joint Harvard Kennedy School and Public Health School venture, just released their preliminary findings on “Crisis Meta-Leadership Lessons From the Boston Marathon Bombings Response: The Ingenuity of Swarm Intelligence.” What’s it about?

The Boston Marathon Bombings required leaders of many agencies – scattered over numerous jurisdictions and with different authorities and priorities – to rapidly respond together to an unknown and complex set of risks, decisions and actions. This report analyzes their leadership through the event. It seeks to understand how they were able to effectively lead an operation with remarkable results. These outcomes are measured in lives saved, suspects quickly captured, public confidence maintained and population resilience fostered. These leaders were observed to exhibit “Swarm Intelligence,” a phenomenon in which no one is in charge and yet, with all following the same principles and rules, leaders are able to accomplish more together than any one leader could have achieved separately. These rules include: 1) unity of mission that coalesces all stakeholders; 2) generosity of spirit; 3) deference for the responsibility and authority of others; 4) refraining from grabbing credit or hurling blame; 5) a foundation of respectful and experienced relationships that garner mutual trust and confidence. That confidence, both personal and systemic, bolstered these leaders individually and as a coordinated force over the 102 hours between the attacks and the conclusion of the incident. They handled difficult decisions in the face of credible risks: Whether to keep public transit open? Whether to release blurry pictures of the suspects? The study found that over the course of the week, they learned how to lead and lead better, so that by the time they reached the chaotic conclusion of the event, they acted as a coordinated and unified cadre of crisis leaders.

Finally, 60 Minutes aired a segment several weeks ago about the decisions made behind the scenes during the manhunt for the Boston Marathon bombers.

House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing on “Is al-Qaeda Winning? Grading the Administration’s Counterterrorism Policy”

Filed under: Congress and HLS,Risk Assessment,Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Arnold Bogis on April 9, 2014

Yesterday, the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Subcommittee on Terrorism, Nonproliferation, and Trade held a hearing on “Is al-Qaeda Winning?”

I’m going to say no.  No, they are not.

It seemed more an opportunity to critique the Administration on the concept of a “pivot toward Asia” and keeping us (too?) engaged in the Middle East rather than a honest attempt at assessing this difficult question.

However, the participants are well qualified to address this issue:

Panel I

The Honorable Joseph Lieberman
(Former United States Senator)
[full text of statement]
[truth in testimony form]

The Honorable Jane Harman
Director, President, and Chief Executive Officer
The Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars
(Former Member of Congress)
[full text of statement]
[truth in testimony form]

Panel II

Seth Jones, Ph.D.
Associate Director
International Security and Defense Policy Center
RAND Corporation
[full text of statement]
[truth in testimony form]

Frederick W. Kagan, Ph.D.
Christopher DeMuth Chair and Director
Critical Threats Project
American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research
[full text of statement]
[truth in testimony form]

Mr. Benjamin Wittes
Senior Fellow
Governance Studies
The Brookings Institution
[full text of statement]
[truth in testimony form]

One would think this would be a well attended hearing, but notice the empty seats around the 2:00 minute mark in this video (unfortunately I couldn’t find a video of the entire hearing that I could post):

For the full hearing, go here.

 

March 13, 2014

The 21st Century Stafford Act

Filed under: Congress and HLS,Preparedness and Response,Recovery,Resilience — by Philip J. Palin on March 13, 2014

Today’s post is authored by a member of the homeland security enterprise who would prefer to not be named. The post reflects the views of the author and does not necessarily reflect the views of any particular federal agency or the Federal Government.

–+–

In January, a bipartisan group of congressional legislators from Illinois introduced a bill entitled the Fairness in Federal Disaster Declarations Act of 2014. A few days later, Illinois’ senators would introduce the same bill in the Senate. The ostensive purpose of these bills is to bring fairness to rural communities when competing for federal disaster declarations by altering FEMA’s disaster declaration regulations.

The problem is no President has ever delegated the right to decide disaster declarations to FEMA and Congress has limited the President from establishing disaster declaration criteria based upon arithmetic formulas or a sliding scale based on income or population. Even if this bill would become law tomorrow, it almost certainly would not change the framework of disaster declarations and only make changes to unbinding regulations. So why would these members go through such an effort?

The answer may be the lack of serious discourse about the primary legal framework for federal disaster preparedness and relief, the Stafford Act, over the last 25 years. While the Stafford Act has been amended several times since 1988, outside of the addition of mitigation authorities in 2000, there has been no substantive review of the utility, incentives and disincentives put into motion by its overall structure and purpose. The end result is Congress’ knowledge has atrophied. The nation’s citizens have been deprived of a chance to understand the issues surrounding disaster relief and preparedness that would allow them to set practical expectations for the types and amount of disaster assistance they can expect after a disaster. This includes the lack of debate about how the Stafford Act may, or may not, have affected the role and responsibility of different levels of governments to prepare for disasters and provide disaster relief. Nor has there been a serious debate about the balance between public sector and private sector relief efforts.

Beginning in 1950, the first four decades of the modern era of federal disaster relief saw periods of spirited review about these issues. Four times this evaluation led to significant restructuring of the statutory configuration of federal disaster preparedness and relief, almost always expanding the assistance available through the Federal Government. However, with the exception of emphasizing and incentivizing mitigation in 2000, there has not been a serious study of the utility of the structural foundations for federal disaster preparedness and relief.

