Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

November 3, 2015

Election day

Filed under: Border Security,Climate Change,Cybersecurity,Immigration,Intelligence and Info-Sharing — by Philip J. Palin on November 3, 2015

In several jurisdictions this is election day, mostly for state and local officials.  It also begins the one-year countdown for the 2016 presidential election.

Following are links to the issue-sections of five currently prominent presidential contenders.  Each of these links connect to the candidate’s position on issues this blog treats as relevant to homeland security.

Ben Carson: Among the ten policy issues on Dr. Carson’s campaign website, his commitment to keeping Gitmo open is given top tier attention.  The Second Amendment is highlighted as providing “our citizens the right to protect themselves from threats foreign or domestic.”

Hillary Clinton: Under her National Security statement are several references to HS issues (cyber, counter-terrorism, pandemics, “Keeping our homeland secure”).  Elsewhere she gives attention to climate change and energy, criminal justice reform, gun violence prevention, and immigration reform.

Marco Rubio: The Senator from Florida gives particular attention to defeating ISIS and ties this to lone-wolf attacks in order to “protect the homeland”.  Mr. Rubio offers, “the Second Amendment is about the American Dream”.

Bernie Sanders: Under the rubric War and Peace, Senator Sanders outlines his approach to combating terrorism.  Elsewhere he also gives considerable attention to climate change and to immigration reform. In this quick review of campaign websites, the Senator from Vermont is the only currently leading contender to address intelligence-gathering, saying, “We must not trade away our constitutional rights and civil liberties for the illusion of security”.

Donald J. Trump: Immigration has been a signature issue for Mr. Trump.  His position on the Second Amendment almost certainly has HS implications.

In the 2008 presidential campaign Senator Obama gathered an explicit Homeland Security Advisory Council and Senator McCain had an identifiable HS sub-set within his more informal campaign policy structure.  I will be surprised to see homeland security — as an organizing principle — get anything close to equal attention in the current presidential campaign.

June 4, 2015

DHS advisory committee issues report on employee morale

Filed under: DHS News,General Homeland Security — by Christian Beckner on June 4, 2015

At its meeting on May 21, 2015, the Homeland Security Advisory Council (HSAC) issued a report by its DHS Employee Task Force, established in October 2014 following the Department’s poor rankings in the latest federal employee survey results, and formerly known as the “DHS Employee Morale Task Force” but renamed a few weeks prior to the issuance of the report. The report has been publicly released but is not yet available on the DHS website; I have posted a copy at this link.

The report includes a brief assessment of the relevant issues that affect DHS workforce morale, makes four primary recommendations, and includes twenty-seven specific action items that derive from these recommendations. The four primary recommendations are as follows:

1. Greatly increase the emphasis on leadership qualities when filling managerial positions and when assessing the performance of incumbents.
2. Significantly improve management training, particularly leadership training.
3. Adopt proven industrial standards for personnel development.
4. Significantly strengthen communications (upward, downward and outward), making greater use of modern communication technology.

Overall, the report provides a solid initial assessment of the challenges facing DHS leadership as it attempts to address morale issues, and suggests a number of common-sense management initiatives. But its analysis should be viewed as only a starting point. This is an issue that is difficult to generalize across the Department; the issues that affect the morale and satisfaction of the frontline officer at TSA or CBP are very different than the issues that affect an intelligence analyst or policy advisor at one of the headquarters offices. Moreover, it is necessary as part of such an assessment to make a distinction between issues that are within the span of control of the leadership of the Department (such as day-to-day operational policies and norms) and those that are outside of their control (such as civil service laws, or Congressional constraints on the Department’s organizational structure).

Two issues in particular are deserving of further analysis. The first is the set of procedures (formal and informal) related to decision-making and action-taking within DHS, and the incentive structure that underlies these procedures. My observation over a number of years and spanning multiple DHS leadership teams is that it is far too difficult for motivated and forward-looking individuals to take initiative and drive change within the Department. Instead, it is much easier for offices to stifle new initiatives that they do not like, a reality exacerbated by the fragmented Congressional oversight of the Department and by the existence of numerous internal oversight and compliance offices within DHS. This observation is supported by the results of Question #32 on the Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey: “Creativity and innovation are rewarded.” DHS employees express on average a much more negative response to this question than employees of other federal agencies. I would contend that the frustration and hopelessness captured in these responses is a major factor in low morale at DHS.

The second issue deserving of additional attention is reflected in the results to Question #22 of the Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey: “Promotions in my work unit are based on merit.” 55.6% of DHS employees disagreed with this statement in the 2014 survey – the most negative result of any agency surveyed by far, and much higher than the government-wide average of 39.3%. The apparent lack of meritocracy reflected in this result is a long-standing issue at DHS (as far back as the 2006 employee survey, DHS also had the most negative result) and needs to be rigorously assessed at the component level to determine the root causes of this, which likely includes issues related to organizational culture, personnel policies, and the lack of clear standards for promotions. Notably, the HSAC task force calls for a follow-on review of these issues, including an assessment of the Department’s promotion and compensation systems.

As noted earlier, the full HSAC report can be viewed at this link.

(Note: This piece is cross-posted from the GW Center for Cyber and Homeland Security’s Security Insights blog.)

May 27, 2014

Megalopolistic bedfellows, fire, filters, and eloquent twilight

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Christopher Bellavita on May 27, 2014


What do Walmart, the Cheesecake Factory, Wells Fargo, the City of Los Angeles Emergency Management Department, the Revelation Network, the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department, the Burbank Fire Department, Microsoft and the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles have in common?

They are members of the “Community Stakeholder Network” (CSN).

You may already know about the CSN.  I just learned about it.  CSA is “a product [sic] of HSAC,” which stands for the Homeland Security Advisory Council.

CSN is

“a collaborative portal designed to support businesses and community stakeholders in developing sustainable community resilience…; a collaborative single point of interaction with enterprise applications, content, processes, and people…; [and] “a consolidated, high-value, trusted source for business and community stakeholders where members can review, share data, and work together to better prepare for, respond to, and recover from man-made or natural disaster events.”

If that production vocabulary does not crystalize the meaning and function of CSN, they have a facebook page that, I believe, illustrates a bit of what they do.  There’s also a video with more explanation:  http://csntoday.org/Pages/ABOUT-US/CSN-Video.aspx.  

Among the interesting ideas in the video, you’ll hear the word “megalopolis” used correctly. I had not heard that word before.


The May 2014 issue of The Atlantic has a deeply researched article (written by Brian Mockenhaupt) on the 2013 Yarnell, Arizona fire that killed 19 firefighters: http://www.theatlantic.com/features/archive/2014/05/fire-on-the-mountain/361613/

This year, more than 50,000 wildfires—sparked by lightning, tossed cigarettes, runaway campfires, the occasional arsonist’s match, and even rocks scraping together in a landslide—will rage through forests and shrublands across America. Legions of firefighters will fly, drive, and march to do battle with them. For the most part, the firefighters will win, controlling up to 98 percent of the fires within 24 hours. But the fires that make up the other 2 percent—like the one that started burning in the brush above Yarnell on June 28—are a tougher fight….

