Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

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.

Congressional prospects for NSA operations

Filed under: Congress and HLS,Intelligence and Info-Sharing,Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Philip J. Palin on July 26, 2013

As I explained in an early June post, I have mostly been reassured by the controversy over NSA domestic intelligence gathering.  So far the evidence I have seen indicates operations have been undertaken consistent with the law, with judicial authorization, and with Congressional oversight.

The close vote on Wednesday night to continue funding NSA operations is another example of the system working as it ought.  It is helpful and appropriate that policy of this sort be actively and critically examined by the people’s representatives.  Our security mavens have been forcefully reminded of their obligation to consult with Congress on policy and strategy.  (And I even hope against hope that those in Congress may have learned to listen more carefully.  I know I’m a glutton for disappointment.)

If some are tempted to “learn” from this experience that they need to be even more secretive, they are idiots.  If they instead recognize the benefit of proactive and principled engagement at the policy level, we will all be better off: both in terms of our tactical security and the preservation of liberty.

I am glad the funding was continued.  I am glad the vote was close.  I am glad that other efforts are underway to ensure legal constraints on domestic intelligence operations.  Yesterday reporting by ProPublica identified six proposals still under consideration by Congress:

1) Raise the standard for what records are considered “relevant”

2) Require NSA analysts to obtain court approval before searching metadata

3) Declassify Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court opinions

4) Change the way Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court judges are appointed

5) Appoint a public advocate to argue before the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court

6) End phone metadata collection on constitutional grounds

Read more on each proposal by Kara Brandeisky at ProPublica

July 11, 2013

DHS Vacancies Watch

Filed under: Congress and HLS,DHS News,General Homeland Security — by Christian Beckner on July 11, 2013

We are now more than halfway through 2013, and the number of vacancies of leadership positions at DHS continues to increase.  Until two weeks ago, the President had not yet nominated a single official to serve at DHS in a Senate-confirmed position, and had only made one senior-level appointment to a position that does not require Senate confirmation – the selection of Julia Pierson to serve as the new director of the Secret Service.

Having a certain level of senior-level vacancies in a Cabinet department is normal, given the typical churn of confirmed and appointed officials.  But if enough positions are open for a long enough period of time, it can lead to significant operational and management risks to that Department, and also diminishes its accountability to the U.S. Congress.

I am afraid that the Department of Homeland Security is now at the point where it is facing these risks.   As I note below, there are currently no less than 14 senior-level vacancies at DHS.  Given this, I think that it is critical that the White House prioritize nominations and appointment for the key positions listed below, and that when nominations are made, that the Senate act quickly on nominations for qualified candidates.

Below is a list of the Senate-confirmed positions that are currently unfilled (or will soon be unfilled) at DHS:

1. Deputy Secretary: Former Deputy Secretary Jane Holl Lute stepped down in May 2013.  Under Secretary for NPPD Rand Beers is currently serving as Acting Deputy Secretary.  On June 27th, the White House nominated current USCIS Director Alejandro Mayorkas to become the new Deputy Secretary, and his nomination is pending with the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.  His confirmation would open up a new vacancy at USCIS.

2. Under Secretary for Intelligence and Analysis: Former Under Secretary for I&A Caryn Wagner left DHS in December 2012.  Bill Tarry has been serving as Acting Under Secretary since that date, but his acting role will hit the 210 day limit under the Vacancies Act in the next ten days.  No nomination has been announced yet.

3. General Counsel:  Former GC Ivan Fong left DHS in September 2012.  Former Counselor to Secretary Napolitano John Sandweg was named as Acting General Counsel, but is now listed on the DHS website as Principal Deputy General Counsel, presumably because he had been in the acting position for longer than the 210 days allowed by the Vacancies Act.

4. Inspector General:  Former IG Richard Skinner left DHS in January 2011.  The President nominated Roslyn Mazer to serve in the position in July 2011, and her nomination was withdrawn in June 2012 following opposition by members of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.  It’s now been over a year since her nomination was withdrawn, and no new nominee has been put forward.  Charles Edwards served as Acting IG until hitting the Vacancies Act limit and is currently listed as the Deputy IG on the OIG’s website.  He is currently being accused of a range of abuses of his position in a letter sent last month by Sen. McCaskill and Sen. Ron Johnson.

5. Commissioner, Customs and Border Protection: Alan Bersin was nominated as CBP Commissioner in September 2009, and in March 2010 was put in the position via a recess appointment by the President.  The Senate Finance Committee held a nomination hearing for Bersin in May 2010, but his nomination was never reported out of the Finance Committee, and his recess appointment expired at the end of 2011.   Since that time, former Border Patrol chief David Aguilar and Deputy Commissioner Thomas Winkowski have served as Acting Commissioner, but no new nominee has been put forward.

6. Director, Immigration and Customs Enforcement:  ICE Director John Morton announced his intent to resign in June and is departing at the end of July.

In addition to these six Senate-confirmed position, there are also senior leadership vacancies in at least eight other senior positions that do not require Senate confirmation, including Chief Privacy Officer, Officer for Civil Rights & Civil Liberties, Assistant Secretary for the Office of Health Affairs, Director of the Domestic Nuclear Detection Office, Assistant Secretary for the Office of Cybersecurity and Communications, Chief Information Officer, Assistant Secretary for the Office of Legislative Affairs, and Executive Secretary.