This has deprived the nation of the serious study of what disaster preparedness and relief efficiencies need to be reinforced and what deficiencies should be rectified. It has also prevented citizens from understanding how much disaster assistance they should expect and the level of risk and responsibility they should be prepared to assume. We have avoided questions of responsibility for disaster relief from their different levels of government, the private sector and non-profits. While the nation has seen several major disasters since 1988, the debate after each of these events never led to the serious and episodic reappraisal seen in the previous four decades. We are now nearly 26 years past the last serious evaluation of the responsibilities for disaster relief.

It may be that the answers to these questions have changed little over these last 26 years but how do we know? What are the issues that might be debated? The obvious ones are perpetual: The division of responsibility and risk between public and private, federal and state, state and local and the individual responsibility of citizens. The debate over these issues will always ebb and flow with the direction of the country but are the factors that influence this debate static? What about the dramatic changes in technology over the last 26 years? With the profusion of resources and capabilities to individual citizens, much of it relayed through the computer in every pocket, the smart phone, should citizens shoulder more responsibility (and risk)?

Does our increasing reliance on interconnectedness, much of it delivered through the private sector, provide a new role for federal disaster relief to critical infrastructure? How can we harness the capabilities of the newest generation of disaster relief organizations to provide a more efficient and nimble disaster relief response than their predecessors? Are there incentives or resources which could be provided by the Federal Government to incentivize these organizations without impeding their innovation and competences?

Now may also be the time to look back and see where the Stafford Act has created pockets of efficiencies and inefficiencies. What mitigation efforts have, or have not, incentivized states and local governments to become more prepared? Should we, and could we, reward local and state governments who shoulder more of the responsibility for mitigation efforts? Are preparedness efforts better funded locally or more broadly? How do we support growing inter and intra-state regional governments who fall outside traditional federal-state relationships for disaster relief? Should the Federal Government encourage new forms of intergovernmental cooperation? How do we weigh the responsibilities of states – does the Federal Government more actively force them to tax to their risk, or leave it up to them?

Could the Federal Government provide incentives for states to push more responsibility for disaster relief to lower levels of government? Is this wise? What should be done about the clearly anachronistic Cold War era Title VI of the Stafford Act? A decade later, does the relationship between the Stafford Act and the Homeland Security Act need to be clarified? Could the debate over the relationship between these two statutes lead to streamlined Congressional oversight for disaster relief?

We learn by talking, by debating, by the marketplace of ideas. It’s time for a serious and spirited discourse if for no other reason than to reeducate ourselves and reestablish consistent expectations and responsibilities for disaster preparedness and relief.

February 12, 2014

Too much Congressional oversight of DHS – does it really impact homeland security?

Filed under: Congress and HLS — by Arnold Bogis on February 12, 2014

There.  I said it.  In the title.  And now I will no longer be a viable job candidate for anything homeland security-related in Washington, DC (if I ever was in the first place…).

It is common knowledge, wisdom, even quasi-religious doctrine that a fractured and expansive Congressional oversight system hobbles homeland security. Too many officials have to appear before too many Congressional committees, involving too much staff time to prepare that could be better spent securing the homeland.

Look at the comparatively small number of committees that Defense and State report to!  It was in the 9/11 Commission Report! OMG this is why the terrorists will win!

Except….except that I’ve yet to hear this complaint outside of Washington or in those communities that do not deal closely with federal policy. Perhaps it is a product of my own insularity.  I do not often interact with law enforcement.  Perhaps they see the potential for so much more leadership from DHS if only they were not so distracted. Emergency management perhaps?  Would UASI funds flow easier, more widely, or with better focus absent onerous Congressional oversight? Fire seems content with their office in DHS.  EMS…well, that is another topic entirely, and one worth it’s own post.  But one not directly tied up in Congressional oversight.

All this is not to diminish the burden placed on DHS employees.  I can scarcely imagine the hours invested in preparing constant Congressional testimony. But the question should be asked: at the end of the day, does this affect homeland security?

State Department officials control the vast majority of diplomatic efforts.  Defense Department officials control the vast majority of military action.  Department of Homeland Security officials control ______ amount of what can be thought of as homeland security activity?

And if that is a relatively small amount, spread across multiple disciplines, what can be expected from Congressional committees?

All this  rumination brought on by a Lawfare post by Paul Rosenzweig, former Deputy Assistant Secretary for Policy in the Department of Homeland Security. He brings up a the work of the Annenburg Policy Center at UPenn:

Earlier today the Center (in conjunction with the Aspen Institute) followed up on the Task Force report with the release of a new short film on the subject:  “Homeland Confusion.”  According to the release:

The film argues that Congress can exercise one of its strongest roles in protecting Americans through clear, direct oversight of homeland security. Yet more than 100 committees and subcommittees currently claim jurisdiction over the U.S. Department of Homeland Security – three times as many as supervise the Defense Department. The movie “Homeland Confusion” looks at how and why fragmented Congressional oversight of the Department of Homeland Security leaves our nation more vulnerable than it might otherwise be to the threat of cyber-, biological, and chemical attack.

Unfortunately, I cannot either post the video directly or promise it will be available if you visit their website (I couldn’t access it while writing this post). The task force report referenced can be found here:

here: http://www.annenbergpublicpolicycenter.org/downloads/sunnylands/homeland%20security%20report%2009-11-13.pdf

Cyber threats? Let’s ignore the complexity for a moment…it’s all about the bureaucracy.  Biological threats?  Again…let’s ignore both nature and bureaucracy….and blame the committees.

I hesitate to go out on a limb…but perhaps these and other topics are just generally complicated and complex due to their very nature?