This is the firefighters’ conundrum: how to balance risk in the growing wildland-urban interface. Faced with tornados, floods, volcanoes, and hurricanes, we do little but let nature run its course, try to limit the damage, and clean up in the aftermath. But when it comes to wildfire, we think we can do more. We think we can fight it. We now spend more than $3 billion a year on that effort, but only a small fraction is used to put healthy fire back on the landscape. Firefighters die each year, even though we now realize fire suppression is a battle we can’t ever win, and in some cases shouldn’t even be fighting. With so many people now living in the wildland-urban interface, we don’t allow forests and shrublands to burn the way they did for millennia. Instead, firefighters battle ever-larger wildfires to protect increasing numbers of homes. The result is a cycle of tragic inevitability.

The online version of the story also includes some remarkable video, including one from the Missoula fire sciences lab.


The Isla Vista shooting brings to mind a MIT Technology Review story about how the internet filter bubble performs after a controversial, emotionally charged event like a mass shooting.

Danai Koutra from Carnegie Mellon University and two Microsoft researchers, Paul Bennett and Eric Horvitz, analyzed “the Web browsing behavior of people who looked at a wide range of gun-related sites,… seeing how it changed before and after the [Sandy Hook school shooting] massacre.”

Before the event, “… people use the Web to largely access agreeable information;” agreeable means sites that tended to advocate a particular view toward gun rights and gun control. Gun control proponents favored sites that advocated controlling weapons; gun rights advocates frequented sites that supported their views.

When the researchers studied web behavior after the shootings:

The first thing to note is that after the tragedy, there was a sudden increase in the number of people accessing gun-related websites. But [the authors’] conclusion is that whatever content people already accessed, the tendency was to continue to access agreeable content but of a more extreme variety.

Isla Vista-like calamities — if the study results can be generalized – tend to make both gun rights and gun control proponents more calcified.


Privacy, local, average and later will soon be obsolete words.

Thomas Friedman makes that argument in a May 20th essay (available here – but perhaps behind a paywall — http://www.nytimes.com/2014/05/21/opinion/friedman-four-words-going-bye-bye.html?):

Privacy: The recording of Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling “underscored the fact that in a world where everyone with a cellphone camera is paparazzi, everyone with access to Twitter and a cellphone voice recorder is a reporter and everyone who can upload video on YouTube is a filmmaker, everyone else is a public figure — and fair game.”

Freidman quotes Bill Maher:

“Now that Americans are getting wise to the dangers of being spied on by the government, they have to start getting more alarmed about spying on each other. Because if the Donald Sterling mess proved anything it’s that there’s a force out there just as powerful as Big Brother: Big Girlfriend. … In an op-ed in The Washington Post, Kathleen Parker offered one way with dealing the modern world’s ubiquitous invasions of privacy: give up. She wrote: ‘If you don’t want your words broadcast in the public square, don’t say them.’ Really? Even at home? We have to talk like a White House press spokesman?”

LocalLocal is over for the same reason.

Everything and anything controversial you say or do anywhere in today’s hyperconnected world can immediately go global….  [Last] Monday, Google News carried the following story: “SANTA ROSA, Calif. (KGO) — A Santa Rosa mother is accused of assaulting a boy she believed was bullying her daughter.” It doesn’t get more local than that, but it went global thanks to Google. Anyone who tells you that what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas is pulling your leg.

Average: …“average is over.  It has to be when every boss has cheaper, easier, faster access to software, automation, robots, cheap foreign labor and cheap foreign genius that can produce above-average so easily. Everyone needs to find their unique value-add, their “extra,” and be constantly re-engineering themselves if they want to obtain, or advance in, a decent job that can’t be digitized.”

Later: “on May 13,.. scientists [reported] that a large section of the … West Antarctica ice sheet has begun falling apart and its continued melting now appears to be unstoppable.

...when we were growing up “later” meant that you could paint the same landscape, see the same animals, climb the same trees, fish the same rivers, visit the same Antarctica, enjoy the same weather or rescue the same endangered species that you did when you were a kid — but just later, whenever you got around to it. Not anymore. Later is now when you won’t be able to do any of them ever again. So whatever you’re planning to save, please save it now. Because later is when they’ll be gone. Later will be too late.

One more observation reported by Freidman:

Of the many things being said about climate change lately, none was more eloquent than the point made by Gov. Jay Inslee of Washington State …  when he observed: “We’re the first generation to feel the impact of climate change and the last generation that can do something about it.”


September 19, 2011

Aspen Homeland Security Group

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Arnold Bogis on September 19, 2011

The Aspen Institute has announced the formation of an “Aspen Homeland Security Group:”

Modeled on the longstanding Aspen Strategy Group, a bipartisan group of foreign policy experts, the Aspen Homeland Security Group is a bipartisan group of homeland security and counterterrorism experts whom the program periodically convenes in Washington, DC and at our Aspen campus to discuss issues in depth and make recommendations to policymakers. The Aspen Homeland Security Group is co- chaired by former Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff and former Congresswoman Jane Harman.

The list of participants is very impressive, however two thoughts came to mind upon review: it is heavy on the “security” and light on the “homeland.”  The members predominately have focused on terrorism or other security issues in their distinguished careers, and even the ones with a mix of experience still lean toward the terrorism side of the risk ledger.

There is one member with a lifetime of experience at the local level, but even he comes out of a security-focused discipline.  Two businessmen made the group, but where are those with backgrounds in response, public health, emergency management, etc.?

The advice this group will provide is likely to have depth but lack breadth.

The list of members:

Madeleine Albright
Former Secretary
Department of State
Albright Stonebridge Group

Charlie Allen
Former Under Secretary for Intelligence and Analysis
Department of Homeland Security
The Chertoff Group

Zoe Baird
Former Member
Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board
Markle Foundation

Stewart Baker
Former Assistant Secretary for Policy
Department of Homeland Security
Steptoe & Johnson LLP

Richard Ben-Veniste
Former Commissioner
National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States
Mayer Brown LLP

Peter Bergen
Director, National Security Studies Program
New America Foundation
Terrorism Analyst

Samuel Berger
Former National Security Advisor
Chair, Albright Stonebridge Group

Dennis Blair
Former Director of National Intelligence

William Bratton
Former Commissioner
New York Police Department
Former Chief
Los Angeles Police Department

Michael Chertoff
Former Secretary
Department of Homeland Security
Chairman and Co-founder
The Chertoff Group

Richard Clarke
Former National Coordinator for Security and Counterterrorism
Former Special Advisor to the President for Cyber Security
Good Harbor Consulting

P.J. Crowley
Former Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs
Department of State
Former Special Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs
General Omar N. Bradley Chair in Strategic Leadership
Dickinson School of Law, Penn State University

Jack Goldsmith
Former Assistant Attorney General, Office of Legal Counsel
Department of Justice
Henry L. Shattuck Professor of Law
Harvard Law School

Stephen Hadley
Former National Security Adviser
Rice Hadley Group LLC

Jane Harman
Former Representative
36th Congressional District of California
Director, President, & CEO
Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars

Michael Hayden
Former Director
National Security Agency; Central Intelligence Agency
The Chertoff Group

Brian Jenkins
Former Adviser
National Commission on Terrorism
Senior Adviser
RAND Corporation

