I have long been an advocate of a cooperative and collaborative culture for EM as opposed to a top-down Command and Control culture. There may well be reasons for that cultural approach also to apply to DHS generally but my focus here is on FEMA. Cooperation and collaboration in a federal system would seem to be a given but because of failures of the field of Political Science and Public Adminstration to really analyze the effectiveness of different approaches to the "wicked" issues of crisis management, resilience, and other aspects of large scale incidents and events the cupboard is largely bare when practioners are faced with documenting the basics of developing or implementing or running a cooperative and collaborative culture.
In my twenty years in FEMA from 1979 to 1999 I was always amazed at the stovepipes in the organization, some of which almost destroyed FEMA. Examples, the national security effort, and attempts to be a major policy player in that arena by at least one FEMA Director, were often undercut by efforts to enhance FEMA authority vis a vis other departments and agencies in the civil agency structure. This usually took the route of trying to impose FEMA as the answer to the "who is in charge" question even while trying to avoid by plausible deniability that was the intent of programmatic officals. Now this may come as a surprise to some who always argued that the civil programs of FEMA were undercut by the national security types. That did happen occassionally but less often than you might imaging. The national security personnel in FEMA were just trying to be at the table on major national security issued impacting domestic affairs, not dictate or even be a policy leader. And of course as briefed in previous posts, one of the great smoke and mirrors efforts of all times, was the use of the federal civil defense program, which did not include COOP or COG, as the FEMA lead on national security issues. It never was and never would be for a variety of reasons. The real national security driver in FEMA was always COG and COOP. Well my effort here is to try and explain briefly the lack of skill and competence of the other FEMA programs, functions, and activities when dealing with the WH and other departments and agencies on policy development, implementation, and operations.
The concept of the FCO imbedded in the Disaster Relief Act of 1974 [Public Law 93-288] was a reflection of the success of the first real FCO in history. That person was Associate Director of OMB Frank Carlucci, who incidentally was principle drafter of Reorganization Plan No. 1 of 1973 breaking up the former OEP [Office of Emergency Preparedness]! Carlucci and Donald Rumsfeld also active in the Nixon Administration as Director of the Cost of Living Council leading the wage-price-rent freeze announced in 1971 and Ambassador to NATO, were wrestling buddies from Princeton Univesity days. Both of course went on to become SECDEFs with Rumsfeld doing that trick twice.
To continue the story. Carlucci during Hurricane/Tropical Storm Agnes was the go-to guy for the President and his clout was revealed when essentially he fired George Romney for failing to accomplish housing policy during the aftermath of Agnes in the Lycoming Valley of Pennsylvania.
So the concept got imbedded in the 1974 Disaster act. I always aggravated FEMA and its former disaster predecessor agency by arguing for a regulation concerning delegations to the FCO and an effort to address his/her powers and authority and responsibilities. That still has not really been done adquately. And of course I further aggravated the powers that be in that I stated my position was that FCO's were WH appointees, perhaps sometimes delegated to the Director of FEMA, but that the WH could make non-FEMA or non-FDAA personnel FCOs!
And then the problems with PFO concept arose out of HSPD-5 and Hurricane Katrina. This still has not been resolved to my satisfaction but that is not my story here. The FCO concept you would think would be regarded as a cooperative and collaborative position since the word "coordinating" has its place in the term. Yet the Carlucci model, more command and control still tends to predominate. What most don't realize is that NIXON gave Carlucci such huge bureacratic power and leaway was because he had bigger chips on the table in 1972 but did not want the Agnes effort to become a katrina like effort in that election year. Besides he and Kissinger has some traveling to do including kowtowing to the leaders of the Middle Kingdom! Carlucci's real job was to make sure that NIXON did not lose votes, not the first or last time that disaster operations have had a political flavor. And Agnes was a huge huge event. Crossing multiple states from the GOM to upstate NY.
What I found interesting is that FCO's only had formal training under Director James Lee Witt. I briefed two groups of them on their legal authority as FCOs and to some degree this post reflects that briefing. I was never asked back after those two sessions. Oddly, numerous members of those two groups later told me I gave the best briefing they ever recieved in their entire time as FCO's. Well these were largely GS-15s so perhaps they were more limited in background then some I briefed.
And of course the relationships between FCO's and FEMA Regional Directors has never been worked out to my satisfaction.
By what really fascinated me was when I was brought into the General Counsel's office to discuss the issue of whether FEMA could direct another federal agency or department to do something. An early independent FEMA GC had opined that FEMA could even direct the DOD to do things in a disaster. Of course there is authority for the President to direct other federal agencies to do things in a declared disaster or emergency [even without reimbursement] and in a highly technical sense that authority was delegated in the past to the independent FEMA's Directors, and now to the Secretary DHS. But in reality most agencies budgets are so tight that they cannot carry out mission assignments without reimbursement and in fact DOD is on record as refusing absolutely to do so. Of course if a President pushed that might be different in the short run but my guess is that authority is meaningless because money is what disaster relief is all about. And perhaps accurate information also.
So when invited with no time for preparation to a largely confrontational meeting in the GC's office with very senior appointees and program officials I was asked to expound on these topics. So never reluctant to leap into the fray and say what I actually thought here was my position:
Mission assignements were largely to be administered as cooperative and collaborative efforts. The task or mission or goal was to be laid out for the accepting department or agency but they using their expertise and skill set were free to design exactly how they were going to do it and to do it that way without being second guessed by FEMA. And more important that FEMA and the FCO's had absolutely NO authority to direct the specifics of how another department or agency accomplished their mission assignments. By the way the FCO classes I taught all breathed a sign of relief when I told them this position. I equated mission assignments to the fact that most federal agencies had no authority to recommend or promote a specific product or company as meeting their requirements. Instead, departments and agencies that were given standard setting authority, and DHS and FEMA have almost no authority to do that, had to indicate what performance standard was adquate and the various vendors and contractors were free to meet that standard any way they could. Clearly there are some cases where specific product testing does occur in the federal government, in particular FDA for both ethical drugs and medical devices.
For the purposes of the meeting described, and training sessions, there appeared to be some nodding of heads to my verbiage. In fact to my knowledge, despite as always my request that the issues raised be discussed and resolved preferably in writing still wander ghost like through FEMA and DHS today.
And despite the fact that wrestling is masked as a team sport it is IMO a highly individual sport and not one in which collaboration and cooperation is highly regarded. So much for Don and Frank!