February 7, 2014

Quick thoughts on Sec. Johnson’s inaugural policy speech

Filed under: Congress and HLS,DHS News,General Homeland Security — by Christian Beckner on February 7, 2014

I just returned to my office from the well-attended policy speech that new DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson gave today in DC at the Wilson Center.  The full webcast of the event is now online here, so I won’t attempt to summarize the event in full, but wanted to make three quick points on issues that I found to be of interest in the speech:

1. The role of the DHS Secretary on homeland security and counterterrorism issues.  One of the key principles of the Homeland Security Act of 2002 was to establish the Secretary of DHS as the nation’s preeminent and accountable leader on homeland security and counterterrorism matters, in addition to being the chief executive of the constituent parts of DHS.  The reality as to the DHS Secretary’s assertion of that role has evolved episodically in the last decade, with officials in the White House or in other cabinet agencies sometimes asserting aspects of that authority.  I thought that Sec. Johnson’s remarks were very strong in implicitly reasserting the preeminent role for the DHS Secretary, particularly with respect to his discussion of issues such as the evolving terrorist threat, both overseas (with a notable emphasis on Syria) and within the U.S.

2. Relationship with Congress.  As a former Senate staffer, Sec. Johnson’s remarks on his prospective relationship with Congress left me optimistic about his ability to work with Congress in a constructive way, particularly with respect to the two overriding legislative priorities for DHS: immigration reform and cyber security legislation.  He mentioned doing unscheduled “drop by” visits earlier this week with a number of members of Congress – a level of direct and personal outreach that if sustained will help to overcome some of the barriers to getting things done on the legislative front.  He also acknowledged that Congress still needs to deal with its long-fragmented oversight structure on homeland security issues, and that at some point he will have to have a discussion with members of Congress about realignment with respect to homeland security.

3. DHS vacancies and employee morale.  Sec. Johnson discussed what he has been doing to address the issues of DHS vacancies, highlighting the existing nominees (NPPD, Inspector General, CBP, USCIS, and Science & Technology) who were still awaiting Senate action, and noting that he was prioritizing efforts to find nominees for the remaining vacancies, mentioning the Intelligence & Analysis, ICE and CFO positions.   He also briefly touched on the issue of employee morale, which he had indicated during his Senate confirmation process would be an immediate priority.  If there had been open Q&A during the event, I was prepared to ask him about his initial observations on the root causes of such morale issues and if he had any initial thoughts on how to address such challenges.  It is critical that this issue remains on the front burner; ultimately, the ability of any Secretary of DHS to accomplish his or her policy objectives is contingent on an effective and motivated career workforce that has trust in its first-level and senior leadership.

Overall, the event was a very insightful discussion with the new Secretary, with excellent questions from former Congresswoman Jane Harman, and one that leaves me optimistic about the leadership of the Department in the coming years.

January 29, 2014

Senate Intelligence Hearing: Current and Projected National Security Threats Against the United States

This morning the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence held a hearing “Current and Projected National Security Threats Against the United States.” Testifying were the Directors of National Intelligence, CIA, DIA, and FBI.

I’ve yet to watch the hearing or read the transcript, but thought they’d be worth sharing.

 

The transcript can be found here: http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/transcript-senate-intelligence-hearing-on-national-security-threats/2014/01/29/b5913184-8912-11e3-833c-33098f9e5267_story.html

December 17, 2013

Johnson Confirmed

Filed under: Congress and HLS — by Philip J. Palin on December 17, 2013

On Monday the Senate confirmed Jeh Johnson as Secretary of Homeland Security.  The vote was 78-to-16.  Sixteen other DHS positions involving Presidential appointments, ten requiring Senate confirmation remain open.

December 4, 2013

Expanding or Diluting Our Preparedness Priorities

Today’s guest blogger is “Donald Quixote”  Don comments frequently on Homeland Security Watch.  He writes under what he likes to call his nom de guerre because his agency frowns on its employees posting material without agency approval. 

————-

The House Committee on Homeland Security recently passed the Medical Preparedness Allowable Use Act (HR 5997)/ (HR 1791) authorizing the expansion of the use of existing grant programs for enhancing medical preparedness, medical surge capacity and mass prophylaxis capabilities during a natural disaster or terrorist attack.  Reportedly, it does not furnish any additional funding, but provides the ability to leverage the Urban Area Security Initiative and State Homeland Security Grant Program.

The pending bill can be viewed from several different perspectives.  The optimist may view this initial accomplishment as Congress finally addressing a very serious threat of a chemical or biological attack that may be looming, or  – rather more likely — the threat of a serious novel pandemic illness.  The pessimist may view it as the continued, wider distribution of limited resources between numerous partners in the ever-vague world of homeland security (whatever that entails, but that is another conversation).  I tend to believe it is both.

According to a Los Angeles Times article, the 2009 H1N1  influenza virus killed 10 times more than previously estimated by the World Health Organization.  A study published in the journal PLOS Medicine estimated the number that died was 203,000.  Although the number appears quite small when compared to the current world population and the momentous number that perished during the H1N1 Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918-1919, it remains a relevant number, if accurate, as a warning indicator.

However, how many of us truly appreciate the conceivably massive cascading consequences of a serious novel pandemic threat?

Are MERS, SARS, H1N1, H5N1 and H7N9 warning shots over the bow or just natural occurrences that come and go over time without serious implications?