Michael Leiter
Former Director
National Counterterrorism Center

Stuart Levey
Former Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence
Department of the Treasury
Senior Fellow for National Security and Financial Integrity, Council on Foreign Relations

James Loy
Former Deputy and Acting Secretary of Homeland Security
Former Administrator
Transportation Security Administration
Former Commandant
Coast Guard
Senior Counselor
The Cohen Group

Paul McHale
Former Representative
15th Congressional District of Pennsylvania
Former Assistant Secretary for Homeland Defense
Department of Defense
President, Civil Support International, LLC

John McLaughlin
Former Deputy and Acting Director
Central Intelligence Agency
Distinguished Practitioner-in-Residence, Philip Merrill Center for Strategic Studies, Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies

Jeanne Meserve
Former Homeland Security Correspondent
Senior Fellow
George Washington University Homeland Security Policy Institute

Philip Mudd
Former Deputy Director of National Security
Federal Bureau of Investigation
Former Deputy Director, Counterterrorist Center
Central Intelligence Agency
Senior Research Fellow, Counterterrorism Strategy Initiative
New America Foundation

Marc Nathanson
Homeland Security Advisory Council, Los Angeles County
The Aspen Institute
Mapleton Investments

Daniel Prieto
Former Professional Staff Member
Homeland Security Committee
House of Representatives
Vice President and Practice Lead
Public Sector Strategy & Innovation
IBM Global Business Services

Suzanne Spaulding
Former Assistant General Counsel
Central Intelligence Agency
Former Executive Director
National Commission on Terrorism
Former Executive Director
Commission to Assess the Organization of the Federal Government to Combat Proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction
Bingham Consulting Group LLC

Marin Strmecki
Former Special Advisor on Afghanistan
Office of the Secretary of Defense
Former Staff Member
Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, Senate Foreign Relations Committee
Senior Vice President, Director of Programs
Smith Richardson Foundation

Guy C. Swann III
Lieutenant General, US Army Commanding General
US Army North (Fifth Army)

Fran Townsend
Former Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism
Senior Vice President
Worldwide Government, Legal, and Business Affairs, MacAndrews & Forbes Holdings Inc.

Juan Zarate
Former Deputy Assistant to the President and Deputy National Security Adviser for Combating Terrorism
Senior Adviser
Transnational Threats Project and Homeland Security and Counterterrorism Program, Center for Strategic and International Studies

Philip Zelikow
Former Executive Director
National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States
Director of Graduate Studies for the Department of History
University of Virginia

(h/t to Rich Cooper at “Security Debrief.”  However, I do disagree with his assertion that official federal homeland security advisory groups such be allowed to provide all their services hidden from public view.  These groups are not advising a private corporation but the government, an entity that serves all citizens and one that we support through our taxes and influence through our votes.  While sensitive information should be protected, citizens are entitled to know who is telling which departments what information that may impact our lives and liberties.)

September 16, 2011

Resilience: The promise and the platitude

Filed under: Preparedness and Response,Strategy — by Philip J. Palin on September 16, 2011

Sunday evening at the Kennedy Center, President Obama said,

These past 10 years underscores the bonds between all Americans.  We have not succumbed to suspicion, nor have we succumbed to mistrust.  After 9/11, to his great credit, President Bush made clear what we reaffirm today:  The United States will never wage war against Islam or any other religion.  Immigrants come here from all parts of the globe.  And in the biggest cities and the smallest towns, in schools and workplaces, you still see people of every conceivable race and religion and ethnicity -– all of them pledging allegiance to the flag, all of them reaching for the same American dream –- e pluribus unum, out of many, we are one.

These past 10 years tell a story of our resilience. The Pentagon is repaired, and filled with patriots working in common purpose.  Shanksville is the scene of friendships forged between residents of that town, and families who lost loved ones there.  New York — New York remains the most vibrant of capitals of arts and industry and fashion and commerce.  Where the World Trade Center once stood, the sun glistens off a new tower that reaches towards the sky.

Our people still work in skyscrapers.  Our stadiums are still filled with fans, and our parks full of children playing ball.  Our airports hum with travel, and our buses and subways take millions where they need to go.  And families sit down to Sunday dinner, and students prepare for school.  This land pulses with the optimism of those who set out for distant shores, and the courage of those who died for human freedom.

Saturday in his weekly radio address, speaking of the continuing threat of terrorism, the President said, “no matter what comes our way, as a resilient nation, we will carry on.”


We may be a resilient people, but after huge wildfires in Texas,  killer tornadoes in Joplin and Tuscaloosa, extraordinary flooding caused by Hurricane Irene and much more, the Disaster Relief Fund is just about depleted.  The worst of hurricane season is probably still ahead.  California’s wildfire season is just ramping up.  I wonder when the San Andreas, New Madrid, or another past-due fault will shift.

While we may be resilient, so — we are told — is our adversary.  Testifying Tuesday before the Senate Homeland Security Committee, Matt Olsen, the new Director of the National Counter Terrorism Center said,

Al-Qaida, its affiliates and adherents around the world, as well as other terrorist organizations, continue to pose a significant threat to our country. This threat is resilient and adaptive and will persist for the foreseeable future. America‘s campaign against terrorism did not end with the mission at Bin Ladin‘s compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan in May. A decade after the September 11th attacks, we remain at war with al-Qaida and face an evolving threat from its affiliates and adherents.

A variety of reports tell us there has been no resolution of the “credible” threat to Washington DC and New York announced in the days just before 9/11.   But on Sunday we did evidently kill Abu Hafs al-Shahri, a Saudi Arabian national who was chief of operations for al-Qaeda inside Pakistan.


According to Wednesday’s Report Regarding the Causes of the April 20, 2010 Macondo Well Blowout, resiliency was not readily found in the design, operations, or response to last years explosion, fire, and oil spill.

The loss of life at the Macondo site on April 20, 2010, and the subsequent pollution of the Gulf of Mexico through the summer of 2010 were the result of poor risk management, last minute changes to plans, failure to observe andrespond to critical indicators, inadequate well control response, and insufficient emergency bridge response training by companies and individuals responsible for drilling at the Macondo well and for the operation of the Deepwater Horizon.

Well… at least the BP stock price has been resilient.  Transocean and Haliburton too.


Resilience was once a radical reframing of homeland security strategy. Less than five years ago, a colleague passionately critiqued resilience as a dangerous, defeatist concept.  I argued resilience is how we productively work with uncertainty.

Arguments over definition (and implications) can still be heard, but resilience is — already — making the transition from provocation to platitude.    In too many speeches, editorials, memos, and blogs resilience has joined freedom, equality, love, and courage as meaning whatever the author wishes it to mean, especially if the author is advocating rigid, inflexible, and non-resilient notions.

I am reminded of Orwell’s essay on political language, “In the case of a word like democracy, not only is there no agreed definition, but the attempt to make one is resisted from all sides. It is almost universally felt that when we call a country democratic we are praising it: consequently the defenders of every kind of regime claim that it is a democracy, and fear that they might have to stop using that word if it were tied down to any one meaning. Words of this kind are often used in a consciously dishonest way. That is, the person who uses them has his own private definition, but allows his hearer to think he means something quite different.”

