Thursday, June 17, 2010

Managing the White Space in Homeland Security and Incident Management

I decided to take a break for a few weeks to reflect on the breathtaking activities that have transpired over the past 4-6 weeks.

I had been focused on the QHSR Strengthening the Enterprise strategy, Bottoms up review and the coordination of the Public Safety and Engineering communities in Resilience. Suddenly the Gulf Oil spill and the departure of DNI Dennis Blair caused me to step back and pause so I could try to grasp what was happening.

I shared with someone recently why I believe there has been a significant shift in Homeland Security over the past 2 years. The shift actually has nothing to do with the change in Administrations, but with a natural cycle of events. It revolves around three critical issues that stem from the fact that the novelty of Homeland Security has worn off:

1. Homeland Security is a horizontal process not a vertical function. The very hard work ahead is developing concepts like resilience into real actions.

2. There really isn't significant money to be made in managing the horizontal especially in the security domain. Americans want and value security, but will not pay excessive amounts for it.

3. You can't keep throwing money unconstrained at an issue that is competing with other priorities.

So that leads to the issue of Managing the White Space in Homeland Security.

I believe that Homeland Security at its core is about managing the white space.

For example, in my opinion to be effective as DNI you have to strip out the overhead and focus on managing the network. That is a difficult task for senior officials who are accustomed to being in charge with line responsibility. The role as senior intelligence advisor is to provide the President with the recommendations and staff work that he or she needs to provide direction. That is easier said than done. It requires a different style of leadership that is in short supply.

The Gulf Oil Spill is another example of a system that is still under development. I believe that the spill and subsequent response is a case study for the review of Homeland Security Presidential Directive (HSPD)-5, the National Incident Management System (NIMS), and the National Response Framework (NRF). It may well be that the law establishes the Coast Guard and EPA as the lead agencies, but what happened to the Joint Field Office (JFO) concept defined in the NRF. This was declared a spill of national significance weeks ago. 40 CFR provides the authority for who is in charge, but shouldn't that be in the context of NIMS and the NRF?

The Emergency Management community and the House's T and I Committee have been saying for 5 years since Katrina that there was no need for a Principal Federal Official (PFO) during an incident. They also have said that all incidents are emergencies. Unfortunately this isn't a Stafford Act incident, but isn't this an incident that is an emergency?? Why haven't we organized around the NRF.

After this incident is under control, we should do of a sober review of NIMS, HSPD-5, and the NRF. When that happens, it should be done with a recognition that there will always be white space in these situations and hopefully we will move past the parochial interests and recognize that we need to plan for the worst and hope for the best.

More to come in the weeks ahead.

Thanks for checking in,