The topic of biosecurity is not new to this blog.  Mr. Bogis and Mr. Wolfe have identified numerous areas of interest regarding the funding and resources already appropriated for biosecurity and biodefense.  There have been valuable discussions and debates regarding the perceived and actual risks and returns on investment.  The practical value of the previous investments and effectiveness of the many programs shall remain the subject of debate until they are partially or fully tested by an incident or event.

In the realm of a serious novel pandemic illness, I controversially continue to argue that it could easily outrank a conventional terrorist attack as a current threat due to the possibly catastrophic consequences to our citizens, critical infrastructure and civil stability on a broader scale.

We can only ignore the low-probability\high-consequence biological attack or serious novel pandemic illness threat until it happens.  Unfortunately, there is a long history of ignoring this threat because of limited resources and impaired strategic vision.

The Medical Preparedness Allowable Use Act, if ultimately enacted, may affect some change in this area or at least spark interest in expanded medical preparedness.


 

 

 

November 13, 2013

Ten summary observations about Jeh Johnson’s nomination hearing

Filed under: Congress and HLS,DHS News — by Christopher Bellavita on November 13, 2013

Here are ten summary observations I took away from Wednesday’s Senate Homeland Security Committee hearing on Jeh Johnson’s nomination to lead DHS.

1. The hearing was low key. It’s as if even the Senate Committee is tired of homeland security and just wants someone to take it over so they can get on with other business. Senator McCain provided the only high energy moment. He insisted Johnson agree to achieving a “90% effective” metric for border security. McCain wanted a yes or no answer. Johnson said he needed to understand the issue better before he could commit to something like that.

2. Senator Levin said there are 2 million corporations created each year in this country. He said allowing states to approve who gets to form a corporation without checking who the “real” owners are behind those corporations is a problem. Levin is a primary sponsor of the Incorporation Transparency and Law Enforcement Assistance Act. The bill would require states to identify who is behind the corporations they charter. Senator Carper noted most states are opposed to Levin’s proposal. Johnson again said he wants to understand the issue before he takes a position on it.

3. Johnson was asked how to strike the balance between interrogating someone to get information that potentially might stop a terrorist attack, and interrogating someone with the idea in mind of eventually prosecuting that person. He responded “There’s authority for a pre-Miranda national security interrogation. We need to codify that.”

4. Senator Paul asked “Does the 4th Amendment apply to my Visa [credit card] purchases?” That started a brief, mostly one way, conversation about the 4th amendment and what due process means. Paul, commenting on the Obama Administration’s approach to targeted killings: “Due process is not a bunch of good people sitting in a room discussing whether to kill someone.” I think Paul had the day’s most telegenic one-liners.

5. Johnson was asked what steps he’d take to make sure DHS works effectively with state and locals. His response suggested this is a new area for him. “I’ve been struck by the emphasis people up here [in Congress] and at DHS place on [state, local, private sector relationships]… and the attention … they want me to pay to it, and it’s pretty apparent to me that it’s part of the mission… I think I get that.” He mostly talked about law enforcement; I did not hear anything about fire, emergency management, public health, emergency medical, hospitals and the other non-law enforcement participants in the homeland security enterprise. Sensitivity to state and local issues in homeland security is something former governors (like Ridge and Napolitano) grasp. It’s not clear people who spent most of their career seeing the world through federal eyes actually do “get that.”

6. Senator Coburn asked Johnson if he agrees with the Obama Administration’s proposal to consolidate all DHS grants, and base awards on risk rather than spreading the money out across the nation. Johnson’s response suggests he has not thought much about this topic: “It’s an issue that a number of people have raised with me, how we dispense grant money; it’s taxpayer money…. In general the professionals who I’ve consulted over the past couple of weeks seem to feel that we need to move in the direction of a risk based approach to homeland security, and that probably entails focusing our grant money in the same direction as well. So I’d be inclined to agree with you if what you’re saying is we need to make efficient use of our taxpayer dollars for purposes of homeland security.” I believe DHS has been “moving in the direction of a risk based approach” for more than a decade.

7. Coburn asked Johnson about “broken travel” (i.e., when someone flies somewhere and then takes a train or bus and then connects somewhere else to fly again [h/t D.]). Coburn reviewed a few of Johnson’s statements about the need to monitor how some people travel, and asked “Can you state for this committee what role you envision for DHS in tracking the travel of US persons, at home or abroad, that are not on a suspicious list or on a high risk list?” Johnson acknowledged there are significant privacy and civil liberty concerns with travel, but also emphasized that “broken travel” is real. We have a problem with suspicious individuals laundering their travel, he said. That’s a fact. It’s a blind spot (for the United States).

8. Senator Coburn said he hoped Johnson will consider staying on through the next administration, “so that we don’t lose all this tremendous experience and gray hair, and have to re-train another leader.” And then he offered Johnson a large, white binder with what Coburn called “alternative views of homeland security collected over the past 6 years.” I would love to know what’s in the binder.

9. Johnson came across (to me) as a very competent, professional, largely uncontroversial, leader/manager. He believes protecting the American public is a core mission of the United States government. He seemed to know a lot about some homeland security and defense issues, and less  – at least in public — about several other important areas in homeland security: such as the role of state and local participants, grant programs, border security and immigration. I did not get the sense he had a unique vision for DHS.  When asked about his vision for DHS Johnson spoke about focusing on terrorism, immigration, cyber security, and getting off the GAO “high risk” list. Not an especially inspiring vision, but maybe DHS needs competent management more than it needs inspiration.

10. Johnson — who, if confirmed, would be the 17th in the presidential line of succession — closed his testimony predicting that at the end of his DHS tenure, the senate committee will say “Johnson was somebody that worked well with us in a bipartisan fashion.”