When authors of platitudes are allowed to persist, their audience shares responsibility. Meaningful principles devolve into platitudes through unquestioning, self-indulgent, unthinking consumption. Orwell again, “Our thoughts are foolish, but the slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts.”

As an antidote for foolish thinking about resilience, please give careful and critical attention to three recent considerations of resilience.  Each includes its own platitudes or worse, but when thoughtfully consumed each promises greater precision in how we think about and practice resilience.

Community Resilience Task Force Recommendations (2011), Homeland Security Advisory Council, Department of Homeland Security. “The  Task Force identified an urgent need for clear articulation of the relationships and dependencies between resilience and other homeland security  efforts—particularly preparedness and risk reduction.   Clarification of these relationships is crucial both to build shared understanding across diverse stakeholder communities and to motivate action throughout the Nation.”

Building Community Resilience to Disasters (2011) RAND and the US Department of Health and Human Services. “Community resilience entails the ongoing and developing capacity of the community to account for its vulnerabilities and develop capabilities that aid that community in (1) preventing, withstanding, and mitigating the stress of a health incident; (2) recovering in a way that restores the community to a state of self-sufficiency and at least the same level of health and social functioning after a health incident; and (3) using knowledge from a past response to strengthen the community’s ability to withstand the next health incident.”

Key Trends Driving Global Business Resilience and Risk (2011) IBM Global Technology Services. “Business resilience refers to the ability of enterprises to adapt to a continuously changing business environment. Resilient organizations are able to maintain continuous operations and protect their market share in the face of disruptions such as natural or man-made disasters. Business resilience planning is distinguished from enterprise risk management (ERM) in that it is more likely to build capacity to seize opportunities created by unexpected events. Another difference is that while ERM can be implemented as a management capability, an integrated business resilience strategy requires the engagement of everyone in the organization, and often means a change in corporate culture to instill awareness of risk.”

Bureaucratic writing is innately banal.  Authors — including yours truly — try to gin up with length or style an authority not achieved in substance.  Often we are busy trying to paper over unresolved conflicts and complexities.   This results, Orwell explains, in two recurring faults: “First, staleness of imagery; the other is lack of precision. The writer either has a meaning and cannot express it, or he inadvertently says something else, or he is almost indifferent as to whether his words mean anything or not. This mixture of vagueness and sheer incompetence is the most marked characteristic of modern English prose, and especially of any kind of political writing.”

The three documents listed above are not the worst examples of bureaucratic writing, but they share the sins of their species.  To nurture your critical reading with rich imagery and exacting precision, I suggest, You Think That’s Bad, a recent collection of Jim Shepard’s fiction.  Between each of the bureaucratic reports read at least one of the ten short stories.  Many in this collection struggle with issues of resilience.  I especially recommend, The Netherlands Lives with Water.

August 9, 2011

Homeland security and emergency management: Stuck in the minor league?

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on August 9, 2011

This is one of a series of posts considering the analysis and recommendations of Linda Kiltz in a recent edition of the Journal of Homeland Security and Emergency Management.


Linda Kiltz argues, “there can no longer be stove pipes and divisions between emergency management and homeland security practitioners and scholars as we educate and train professionals in these fields in the years ahead.”

A story: Perhaps three weeks after the first National Strategy for Homeland Security was released I was seated at a luncheon table with two individuals who identified themselves as leaders in the National Emergency Management Association.  Later I confirmed the self-identification as accurate.

Mostly to make conversation I offered something like, “Well then, you must be thrilled with the new homeland security strategy.”

It was soon clear they had no idea what I was talking about.

They expressed some (polite?) curiosity regarding the Strategy so I offered a few highlights.  It’s been nine years, but I almost certainly gave particular attention to the emergency preparedness and response elements, including:

  • Integrate separate federal response plans into a single all discipline incident management plan.
  • Create a national incident management system.
  • Enable seamless communication among all responders.
  • Prepare for chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear decontamination.
  • Plan for military support to civil authorities.
  • Build the Citizen Corps.
  • Build a national training and evaluation system. (Pages 42-45, July 2002, National Strategy for Homeland Security)

I closed with something like, “Sounds like the President just made emergency management one of the hottest careers around.”

Their response was rapid eye blinking and utter silence.

Two Cultures?

Dr. Kiltz describes serious cross-cultural complications that divide emergency management and homeland security.  That may well have been at play here.  My professional origins are not in emergency management.  I was talking to long-time real-world emergency managers.

Dr. Kiltz writes, “Because emergency management and homeland security education have evolved from very different historical contexts and academic disciplines, there will be on-going conflicts between the two that need to be resolved for multidisciplinary programs to be created and sustained in the long term. To overcome some of these conflicts between these two fields, scholars in the fields of emergency management and/or homeland security would need to expand their vision and adjust their paradigms to be more inclusive of the concepts, theories, practices and methodologies used by the different disciplines in these fields.”

Good idea.  Easier said than done, no doubt.  But still a good idea.  If all three of us had participated in such an education, perhaps our luncheon conversation would have been more productive.  What do you think, was our disconnect caused primarily by divergent academic paradigms?

Another story: In early 2008 this life-long Republican joined the Obama campaign’s homeland security advisory council.  A close friend served a similar role with the McCain campaign (whom I had supported in 2000, talk about burning bridges).  There were several big differences between the two groups.  For example, the Obama bunch was very much all-hazards oriented while the McCain group was mostly counter-terrorism focused.

But in terms of campaign dynamics the two panels shared a significant similarity:  When it came to competing with the National Security, Intelligence, and Foreign Policy campaign teams, Homeland Security mostly forfeited.  The big names and big ideas that mattered to each campaign were not associated with Homeland Security.   The only time I perceive the Obama HS advisory council got some first tier attention inside the campaign was when Hurricane Gustav threatened, and this was a very operational role.

On the Obama team were a wide-array of experienced, competent professionals and academics from emergency management, law enforcement, public health, counter-terrorism, cyber-management, and other disciplines. Several now have roles in the administration.  But none of us — not one — had the political, intellectual, or media power of several who focused on military, foreign policy, and intelligence issues.  We were not peers, not even near-peers.  The McCain Homeland Security squad was also a minor league team.

Linda Kiltz writes, “To provide well-educated professionals for the homeland security enterprise it is critical that academic programs in homeland security: (1) develop and implement a standardized curriculum with core functions and competencies that are inclusive of  emergency management, (2) evolve into new academic disciplines or stay grounded in a traditional academic discipline, and (3) utilize multidisciplinary approaches to teaching and learning.”

Once again, easier said than done, but this approach would generate benefits. Dr. Kiltz also lists and analyzes core competencies for both Emergency Management and Homeland Security and helpfully considers steps to reconcile the core competencies.

Unfortunately, I do not perceive any of this will produce homeland security near-peers with other national security leaders. Moreover, there is an instrumental and operational bias to the core competencies identified that I worry could undermine our actual competence to engage the toughest homeland security challenges.

Interdisciplinary or Multidisciplinary?