July 2, 2013

Where The Heck’s My Dec?

Filed under: Congress and HLS,Disaster,Legal Issues — by Christopher Bellavita on July 2, 2013

The post for Tuesday, July 2, 2013 was removed at the author’s request.

March 7, 2013

Issues in Homeland Security Policy for the 113th Congress

Filed under: Congress and HLS — by Christopher Bellavita on March 7, 2013

Congressional Research Service (CRS) published its outline of homeland security issues facing the 113th congress.  You can find a copy of the 70 page CRS report on the Federation of American Scientists’ CRS homeland security reports page.

Here is a direct link to the report:  http://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/homesec/R42985.pdf

From the Introduction:

This report outlines an array of homeland security issues that may come before the 113th Congress. After a brief discussion of the overall homeland security budget, the report divides the specific issues into five broad categories:

• Counterterrorism and Security Management,

• Border Security and Trade,

• Immigration,

• Disaster Preparedness, Response, and Recovery, and

• Departmental Management.

Each of those areas contains a survey of topics briefly analyzed by Congressional Research Service experts. The information included only scratches the surface on most of these issues.

More detailed information can be obtained by consulting the CRS reports referenced herein, or by contacting the relevant CRS expert.


On a related topic, here’s my favorite Doonesbury report on CRS (click for a larger image):

January 3, 2013

Due process: Collect, keep, and kill

No free man shall be seized or imprisoned, or stripped of his rights or possessions, or outlawed or exiled, or deprived of his standing in any other way, nor will we proceed with force against him, or send others to do so, except by the lawful judgment of his equals or by the law of the land. (Clause 39, Magna Carta)

No person shall… be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law… (Fifth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States)


Recent months have seen one-time expediencies dressed-up as new principles to frame the relationship between citizen and State.  Three examples:

On the Friday after Christmas the Senate reauthorized broad executive authority for  electronic surveillance and collection. The vote was 73-to-23 and extended for five years the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. The House adopted the legislation earlier in the year.  On Sunday the President the signed the extension into law. Proposed amendments, including those offered by Senator Wyden,  that would have enhanced Congressional oversight of FISA were defeated.  FISA was originally intended to provide due process for the gathering of intelligence on non-citizens and so protect the privacy of citizens.  There has been increasing concern regarding how FISA methods now unintentionally — but perhaps quite widely — sweep up citizen communications as well.

According to a December 13, 2012 Wall Street Journal report, there may be good cause for concern.   In an exclusive investigative report, Julia Angwin found that new Department of Justice guidelines, “now allow the little-known National Counterterrorism Center to examine the government files of U.S. citizens for possible criminal behavior, even if there is no reason to suspect them. That is a departure from past practice, which barred the agency from storing information about ordinary Americans unless a person was a terror suspect or related to an investigation. Now, NCTC can copy entire government databases—flight records, casino-employee lists, the names of Americans hosting foreign-exchange students and many others. The agency has new authority to keep data about innocent U.S. citizens for up to five years, and to analyze it for suspicious patterns of behavior. Previously, both were prohibited.”

Meanwhile the White House is, according to several sources including Presidential adviser John Brennan, developing a legal and procedural framework for the deadly use of drones. Addressing the use of drones during an October 18 appearance on “The Daily Show,” President Obama said,  “One of the things we’ve got to do is put a legal architecture in place, and we need Congressional help in order to do that, to make sure that not only am I reined in but any president’s reined in terms of some of the decisions that we’re making.”  According to a May report in the New York Times, “Mr. Obama has placed himself at the helm of a top secret “nominations” process to designate terrorists for kill or capture, of which the capture part has become largely theoretical. He had vowed to align the fight against Al Qaeda with American values; the chart, introducing people whose deaths he might soon be asked to order, underscored just what a moral and legal conundrum this could be.”   Among the President’s decisions, presumably, was the targeted killing of Anwar al-Awlaki, a US citizen who was killed by drone-delivered Hellfire missiles on September 30, 2011 and his sixteen year-old son, also born in the US, who was killed in another drone attack two weeks later.  Both citizens were killed in Yemen.

The predominant motivation in each instance above — and others — is the protection of the American people and nation.  There is no imminent threat of Orwellian intention or intervention.

In each of these examples legislators and the executive are attempting to develop due process that is appropriate to their understanding of the present challenge.   (The judicial branch is poised to soon rejoin consideration of the issue.)

Nonetheless while it is, I suspect, the specific intention of no one, the space where individual liberty adjoins civil authority is being incrementally reshaped.  In the Anglo-American tradition there has long been in both theory and practice the presumptive primacy of individual initiative, what Blackstone termed “the absolute rights of man.”  The balance is shifting toward a presumed ability by the government to maintain order.

Perhaps this is the inevitable outcome of more and more diverse individuals living in dense proximity to each other.  Perhaps it is a prudent response to demonstrated risk.  Perhaps it reflects an emerging social consensus that liberty is less valued than previously.  Or we might be in the process of  redefining liberty.  These shifts might even be the accidental consequence of what Nassim Taleb has termed “naive interventionism”.  The preference, even obligation, to “do something” over doing nothing, even when the doing is non-productive or counter-productive.

Whatever the cause, the pattern can be perceived and seems to be persisting.

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.


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.


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)


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.


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.”


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.

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