 

Jeh Johnson nomination to be DHS Secretary: live blogging of Homeland Security Committee hearing

Filed under: Congress and HLS,DHS News — by Christopher Bellavita on November 13, 2013

The information below is one person’s observation of today’s Jeh Johnson nomination hearing.  The post starts at the bottom of the page. You can probably see the streaming video of the hearing at “http://www.hsgac.senate.gov/hearings/nomination-of-hon-jeh-c-johnson-to-be-secretary-us-department-of-homeland-security.”

Coburn ends the hearing by reminding whoever’s listening that agreeing to take on a job like DHS Secretary takes a huge toll on the nominee’s family.  He suggests Johnson maybe not be seeing his family again before Christmas.  It is meant as a joke – perhaps.

[2:29] Coburn says he hopes Johnson will consider staying on for the next administration, “so that we don’t lose all this tremendous experience and gray hair, and have to re-train another  leader.”

And then he offers Johnson a huge white binder with “alternative views of homeland security collected over the past 6 years.”

At 2:27 Johnson gets to make closing comments. He compliments the people who he’s dealt with preparing for the hearing.  He says he believes in the hearing process. He pledges to having an open and transparent relationship with the committee. He predicts that at the end of his tenure at DHS, the committee will say “Johnson was somebody that worked well with us in a bipartisan fashion.”

Carper comes back on at 2:23 with cyber security. Compliments NIST (http://www.nist.gov/) for working with the private sector. DHS needs to find quality employees for the cyber work DHS does.

Carper then moves to loan wolves (or “stray dogs,” as a colleague terms them).

At the 2:21 mark, the conversation moves to acquistions.  Coburn asks what Johnson will do to firm up the DHS acquisitions process.  Johnson says it starts with getting quality people involved in the acquisitions process.

At the 2:19 mark the issue of “broken travel” comes up (i.e., when someone flies somewhere and then takes a train or bus and then connects somewhere else to fly again [h/t to D. for the explanation]. Coburn: “Can you state for this committee what role you envision for DHS in tracking the travel of US persons, at home or abroad, that are not on a suspicious list or  on a high risk list?”

Johnson: There are privacy and civil liberty concerns with travel. We have a problem with suspicious individuals laundering their travel. That’s a fact.  It’s a blind spot (for the US). [Expect to hear more about this one.]

At the 2:15:30 mark, back to more traditional homeland security topics.  Coburn on homeland security spending: Do we spend the money on risk or do we spread the money out?  [Great question.]

Coburn says he feels we should spend the money where risk is the greatest.  Johnson says he “thinks” he agrees.

Coburn: We’ve spent 37 billion on grants, and less than 25% has gone to highest risk areas. (He blames congress’ parochial interests for some of this.) Coburn agrees with the Obama Administration’s plan to consolidate all DHS grants and then base awards on risk.  How does Johnson feel about that?

Johnson: “It’s an issue that a number of people have raised with me, how we dispense grant money; it’s taxpayer money….  In general the professionals who I’ve consulted  over the past couple of weeks seem to feel that we need to move in the direction of a risk based approach to homeland security, and that probably entails focusing our grant money in the same direction as well. So I’d be inclined to agree with you if what you’re saying is we need to make efficient use of our taxpayer dollars for purposes of homeland security.”

Coburn then brings up the lack of performance metrics. Grant reform is a big deal to Coburn. Money should be spent to reduce risk, and not to make a politician look good, he says – not allowing the windmill to obscure his vision.

Johnson says he’ll work with the committee to reform grant programs.

Around the 2:14 mark, Coburn gets another turn questioning Johnson.  He first congratulates John Pistole for TSA improvement.  Then comments on how negligent the Congress and the country has been confronting the problems of mental illness.

At 2:11, Carper reviews the LAX shooting and sends “a shout out” to TSA. He then asks what Johnson will do to mitigate the threat against TSA and other DHS employees. “We need to look at how to provide for their safety,” is Johnson’s response.

Carper reminds Johnson of the importance of keeping guns out of the hands of people who have mental illness. He also underscores to Johnson and whoever is still listening to the hearings at this point the importance of “See something. Say Something.”

At the 2:09 mark, Carper turns to the issue of “state and local stakeholders.”  A lot of DHS work involves state, local and non-profits (like Red Cross). What steps would Johnson take to make sure the DHS works effectively with state and locals?

Johnson: “I’ve been struck by the emphasis people up here [in Congress] and at DHS place on [state, local, private sector relationships]… and the attention … they want me to pay to it, and it’s pretty apparent to me that it’s part of the mission.” He then goes on to talk about his New York City experience, working with New York Police Department.  He concludes his answer to the question about what steps he’d take to make sure DHS works effectively with state and locals by saying, “I think I get that.”  That seems to be it for state and local; nothing about fire, emergency management, public health, and the other non-law enforcement participants in the homeland security enterprise.

At the 2:06 mark (I‘m now using the video timing, not my pacific time clock; an archive of the video stream is still available on the Senate site): Carper asks Johnson what Johnson thinks are the major management challenges for DHS, and his role fixing them. Johnson refers to GAO report on DHS high risk issues (http://www.gao.gov/highrisk/strengthening_homeland_security/why_did_study#t=1).  Management issues: vacancies, efficient procurement; unqualified audit financial statement; business intelligence (with 6 different account systems). Talks about leadership as sometimes requiring that you “push people,” as you might push a sluggish aircraft carrier. (Expect more DoD metaphors to enter the homeland security vocabulary,)

11:47 AM – Back to blogging. The hearing is over, so I’ll just summarize the remaining 30 minutes or so.