Dr. Kiltz carefully differentiates interdisciplinary from multidisciplinary and identifies several characteristics of an interdisciplinary education, including:

  • it fosters a problem-focused integration of information with more complex knowledge structures;
  • enhances critical thinking, creativity, and thinking and learning skills; and
  • provides a holistic approach in understanding complex problems…

These are precisely the advantages a wide range of national security mavens deploy and too few homeland security professionals can demonstrate. Regularly and robustly applying  these interdisciplinary skills would address a significant deficit in our substantive ability to engage complex homeland security problems.  A critical mass of homeland security leaders with meaningful interdisciplinary educations would also be able to engage other national security leaders as analytical and creative equals.

But Dr. Kiltz concludes, “Despite the benefits of interdisciplinary education, such an approach to homeland security is unrealistic at this time because the conditions necessary for such programs to succeed are too difficult to meet.”   The conditions she identifies are, indeed, very difficult to meet.  Besides the supposedly easier shift to multidisciplinary is far from guaranteed.  In my experience after two or three years most multidisciplinary programs descend to the quality of a truck stop’s buffet line… at 2 in the morning.

In any case, is even a good multidisciplinary curriculum good enough?  Are the wicked problems of homeland security susceptible to multidisciplinary ministrations?  Or do we require “a holistic approach in understanding complex problems”?  Is insisting on an interdisciplinary foundation a case of the best becoming an enemy of the good?  Or does the multidisciplinary approach only offer an illusion of progress?

Without a meaningful interdisciplinary core and cadre, I don’t see what added-value homeland security offers emergency management or, for that matter, the nation.  Certainly there are plenty of opportunities to improve around the edges.  But homeland security problems are big problems.  If we are serious about engaging the problems, we need to be more ambitious in how we educate our problem-solvers.

September 5, 2010

HSPDs RIP, please

Filed under: Strategy — by Philip J. Palin on September 5, 2010

Last night I heard from the third “reliable source” in two weeks that a decision has been made to replace the current collection of Homeland Security Presidential Directives (HSPDs) with much more concise and truly strategic Presidential Statements of Strategy or some other nomenclature to be decided. 

I hope these rumors are accurate.  It’s the right direction.  Like most previous administrations, the White House was stumbling into the trap of mistaking effective policy  guidance with operational micro-management.  Two of my three sources suggest a senior official finally recognized that this tendency– among other problems — is a colossal waste of time.

As reported previously, I am a life-long Republican who volunteered on candidate Obama’s Homeland Security Advisory Council.  My last assignment was to work with a set of state homeland security leaders to review and suggest a revision strategy for the HSPDs.   I am sure this work has been lost and long forgotten.  Not all the ideas were mine.  Several of the co-authors are now senior administration officials.  I think it is worth retrieving… and in the spirit of transparency promised during the campaign, here is the memo.

A Review of Current Homeland Security Presidential Directives and
 Recommendations for Action after January 20, 2009

SECOND DRAFT: December 11, 2008

Statement of the Problem

The twenty-four existing Homeland Security Presidential Directives (HSPDs) often obscure and complicate the identification and understanding of strategic priorities for Homeland Security.

Sources of the Problem

1.    Many of the HSPDs serve an interagency coordination function that has been superseded by creation of the Department of Homeland Security (e.g. enhanced INS and Customs cooperation).
2.    Many of the HSPDs are operational rather than strategic.  Moreover, the operational frameworks set-out may not be well-suited to current and emerging conditions and complicate strategic adaptation.
3.    Taken together the HSPDs give much more attention to response than to prevention, preparedness, or recovery.  Mitigation is seldom considered.
4.    Between the first HSPD in October 2001 to June’s publication of HSPD 24 there is increasing attention to threats other than terrorism.  Beginning with HSPD 5 (February 2003) a goal is articulated to be prepared for all-hazards (or “terrorist attacks, major disasters, and other emergencies”). But there is an ongoing threat-orientation as opposed to a risk-orientation.  This is inconsistent with the risk-based foundations of both the existing Homeland Security Strategy and the strategy signaled by President-elect Obama.
5.    There is no significant or sustained attention to resilience and the distinction between catastrophic risk and other risk is implicit at best.  The current collection of HSPDs offers a broad view of the threat horizon, but very little guidance as to strategic priorities along that horizon.
Proposed Approach for Engaging the Problem
The most serious problems with the current HSPDs will be resolved as the new administration releases its own strategic guidance for Homeland Security. The early publication of an explicit White House Homeland Security strategy will be crucial to giving the current HSPDs badly needed strategic context.
But especially because so many HSPDs have considerable operational implications there is a need for diligence in adapting the HSPDs to emerging needs and the new strategy.  Simple abrogation would cause difficult and sometimes unpredictable consequences. 
To clarify strategic priorities while avoiding operational discontinuities it is recommended that most current HSPDs be treated in one of three ways:
Affirm and Adapt: Six of the HSPDs focus on strategic goals that are coherent with those communicated by the President-elect during the campaign.  In most of these more-strategic HSPDs modest edits will be needed.  The one exception in this category is HSPD 8 which should be affirmed, but will need substantial adaptation.
Delegate and Revise: Twelve of the HSPDs focus on operational processes that will benefit from review, updating, possible revision, or other actions but should not require a renewed statement of Presidential priority-setting.  Homeland Security Council staff should work with their departmental colleagues to “devolve” these ongoing operational matters to the most effective structures outside the White House. Final devolution may be formalized through Presidential action.
Communicate Strategic Intent of Classified Documents:  This review does not address specific revisions to the six classified HSPDs. Declassified versions of these key statements of policy and strategy should be made available, as is the case with HSPD 4 and HSPD 10.  Given the nation’s risk environment it is critically important that there be substantive understanding across the law enforcement, fire service, public health, emergency management, related disciplines and the private sector regarding core strategic perspectives and goals.
The exception to these three categories is abrogation of HSPD 1.  This document sets out how the Homeland Security Council is organized. This should be replaced.  A draft replacement is attached as an annex to this review.

Monday: Specific Recommendations for each HSPD

January 30, 2010

Quadrennial Homeland Security Review: Update

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Christopher Bellavita on January 30, 2010

Going over my notes from last week’s House hearing on the Flight 253 event, I recalled Deputy DHS Secretary Jane Holl Lute saying DHS was finished with the QHSR, and that it was at the White House for coordination.

I believe next week the Homeland Security Advisory Council is meeting.  Perhaps they will be briefed on the Review.

And eventually so will Congress and regular people.

November 16, 2009

Homeland in a Haiku Pt 2 – Balancing Quick with Correct

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Jessica Herrera-Flanigan on November 16, 2009

In Early August I wrote Homeland in a Haiku, an entry about the Department of Homeland Security’s efforts to better utilize social media and new technologies in its efforts to promote homeland security and preparedness.  I was reminded of that piece this morning as I was reading CQ Homeland Security and came across Matt Korade’s story, Technology Makes Crisis Communication More, Not Less, Complicated.

Korade writes of the uptick of Tweets from people at Fort Hood, Texas after the shooting attack earlier this month in which Maj. Nidal Malik Hassan allegedly killed 13 people on base and wounded 30 others with a high-powered pistol.

The press, unable to get quick information from the government, turned to Twitter and other social media to get information.  Information that, written in the panic, may not have been accurate or complete.  As Korade reports, at a Friday forum sponsored by the Heritage Foundation and George Washington University’s Homeland Security Policy Institute, a panel of experts  discussed how the government faces challenges in crisis communications and how changing media is effecting how we communicate and respond to incidents –  both disaster and terrorist.

