Thursday, July 15, 2010

EM/HS Priorities

From time to time I am asked what DHS departmental priorities should be and also as to what FEMA's priorities should be. So here goes.

DHS was established on three premises. First that WMD domestic response needed to be upgraded and made superb and that efforts to do this had so far not been accomplished. Second, developing DOMESTIC INTEL policies, and working the delicate tradeoffs between civil liberties, privacy and need for domestic intel. The history of Counter INTEL PRO in the Nixon era still haunts this subject as it should. And of course although they never admit it the FBI has always conducted domestic spying. Third, developing, implementing and operating a system of security for the world of cyber attacks and defensive efforts. The rest was just to justify cabinet status including rolling FEMA into the mix. The Hart-Rudman Commission had recommended an agency not a department and improved WHITE HOUSE (WH) organization and efforts. I would give a grad of D- on all of the above in the over 8 years DHS has been in business. With over 800 politically vetted positions the most one can say is that DHS has helped out the economy.

FEMA is a different story. Stripped of funds and staffs under the George W. Bush Administration which then paid the piper in Hurricane Katrina there is now a larger FEMA but not necessarily a new or more skilled or competent FEMA.

AS currently constituted and with its actual delegations of authority clouded by inadequate Departmental delegations FEMA's priorities should be the following:
  1. Figuring out its role in non-declared (under Stafford Act) catastrophes. And by the way the DRF (Disaster Relief Fund)has been utilized several times to my knowledge even where no declaration. The problem at the moment is the DRF is out of money until supplemented by Congress.
  2. Dealing with the long expected impacts politically of expanding the federally designated 1% annual occurrence floodplains with their mandate of federal flood insurance purchase by an average of 30%. This was in fact just a corrective mapping effort based largely on better contour data (elevation data--NGVD, MSL, etc) which was manipulated to erroneously shrink the flood plains in the past. There are two quick fixes that could help the NFIP. First eliminate definition A-2 in the NFIP policy. Second make sure no coverage is provided where the hazard is NOT mapped.
  3. Figure out how the new FEMA fits into the current domestic civil crisis management response and recovery system and chain of command.
  4. Figuring out if the FEMA regions are operational units in disasters or administrative support to the FCOs and document this determination through delegations, staffing and funding.
  5. Figuring out what to do about the enormous reduction in capability being undergone at STATE and local government. This would include the first really tough analysis of capability of the STATES and LOCALS.
  6. Figuring out exactly what the capability of various agencies and departments are to do their already assigned jobs by statute or executive order or agreement to plans.
  7. Try and develop processes and system so that the diminished capacity of the NGO's due largely to funding problems can be accommodated.
  8. Finally just telling the truth to the DHS Secretary, other departments and agencies and the President. FEMA is not a regulatory entity so it needs to take some care in criticizing other organizations when its own capability is unknown.
  9. FEMA needs to get the WH to revise a number of HSPDs that adversely impact crisis response and slow it down.
  10. Finally it needs to get a firm statutory charter either for itself or someone else in the realm of domestic civil crisis management and response.
Any other activities can be given benign neglect but there is one element of FEMA that needs to pull its weight in major policy and that is the US Fire Administration currently again without a leader confirmed by the Senate. The problem is that the Fire Service in the US really has never lived up to its potential and the country needs to find out why and in a hurry. My suggestion is a Presidential Commission examining exactly how the 2.2 million professionals and volunteers might be leveraged better as a national asset.

With all the speeches given by the Secretary DHS, her staff, and the Administrator FEMA count all those that focused on substantive priorities.