8:57 AM  - Need to attend to my day job for awhile.  Back later.

8:51 AM  - Sen Carper defines “high risk” list.  High risk = ways of wasting taxpayer money. Arnold B provides  details:  http://www.gao.gov/highrisk/overview

8:45 AM – Senator Paul “Does the 4th Amendment apply to my Visa purchases?” Can a single warrant apply to millions of things? Can you have due process with only one side represented? (FISA court.)  Should we decide the scope of the 4th Amendment in secret.  Johnson wants “robust discussion” as he’s had in past use of force decisions. Paul “due process is not a bunch of good people sitting in a room discussing whether to kill someone.” Should we target Americans overseas who are not engaged in combat? Paul argues for an examination of due process and paying attention to the 4th amendment.

8:37 AM - Senator Ayotte asking about AQ. Johnson describes 3rd phase of AQ terrorism – loan wolf.  Harder to detect; need more local focus by state/local first responders. Now asking about interrogation of AQ. How to balance the benefit of interrogation with domestic laws and protections. How can we have a policy that allows us to gather information and prosecute. Johnson – “There’s authority for a pre-Miranda national security interrogation. We need to codify that.”  And then the discussion moves to DHS employees abusing DHS overtime policy.

8:26 AM – Senator Begich’s (Alaska) turn – CBP denied a request from a tourist company to move; Begich says approving the request would actually make money for the government (and CBP), and “DHS would make a 20% profit.”  Discussing Coast Guard and the Arctic. Johnson in favor of [Coast Guard] being agile with resources we have. Domestic drone activity discussed. Johnson uses the “risk based strategy” mantra again. DHS has two offices related to drones. Question about disaster assistance to houses of worship. Starts a discussion about church-state relations

8:19 AM Senator Levin’s turn – 2 million corporations created in the US each year; states approve the corporation without asking who they are.  Senator Levin is about to expand DHS mission to monitor ownership of who own the 2 million corporations created by states annually. Advocates for support for a Levin-Grassly bill to do this. States opposed to the bill.  Johnson says he wants to understand the issue better.  GAO report on border report discussion – says terror threat is greater in the north than it is in the south. Coast guard needs helicopters….

8:11 AM McCain – Says Johnson will be confirmed.  Then starts asking questions about border apprehensions and what constitutes border security. Apprehensions are up? Apprehensions are down? who knows what any of that means. McCain gets his border information from CBP not DHS.  McCain wants 90% effectiveness at the border.  McCain wants a yes or no answer; Johnson uses his “inclined to…” response.  Johnson then says he wants to cooperate with McCain, but he wants to understand the issue better before he commits to what McCain asks. McCain says he won’t support Johnson unless he commits to the 90% target.

8:03 AM – Senator Tester’s turn at questions (and statements). Focus on DHS morale. Asks for ideas to cultivate future leadership at all levels of DHS? Johnson says you have to have passion for the mission.  How do you motivate people? Johnson: complement them for a job well done. Tester asks about CBP pay, border security technology. Johnson uses the buzz phrase “risk based strategies.”  Tester: on to the private sector and contractors.  DHS favors big contractors; Tester wants smaller organizations to have a shot.  Johnson says he’s in favor of competition. Questioning gets into the details of how to write contract specifications.

7:58 AM – Coburn asks what DHS programs might not be necessary. Johnson suggests some intel programs.  Coburn asks about DHS cyber security problems, including DHS internal cyber procedures. If DHS can’t take care of its own cyber issues why trust it with the cyber portfolio, he asks.

7:54 AM – Coburn starts his testimony by asking Johnson to give him information.  Johnson says “If confirmed I will look at the issue and be inclined to give you the information.” Coburn going through a list of things he wants to learn about DHS and asks Johnson to look into the issues, including intel, fusion centers, border security, immigration enforcement.  Johnson good at responding that he will “be inclined” to provide what’s asked. 7:58 AM

7:50 AM – Johnson talking about what he learned about leadership. Needs to be able to see the entire enterprise.  Tells a story about actually reading memos and asking people why others agreed to the memo’s suggestions.  He cites the 11 for, 1 against story about decision making.  Carper: “leadership is the courage to stay out of step when everyone else is wrong.”

7:47 AM  – Carper: what is your vision for DHS? and what are the challenges?  Fill management positions; focus on terrorism, immigration, move the ball forward on cyber security; get off the GAO high risk list (whatever that is); read Coburn’s writing on DHS.  ”We need to be vigilant.”  Recongizes morale issues at DHS. Believes protecting the american public is the core mission of the US government.

7:44 AM – starts with three standard questions: any conflicts of interest? anything preventing you from doing your job? will you respond to “reasonable summons” from congress.  No to first 2, and yes to last one.

7:35 AM – Johnson starts his testimony by introducing his family. Describes his past experience related to homeland security and DoD.  Reads the DHS mission. Understands many senior positions in DHS are vacant. Will get DHS off the GAO “high risk” list. Says he won’t shrink from hard decisions – hints at previous drone decision and don’t ask/don’t tell decision.  Going through a list of his decisions.  Pledges transparency and candor with congress.  Use to be an intern for Sen. Moynihan. Cites a photo with his family car parked next to the Capitol.  Says those days may not return in our lifetime. Ends at 7:44 AM.