In the August piece, I noted that DHS, as it migrates to a social networking model, should seriously consider how to harness the power of the people to be advocates for preparedness or to spread information  on such things as evacuations, routes, and safety information. These individuals, after all, have created a mechanism – often trusted among their circle of friends – for spreading information quickly in a manner that outpaces traditional media.  How much more prevalent, for example, is it becoming for a tweet or facebook status update to report a current event before the “breaking news” emails of the traditional news outlets?

At the time I took a pass in tackling the challenges by noting that putting together such a system would keep the lawyers at DHS busy for awhile.  I also noted that there would be required some thought on how to counter gossip and panicked responses that might not be completely accurate, the situation that occurred at at Fort Hood.  In thinking about it more thoroughly, the only way to effectively take control of the situation is to become the conveyor of unfettered information in real time.  To gain this control, however, the government would have to lose control – control that is already eroding away in today’s “need to know now” landscape.

It would require a change in how the government, especially law enforcement, communicates with the public.  In an incident that involves quick response, the responders should be most concerned about the safety and security around the incident, rather than tweeting and updating.  If that incident is determined to be a crime, then revealing tons of details could be detrimental to an investigation, taint evidence, and potentially harm prosecutorial efforts down the line.  That said, it may be time to reconsider how information is released.  Obviously, the controlled press conferences of the past do not satisfy today’s needs.

Indeed, the use of social media to send out alerts was recently recommended by the Homeland Security Advisory Council in its recent assessment of the effectiveness of the color-coded system.  In its final report, the HSAC states:

# 14   Since 9/11, a revolution has upended media and communications; the Homeland Security Advisory System should stay current with the communications revolution and adopt an “all tools” approach in reaching the general public. In addition to conventional media, this approach should encompass:

  • New media generally (i.e. Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, Wikis, etc.)
  • Bloggers
  • Social media
  • Delivery through PDAs
  • Public sign up for online/PDA alerts

Quite simply, if there was a mechanism for the government or official entity to tweet and update more effectively and accurately it could supplant some of the more viral inaccurate communications out there. (Obviously, it is is never that simple).  To do so successfully, the government should enlist the private sector to help.  The Silicon Valley companies that helped create the social networking phenomenon “get” it and could be a great resource, as could the companies who have created on-demand response and communications systems. Some of these are already being utilized but a more comprehensive approach to building out a system or systems is in order.

October 19, 2009

The Long Blog: A strategy of resilience

Filed under: Strategy — by Philip J. Palin on October 19, 2009

For the next month — and no more —  I will focus my thrice-weekly posts (and perhaps some weekend bits) on how resilience might serve as an effective, long-term homeland security strategy.

This will be an exercise in serialized strategizing.  You are invited to contribute and critique the work-in-progress.  I expect — even hope — to find myself going down intellectual blind alleys and ending up in logical box canyons.  This is the value of writing and thinking out-loud.

It is often said that journalism is history’s first draft.  If so, blogging is a rough draft. 

To save time and effort — and to more fully invite your contributions — I will not do much refining as we go along.  If we end up with something worthwhile at the end, then we can attend to tightening and polishing. 

There is a ton of worthwhile source material for this effort.  But whatever I produce in the next thirty days will be especially influenced by the following:

The original 2002 National Strategy for Homeland Security.  There are always quibbles, but I thought Richard Falkenrath (principally) did the nation a substantive service in bringing this together.  I am much more critical of the 2007 update.  Even if you disagreed with the original, there was something coherent with which to disagree.  The update goes every which way. 

Beginning in February 2008 I worked with the Obama Homeland Security advisory council and several state and local leaders to draft a new homeland security strategy.  The campaign never took formal action on the full proposal (some portions ended up in speeches and such).  After the election I worked with a few others to produce a thirty-one page working draft of what emerged during the campaign ( linked here).

Our exchanges on resilience here at The Watch will inform whatever is produced in the next month.  There are several posts-with-comments on which I will draw.

Mr. Brennan comes to dinner (June 4)

Fundamentals of Resilience in Brief  (July 14)

Resilience as public policy: Moving from the individualistic to the systematic (July 19)

Choosing  the Cusp of Chaos (August 14)

The Case for Resilience (September 11)

Preparedness, Readiness, and Resilience (September 27)

Does Resilience have a fairy god-mother? (October 2)

Resilience and the Commons (October 12)

As a model for our ultimate product we will follow George Kennan’s Long Telegram.  Written early in 1946, this 2000 word analysis and set of recommendations had a signal influence on US Cold War strategy.  I am unlikely to achieve such cogency, but can aspire to it.

These twelve or so posts will be a long swan-song or —  given the extended character — a Wagnerian final aria.  Before Thanksgiving the fat lady will finish singing and I will hand-over The Watch to others.

My greatest regret regarding The Watch has been the very few occasions for real dialogue.  I am sure this mostly reflects my own style of writing.  I am inclined to obscure references, complicated metaphors, and premature pronouncements.  

In these last few weeks, I will try to avoid these off-putting behaviors. I expect to share uncertainty and lack of resolution.  I especially welcome your critical, questioning, and constructive contributions to seeking resolution.  If this remains a mostly personal product, it will not have much value.

It will also not have much value if I blog my opinion and others respond with their opinions.  That is, sadly, what mostly happened with public contributions to the QHSR… and what characterizes the vast majority of blogging.  Real dialogue requires a vital mix of humility and courage, restraint and generosity, listening and engaging what is heard. (How’s that for a pronouncement?)

If something strategically coherent emerges from a very public process of reasoning together… well, that would be news in itself.

June 12, 2009

Other than war, pandemic, and murder… how was your week?

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on June 12, 2009


Important developments this week to which HLSwatch had hoped to give more attention:

On Tuesday Craig Fugate testified on FEMA’s FY2010 Budget.  Documentation and a video of the House Appropriations Committee hearing is available online.  The Administrator’s prepared remarks give particular attention to intergovernmental and public-private collaboration. “FEMA will work even more closely with our partners in other federal agencies, states, territories, tribal nations, local governments, first responders, voluntary organizations, business, industry, and individuals. Included among these will be key partners who, though often critical to an effective response at the local level, are often on the outside looking in during response planning: local charitable organizations and health care delivery organizations. We need to ensure that these critical grassroots organizations are effectively integrated into our response planning and strategies.”

The New York Times reported that FEMA  officials, “are struggling to calculate the fiscal impact that climate change could have on the nation’s troubled public flood insurance program, amid predictions of intensifying downpours and more potent hurricanes. The mission is proving extremely difficult, according to one researcher, who said the effort so far has failed to reveal even ‘squishy assumptions’.”

Drug (war)lords continue their fight against the Mexican government.  Shoot-outs involved scores of fighters in Durango, Mexico’s third largest city, and Acapulco, perhaps its best known tourist destination. According to AFP, “US border czar Alan Bersin warned Mexico’s brutal drug cartels Tuesday that threats to target law enforcement officials on both sides of the border would be met by a ‘significant response.’  Bersin said a recent call by one cartel kingpin to ramp up violence against US and Mexican law enforcement agents was potentially of ‘grave significance’ and was being ‘taken seriously’ by the administration.

