August 11, 2007
A Hell of a Way to Dictate Security
By Jim Freeman
Or a disaster response management program. Competence may be the only thing a successful presidential candidate need promise us in 2008. Honesty we can get around, it’s become almost a national culture to be crooked. Ethical is beyond our wildest hopes. But if this two-term administration has left us gasping on the pavement, pounding our fists in frustration, it is mostly for the sake of plain and simple missing competence.
Can’t anyone get anything at all right?
Buffoons at the White House and goofballs at Homeland Security have drafted something called the National Response Plan. A truly catchy name, which they no doubt chose because there was no plan behind the national response to Katrina and Congress got on their butts.
Now you would think, in the snake-bit environment within the currently embattled White House, that prudence would dictate a sit-down with the fifty disaster-response officials of the fifty states that make up this great nation to craft something that works. Not a chance. Prudence was among the missing. Cover-your-ass was high on the agenda, in spite of the call by congressional investigators for a shared overhaul—shared in this case meaning direct input from the states.
"In my 19 years in emergency management, I have never experienced a more polarized environment between state and federal government," said Albert Ashwood, Oklahoma's emergency management chief and president of a national association of state emergency managers. (Washington Post)
Disregarding any such logic, the White House prepared a top-down plan for a bottom-up problem. When stuff happens, whether it be a forest-fire, bridge collapse, flood, hurricane or terrorist event, the initial response (and responsibility) is always local and immediate. Then comes the call to the governor. Then the appeal to federal authority.
The disaster of Katrina response certainly put the lie to any purpose for a federal-first response.
Michael (helluva job) Brown, who got hung with the rap for a largely DHS bungled Katrina response, blamed just such a know-it-all attitude for the planning that caused havoc and needless deaths in New Orleans. Brown claims that an unworkable federal plan was "rammed down the throats of first responders, mayors and governors" in 2005 and then disastrously disproved by Katrina.
"How many times does it take Washington to realize that state and local governments are the first responders and we should rely on their expertise, their knowledge and work with them as partners?" Brown asked.
Hard to say, Mike. But they are apparently at it again, according to WaPO;
DHS Deputy Secretary Michael P. Jackson, who is preparing the new draft with Joel Bagnal, the White House deputy assistant for homeland security, said in May that the old plan was "impenetrable" and that a rewrite was necessary so that "people can use it and train to it and understand it at a governor's level, at a mayor's level, at the level of a congressman."
The new draft, which was released publicly only after it was leaked to Congressional Quarterly, states that it is a simplified but "essential playbook" that describes various responsibilities of government executives, private-sector business and nongovernmental leaders and operators. Acknowledging that its directives exceed current capabilities, however, the framework commits the federal government to developing later actual strategic and operational plans.
No irony intended, but directives that exceed current capabilities are almost the hallmark of the Bush administration. Why would anyone expect that to change? Left to each legislator’s individual interpretation is what Jackson may have had in mind when he 'did a rewrite to be understood at the level of a congressman.' Is that above or below an eighth-grader, Mike?
John R. Harrald, a professor at George Washington University's Institute for Crisis, Disaster and Risk Management, cautioned that shutting out state and local voices during the plan's preparation would be ill-advised. He said that the administration appears "to be guided by a desire to ensure centralized control of what is an inherently decentralized process. (WaPo)
Chertoff’s Department of Homeland Security came into being as a rash judgment on the ass of a terrified Congress, spooked by 9-11 and desperate to show that they were doing something. The doing something rather than thinking a problem through, produces layering. I propose that layering is second only to incompetence in the factors that have laid (or layered) low this administration.
The FBI once functioned with a certain inexorable precision in the days when it had a director who brooked no challenges. I doubt any of us would willingly go back to the iron-fisted and intimidating days of J. Edgar Hoover, yet the FBI trains certainly ran on time. Likewise, the CIA in times when it had operatives on the ground in countless countries, laid a far more accurate finger on the terrorist pulse throughout the world.
Rather than honing and sharpening those national and international blades, curtailing their excesses and enhancing their shortfalls, the Congress and several presidents opted to layer. In the largest government reorganizational boondoggle in fifty years, DHS slid out of the congressional womb, with over 220,000 employees and a $45 billion annual budget.
220,000 chances to lose a paper behind the desk, fail to communicate between structures and miss threat indications. In its myriad structure, a minute portion of DHS supports a
* Division Director for Explosives
* Division Director for Chemical/Biological
* Division Director for Command, Control & Interoperability
* Division Director for Borders & Maritime Security
* Division Director for Human Factors
* Division Director for Infrastructure & Geophysical
During the next 'event,' in all the misery, smoke, panic and misunderstanding, who do we call? GhostBusters? DHS is what happens when there is no abortion-policy for failed legislation. Government operating as it does (and has), this rash on the ass of rational governance will no doubt be with us for decades. In the meantime, it substantially impedes our national security.
In the White House's after- action report in February 2006, President Bush's homeland security adviser, Frances Fragos Townsend, called the National Response Plan overly complicated, Washington-driven and filled with "enough government acronyms and jargon to make your head spin."
"We need to rewrite the National Response Plan so it is workable and it is clear," she said. "We will draw from the expertise at the state and local levels to ensure that we get it right."
You hit it on the head, Frances. But the criticism isn’t deep enough. The entire fabric of this interagency suit the Congress has devised by layering has become unwearable.
That would be merely inconvenient and expensive, if it wasn’t so dangerous.
Authors Website: www.opinion-columns.com
Authors Bio: Jim Freemanâ€™s op-ed pieces and commentaries have appeared in The New York Times, Chicago Tribune, International Herald-Tribune, CNN, The New York Review, The Jon Stewart Daily Show and a number of magazines.