7:32 AM – McCaskill — has 5 issues, but they went by too quickly for me to catch them:   1)right sizing DHS, 2) cohesive department, 3) DHS as directorate, 4) procure bio terrror stuff, 5) DHS needs a clean audit.

7:31 AM – Carper asks Johnson to turn in another draft of his answers to the committee; too many of them were cut and pasted from other hearings, Carper claims.

7:29 AM – Coburn’s critique of DHS comes in a binder:  1) Establish proper balance between freedom and security. CBP owns drones, but hasn’t filed privacy statements. 2) Is DHS spending on Intel and counter terrorism helping to make us safer? who knows? 3) Can DHS secure borders and handle immigration? 90 billion spent in the last decade on border security, with minimal effect. 4) DHS needs to prove it can work with private sector, especially with cyber. 5) Needs to manage major acquisition programs effectively. 6) FEMA disaster declaration process needs fixing. Asks Johnson to “run a transparent shop” (whatever that means).

7:19 AM – Coburn’s turn.  He warns everyone his opening statement will be “lengthy.” Coburn to Johnson: It’s not “if” you’ll be confirmed; it’s “when.” But he’s still concerned by cut and paste responses from past hearings.

7:18 AM – Carper: “DHS lacks cohesion and a sense of team; morale is low at DHS; fiscal environment constrains what DHS can do.  Even on a good day DHS secretary is a very very hard job.”  DHS has 13 vacant leadership positions; it’s executive swiss cheese.  Basically, Carper in favor of Johnson. Suggests Johnson seek advice from former DHS secretaries, Comptroller, former DoD secretaries.

7:08 AM – Menendez: “Johnson oversaw 10,000 attorneys in DoD.” DoD has 10,000 lawyers?

7:06 AM – Booker: “All three previous DHS Secretaries support Johnson’s nomination; so does law enforcement.”

7:03 AM – Hearings start. The nominee will be introduced by Senator Robert Menendez and Senator Cory A. Booker

6:57 AM[pacific time] — Hearings are being streamed at http://www.hsgac.senate.gov/hearings/nomination-of-hon-jeh-c-johnson-to-be-secretary-us-department-of-homeland-security.  They start at 10 AM eastern; 7 am pacific

November 12, 2013

Wednesday: Confirmation hearing on the nomination of Jeh C. Johnson to be Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security

Filed under: Congress and HLS,DHS News — by Christopher Bellavita on November 12, 2013

On Wednesday 11/13 at 10am (EST), the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee will hold a confirmation hearing for Jeh Johnson to be Secretary of Homeland Security.

I am told by a colleague who is in a position to know, there’s a good chance the hearings will be carried by C-SPAN and (for maybe part of the hearings) by some cable news outlets.

I did not see the Johnson hearings on the C-SPAN schedule for Wednesday.  But that could change.

At 10 am on Wednesday, C-SPAN 1 is scheduled to show the House of Representative’s Morning Hour, “during which members speak on a variety of topics.”

C-SPAN 3 plans to broadcast the 10 am House-Senate Conference Committee Meeting on the Fiscal 2014 Budget. Fairly significant.

C-SPAN Radio scheduled its flexibly generic “Public Affairs Programming” in the 10 am slot.  So, who knows.

I thought Al Jazeera might be interested in broadcasting views about the (probably) next Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security.  They have something called “News” scheduled for 10 AM Wednesday, meaning “Live, breaking and in-depth news coverage reports on America and the world for an American audience. Human-centered reporting reveals how events affect Americans and the interconnectedness of people across the world.” Again, who knows.

My colleague said the hearing will be streamed from the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee website. As of Monday night, I did not see any information about streaming on the Committee site.  But Monday was, after all, a federal day off for a lot of people.  Maybe tomorrow.

If the hearings are broadcast or streamed, I‘ll do liveblogging of the event on this site.

 

 

August 20, 2013

QHSR 2.0 – the preparedness phase

Filed under: Congress and HLS,General Homeland Security — by Christopher Bellavita on August 20, 2013

While DHS is waiting to learn who its fourth leader will be, homeland security geeks (you know who you are) spend the summer quadrennially reviewing homeland security.

If you care about homeland security and want to add your voice to the 2nd QHSR discussion, you have at least two options.  You can join the conversation on IdeaScale and you can go to the “Quadrennial Homeland Security Communities of Practice” message board. (Registration required on both sites.)

Here’s how the IdeaScale works:

  • Users submit their ideas
  • The “community” discusses and votes for the ideas.
  • The best ideas bubble to the top.

I could not discover what happens to the ideas that bubble to the top.

The QHSR Communities of Practice site “addresses question of governance in the Homeland Security Enterprise – The Public Private Relationship.”

I interpreted those words to mean you could talk about anything as long as it had to do with public-private relationships in homeland security.  Most of the 90+ posts did have a private sector connection, even the discussions of memes and the-always-appropriate “what is homeland security?”

The IdeaScale site has a richer variety of issues.  As of last night, there were 140 of them — including:

  • the impact of Obamacare on public health
  • whether local law enforcement could be trusted with homeland security
  • facial recognition
  • global recovery
  • cryptocurrencies
  • aging
  • politics as a waste
  • Christion Zionism
  • infectious illegal immigrants
  • the security of homeland security vehicles
  • tablet computers for prison inmates
  • privacy concerns hindering homeland security efforts

There were many more.

Even if few of those ideas make it into the 2nd QHSR, they do offer candidates for news stories, research papers, conspiracy theories and congressional hearings.