The cartel’s threat to US law enforcement is of particular concern given the deep roots of the criminal gangs in the United States.  The Department of Justice estimates Mexican drug organizations operate in 230 US cities.

DHS and the Justice Department  have announced further plans for curtailing drug transport along the Southern BorderABC News explains, “The new strategy aims to combat these cartels by establishing new channels of communication between involved agencies and utilizing new personnel and technologies to expand the amount of information available. It includes a call for increased prosecutorial and disruptive efforts, including the assignment of attorneys from the Department of Justice’s Violent Crime and Gang Unit to the southwest border and additional resources for the offices of southwest U.S. Attorneys.” (More from the Washington Post and you can access the complete Counternarcotics plan from the White House website.)

Important judicial proceedings this week included the conviction of Syed Haris Ahmed, a former Georgia Tech student,  in Atlanta.  The Judicial Committee of the House of Lords, the so-called “Law Lords,” largely rejected the use of secret evidence in the trials of suspected terrorists.  According Deutsche Welle, “Four suspected Islamist militants on trial for plotting to kill Americans in Germany have told a Duesseldorf court they are prepared to confess.”

Jane Harman, Chair of the Subcommittee on Intelligence, Information Sharing, and Terrorism Risk Assessment  of the House Homeland Security Committee, has proposed legislation to close down the National Applications Office.

A Senate hearing was held Wednesday on the nomination of Dr. Tara O’Toole to serve as DHS Under Secretary of Science and Technology.  Some have criticized Dr. O’Toole as an “alarmist” regarding bio-terrorist threats. (More from HSToday.) But despite some sustained questioning by Senators, confirmation still seems likely.

FEMA has extended its comment period on Criteria for Preparation and Evaluation of Radiological Emergency Response Plans and Preparedness in Support of Nuclear Power Plants.

Last week HLSwatch reported on the appointment of a new Homeland Security Advisory Council.  Since then considerable attention has been given the — admittedly unusual — pick of Jeff Moss, a well-known hacker.  Less has been said about other appointees, including the Governors of Maryland and Georgia, the mayor of Miami, the Sheriff of Los Angeles County, the Police Commissioner of the City of New York, President of the Navajo Nation, and several other public and private senior executives. Much has been said about more actively seeking the counsel of State, local, tribal, and private sector leaders.  HSAC members have the experience and political weight to provide very meaningful advice.  What is worth watching is whether or not these senior leaders will make the sustained investment of time and energy that is necessary to be more than a typical blue ribbon panel.

Of course there was even more — much, much more — and if you consider something worth immediate consideration or ongoing coverage, please add your issues using the comment function.

June 8, 2009

Homeland security this week

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on June 8, 2009

Following are a few Homeland Security events for the coming week.  For more information  access the embedded links.  Please use the comment function to identify other events you would like to bring to readers’ attention.  If you are attending or monitoring any of these events, please use the comment function to report out to the rest of us.

Monday, June 8

5:00 pm (eastern) Washington D.C. House Appropriations Committee, Subcommittee on Homeland Security will meet to mark-up the FY2010 DHS appropriations bill.

2:00 pm (eastern) Washington D.C.  Brookings Institution hosts a status report on the situation in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

3:00 pm (eastern) Washington D.C. Woodrow Wilson International Center hosts a panel discussion on US-Mexican relations.

Tuesday, June 9

2009 Urban Area Security Initiative Conference opens in Charlotte, North Carolina and continues through Thursday.

Governors’ Homeland Security Advisory Council meets in Arlington, Virginia.

10:00 am (eastern) Washington D.C. House Committee on Homeland Security, Subcommittee on Emergency Communications Preparedness and Response will hold a hearing on the 2010 FEMA budget.

2:00 pm (eastern) Washington D.C.House Committee on Homeland Security, Subcommittee on Emerging Threats, Cybersecurity and Science and Technology will hold a hearing on the 2010 DHS budget.

Wednesday, June 10

10:00 am (eastern) Washington D.C. Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs will hold a hearing to consider two DHS nominations.

2:00 pm (eastern) Washington D.C. House Committee on Homeland Security, Subcommittee on Transportation Security and Infrastructure Protection will hold a hearing on the 2010 DHS budget.  (Appears on DHS schedule but not Committee schedule, worth re-confirming.)

Thursday, June 11

10:00 am (eastern) Washington D.C. House Committee on Homeland Security, Subcommittee on Border, Maritime and Global Counterterrorism will hold a hearing on the 2010 DHS budget.

Friday, June 12

3:00 pm (eastern) Washington D.C. Center for Strategic and International Studies hosts a review and discussion on cybersecurity with Melissa Hathaway.

June 5, 2009

Four Friday morning briefs

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on June 5, 2009

Later this morning Secretary Napolitano will meet with the new Homeland Security Advisory Council in Albuquerque (10:00 mountain).  The PSD-1 recommendations include “enhancing” the role and influence of advisory councils as a way of better ensuring the involvement of State, local, tribal, and private-sector leaders in policy-making.  You can follow the meeting via a new social media tool being deployed by DHS at http://www.ustream.tv/channel/nmspirg-hsac

Yesterday the Associated Press reported, “The Obama administration’s pick for a top intelligence post at the Homeland Security Department has ties to the CIA’s harsh interrogation program, a congressional aide said. This could become an issue during Philip Mudd’s confirmation hearing, which is expected next week. Mudd was nominated to be under secretary of intelligence and analysis at Homeland Security.”

While yours truly, in particular, has been obsessing about resilience, other issues relevant to Homeland Security have certainly been popping.  In Case of Emergency, Read Blog is a good complement to HLSwatch.  This week the coverage there includes an exclusive look at Mike Chertoff’s new book.

Among  several other matters not covered since May 26 is the nomination hearing of Rand Beers as DHS Under Secretary for National Preparedness and Protection.  I appreciate William R. Cumming asking about it.  The hearing was conducted on June 2.  The Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs has an archived video of the 105 minute hearing. Prepared statements and testimony are also available for review. Chairman Lieberman gave notice that his priorities for the NPPD include, cybersecurity, critical infrastructure, target hardening, visa policy and enforcement, and chemical security.  I heard — or recognized — no surprises in the testimony or inquiries.  Toward the middle of the hearing, Mr. Beers explained that, without a statutory reorganization, he will — when confirmed — be “in charge” of all DHS cybersecurity operations, as has been reported elsewhere.

May 30, 2009

Designing the National Security Staff and the Resilience Policy Directorate

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on May 30, 2009

The President’s statement on the creation of the new National Security Staff references standing up a White House Resilience Policy Directorate.  In their remarks at the Homeland Security Policy Institute the co-chairs of the PSD-1 study identified this Directorate as a potential “center of gravity” for state, local, tribal, and private-sector involvement in homeland security policy.

Next week — and perhaps for a few weeks — I hope we can give this concept some sustained attention and discussion.  In his HSPI comments Randy Beardsworth, one of the study’s co-chairs,  applied an architectural metaphor.   Adapting the metaphor to my purposes, the President’s decision has initiated building of  a new policymaking structure.  The President’s decision and the PSD-1 Review have identified several functional requirements for the the new structure and offer a rough rendering of an architectural concept for the final structure.

The actual form of the structure is far from finalized.  There are no detailed blueprints.  But the carpenters are on site and at work even this weekend.  You and I — and our neighbors — will reside in whatever structure emerges.  

The next few weeks will be the best opportunity we have for offering our thoughts on how the structure is built-out.  I expect the property developers (John Brennan, General Jones, President Obama, et al) might  appreciate some principled, practical, and considered advice.  They clearly listened during the PSD-1 study, they are likely to continue listening if we write with some clarity and insight.

The advice most likely to be considered will reflect the goals set out by the President and reflect prior discussions that produced the current architectural concept.  For this purpose here is a reading list.   Please review:

Presidential Study Directive 1

The President’s statement on creation of the National Security Staff.

Listen to and watch the PSD-1 briefing at the Homeland Security Policy Institute.

The Homeland Security Advisory Council report on Critical Infrastructure and the HSAC’s report on the Top Ten Challenges, giving particular attention to Challenge 7 focused on resilience.

Steve Flynn’s Foreign Affairs piece (or book) on resilience.

The Reform Institute’s report on Building a Resilient Nation.

The House Homeland Security Committee’s collection of testimony on resilience: May 6, 2008May 7, 2008, May 14, 2008, and  May 15, 2008.

The National Preparedness Leadership Initiative at Harvard has also explored the key role of leadership — and especially meta-leadership — in the emergence of resilient capabilities and capacity. 

Please use the comment function to add to this reading list.

Below Chris Bellavita thinks out loud about how we create the future.  He does not say so, but I will add that too often destructive cynicism is mistaken for intelligent commentary.  Analysis — the breaking apart of knowledge —  can be a first step in the creation of new knowledge.  But analysis alone is deadening.  Analysis should be the servant of creativity.  Please read Chris’ piece on the value of imagination and appreciative inquiry.  I hope our consideration of resilience — and the new policymaking structure — will feature analysis, appreciative inquiry, imagination, and creativity.

June 26, 2008

Technology Task Force Presents 7 Recommendations to Chertoff

Filed under: Business of HLS,Organizational Issues,Technology for HLS — by Jonah Czerwinski on June 26, 2008

I’ve covered the work of the DHS Essential Technology Task Force here and here, and yesterday the ETTF reported out its final recommendations to the Secretary during the public portion of the HSAC’s bi-annual meeting with the Secretary.

The Secretary of Homeland Security tasked the Homeland Security Advisory Council with establishing an Essential Technologies Task Force (ETTF) to address the following questions:

• What are the legal, financial and operational issues that must be understood to assess whether and to what extent DHS should acquire various types of technology on a service or lease basis, rather than as a purchase/capital investment?

• What types of technology might be considered as candidates for different approaches?

• What types of financial arrangements would the private sector likely be prepared to accept, and how should DHS assess the pros and cons of each?

IBM’s Scott Gould and I were among those invited to testify before the Task Force. On the two occasions that I presented to them, my testimony focused on key attributes of successful technology acquisition from other parts of the USG, as well as opportunities for DHS to collaborate with international partners for joint technology development, the models for which reside at the EU, NATO, and elsewhere.

Both Scott and I made the point that without an overarching framework to guide a Department-wide acquisition strategy, little progress is likely. Scott actually recommended using the Global Movement Management framework as a model, which the Task Force chose to include as a specific example in their final report. That report described in detail the following seven top-level recommendations:

1. Build a high performance acquisitions and program management function implemented by capable staff.

2. Adopt a rigorous Department-wide requirements management process.

3. Develop a Department-wide acquisition strategy with a clear implementation plan.

4. Improve engagement with the private sector.

5. Manage innovation though a variety of approaches.

6. Use the regulatory and standards setting role of DHS to generate economies of scale across stakeholder domains.

7. Continue to advocate for the reduction of homeland security Congressional committees.

The Secretary stayed only to delivery praise to the Task Force and swear in three new members to the HSAC. He left before ETTF chairman George Vradenburg delivered his presentation on the Task Force’s findings. This is unfortunate. The ETTF is another example of how the HSAC is becoming a more focused and more useful advisory entity to the DHS leadership. Kudos to Chuck Adams and Amanda Rittenhouse for their tireless efforts over the last several months in leading the Task Force’s staff team.

Before he left, Chertoff charged the HSAC membership with one more task: “What are the ten tasks for the next Administration to take up and accomplish over its first year or two?”

It seemed odd to charge this group with something so trite. However, he explained, rightly, that it is important that efforts be made to preserve the institutional knowledge of the Department into and through its first ever Presidential transition.

I’d like to know what you think should make the top ten list. Comment below.

June 25, 2008

DHS Policy Office ’09 Funding Suffers, Strategy Document in Question

Filed under: Budgets and Spending,Strategy — by Jonah Czerwinski on June 25, 2008

The Senate’s version of the FY 2009 spending bill to fund DHS actually provides less funding for the Office of Policy than the Bush Administration requested. The Policy Office was created after Secretary Chertoff came to office as part of his Second Stage Review. Most everyone welcomed the move as only overdue. Today, the Policy Office is a cross-cutting entity operating out of the Office of the Secretary with portfolios such as Policy Development, Strategic Plans, International Relations, Immigration Statistics, and Private Sector engagement, and it houses the Homeland Security Advisory Council.

It is a critical Department function that may someday serve as vital a role as its counterpart at the Defense Department. Like DoD, DHS now creates a strategic assessment of its policies, plans, priorities, and goals for a four-year window. The Pentagon calls it the Quadrennial Defense Review, and DHS is now at work on its first ever Quadrennial Homeland Security Review. The QDR is an influential document that benefits from senior leadership buy-in, Congressional support, and sweat from across the Defense community. The QHSR is off to a rough start.

The FY08 appropriations act funded the QHSR with only $1,500,000. (An additional $150,000 was assigned to the CFO’s office to support the QHSR.) Nearly all of that funding is being spent on contractor support to help the Office of Policy write the QHSR. The current Senate FY09 bill takes DHS to task for this:

The [Senate] Committee [on Appropriations] is concerned that almost the entire request of $1,500,000 for the QHSR is for contractor support even though many of the functions intended for contractors are inherently governmental. Contracting out the job of long-term planning and goal setting undermines the mission and purpose of this Department. Requiring agencies to work together to develop long-term goals was one of the intended benefits of the creation of the Department. Therefore, funds for contractor support shall only be used for administrative and clerical tasks in support of the QHSR.

The Committee is right to be concerned about outsourcing such a critical initiative as the first QHSR. However, blame can be shared. The Defense Department QDR is funded at nearly 10x the amount given to DHS, and the Pentagon leadership is heavily invested in supporting the QDR drafting process with staff from across the services and the civilian leadership. The DHS Policy Office is being given a pittance to perform this QHSR the right way, but the Policy Office is also not supported by the DHS leadership sufficiently to gain the DHS-wide support necessary to staff it up.

In my meetings with Chertoff this year I’ve asked about the QHSR nearly every time. His response indicates a downplayed priority. It could be because the QHSR will benefit the next Administration more than the current one, but the process needs to be institutionalized and supported for the long-term success of the Department. Let’s hope that over the course of the appropriations negotiations we see an elevated profile – as well as higher funding – for the QHSR initiative.

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