I spent a few days last week in the company of 30 state, local, federal and private sector people, all of whom had some connection to homeland security.

I asked about the QHSR.

Most people had heard something about it. Some thought it was a strategy. Others said it was a law.  It was a plan.  A report.

One person said the QHSR influenced what that person did at work:  ”Everything we do is aligned to the 2010 Review.”  That person works for DHS.

No one else in the room was able to identify any impact the 2010 QHSR had on what they do. No one.  The consensus was the 2014 Report would have the same result.

“Why is the QHSR Important?” asks the 2nd QHSR Engagement Bulletin.

The 2010 Report “described the what of homeland security.”  The 2014 Report “will begin to describe the how of homeland security.”

Another description (available here) says the “first quadrennial review answered the question, ‘What is homeland security?’ ” And the “second quadrennial review is focusing on how we work together to address critical security challenges in the face of evolving threats and resource constraints.”

The Engagement Bulletin has a a buzzing description of five specific things the 2nd QHSR will do.

  • Apply a strategic, risk based approachusing a rigorous, data-driven analytic approach.
  • Learn from the past to help plan for the future….
  • Maximize impact….
  • Help create a DHS that “works together even more efficiently.
  • Engage the entire homeland security enterprise….

I admire the ideals reflected in those aspirational objectives and the belief that the homeland security world might work that way.

I wonder what measures could be used to determine whether the QHSR will do those 5 things.

I wonder what “learn from the past” measures are used within DHS and in Congress to figure out what impact the 1st QHSR Report had in the homeland security enterprise. (Seriously. I’d appreciate learning, if anyone knows.)

Why even do this exercise?

Blame Congress.  It mandated that every 4 years there be a review of “the homeland security of the nation.” Whatever that means.

Congress directed the Review to be:

a comprehensive examination of the homeland security strategy of the Nation, including recommendations regarding the long-term strategy and priorities of the Nation for homeland security and guidance on the programs, assets, capabilities, budget, policies, and authorities of the Department.

That’s a tall order.  Bravo to those in the Arena who are trying to make this work.

If I remember correctly about what happened after the 1st QHSR Report was issued, Congress held hearings, DHS folks testified, Congress said there should be more progress.

That’s probably going to happen again.

But all that is later.  Right now, cynic, realist or idealist, you have an opportunity to offer your ideas, debate with people who care about homeland security, and who knows, maybe make a difference.

July 26, 2013

DHS Deputy Secretary confirmation fight exacerbates vacancies problem

Filed under: Congress and HLS,DHS News,General Homeland Security — by Christian Beckner on July 26, 2013

In late June the President nominated Alejandro Mayorkas, current Director of USCIS, to be the next Deputy Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security.  This nomination was a critical first step in addressing the issue of DHS leadership vacancies that I wrote about here a couple of weeks ago, and which has attracted notable media attention since Secretary Napolitano announced her resignation two weeks ago.

Until a few days ago, I assumed that this nomination would move forward smoothly, given Mayorkas’ very good reputation and his performance leading USCIS for the last four years.   But as has been reported in the news this week, there’s been a bump in the road in his nomination process, related to a reported DHS Inspector General investigation into certain investments made via the Immigrant Investor Program (known as EB-5), and Mayorkas’ alleged involvement in key decisions related to this matter.

The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee held its confirmation hearing for Mayorkas yesterday (July 25th), likely having scheduled this hearing before this news broke with the intent to try to get him confirmed before the August recess.  Senator Coburn and the other Republican members of the Committee boycotted the hearing, arguing that these  issues raised by the IG needed to be resolved before the nomination should move forward.

I’ve reviewed the transcript of yesterday’s hearing, all relevant news clippings on this EB-5 matter, and the relevant documents released by Senator Grassley yesterday.  This is definitely the kind of issue that Senate Committees need to look at and sort out as part of a confirmation process.  There’s still a lot of confusing and contradictory information in the public record on this matter, so I don’t feel confident to comment on the substance of the allegations.  But from a process standpoint, I would note that these allegations are being brought forward publicly by the IG (who is under his own investigative cloud) in a way that seems very unfair to Mayorkas – who was perplexed and blindsided by these allegations at the hearing, and appears to have had no opportunity to respond to them in the year that the IG’s investigation has been open.   The IG’s actions in relation to the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee also appear to be very strange – the Committee apparently only learned about this matter from the IG earlier this week, and Senator Carper indicated at the hearing that he found no relevant information on this matter in Mayorkas’ FBI background report.

And unfortunately, the net result of this matter is that it now seems unlikely that Mayorkas will be confirmed before Secretary Napolitano departs DHS on September 7th.  (The Senate will be on recess from August 3 to September 9, so will have no opportunity to confirm him after next Friday, August 3rd).  That will create a significant and troubling leadership gap at the top of DHS, just in time for the 12th anniversary of the September 11th attacks, and right in the middle of hurricane season.  The Department is also likely to have a full legislative agenda this fall (cyber security, border security, appropriations etc.) and on the policy front is charged with working on the second Quadrennial Homeland Security Review (QHSR) and updating the National Infrastructure Protection Plan this fall.   These issues will all suffer if there is a prolonged senior leadership gap after Secretary Napolitano’s departure.

For these reasons, I hope that the Senate will find a way to resolve this issue and move forward soon on Mayorkas’s nomination.  And it is also imperative that the White House nominate someone as soon as possible to be the next Secretary of DHS, and also finally move forward on nominating and appointing individuals for other key vacant positions (CBP, I&A, ICE, IG, etc.) as soon as possible.

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