Recently CQ Homeland Security did a wrap-up story on the House Homeland Security Committee’s series of hearings on the topic of “resiliency.” The hearings were an effort by the Committee’s Chairman, Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-MS), to highlight the serious economic effects that we create when we focus exclusively on the “detect-prevent” side of homeland security and short-change the “respond-recover” aspect.

The hearings produced a lot of great information that should be seriously considered by Congress as it weighs FY09 authorization and appropriations legislation. With luck, some of the staffers who attended will make the time to summarize the testimony for the Members who were unable to hear from some exceptional witnesses. In fact, Republican Member attendance at these hearings was abysmal.

This would be an embarrassment if it were possible to embarrass Members of Congress anymore given the aftermath of Rep. Vito Fosella’s (R-NY) midnight rides and Rep. Laura Richardson’s (D-CA) mortgage meltdown. But voters rarely know when Members bail out of or skip committee hearings, and schedules are crowded, to be sure.

The reference in the CQ story that caught my eye, however, was the comment of the Committee’s Ranking Member, Peter King (R-NY), about the hearings themselves:

“Ranking Republican Peter King of New York agreed that the hearings addressed a worthy topic, but he added that he wants the committee’s oversight focus to move back to assessing serious threats.

“Resiliency is important, and we all need to be doing more to make sure we’re prepared in the event of an attack,” he said. “However, I hope that as a committee we go back to examining the threats against our nation. This year we have not held a single hearing on the threat of nuclear terrorism, al Qaeda operatives within the United States, or the vulnerabilities on the northern border.”

Move back to assessing serious threats?  Really!

I am sure that Rep. King, with whom I normally agree on most things (ok, on most things other than his assertions that New York deserves a greater share of the homeland security pie based on his view of what “risk based assessments” should be) meant no harm in his statement.  But it seemed that if the story was accurate, he just does not get the importance and seriousness of being more resilient as a nation.

As witness after witness explained, the inability to recover quickly after an incident should not be attributed to the incident that caused the damage, whether it is a terrorist attack or  natural disaster, but rather stems from the damage that we inflict upon ourselves. It is the classic Pogo cartoon line, “We have met the enemy and it is US!”

Several years ago, RAND Corporation released a study that said the ability to recover quickly after a terrorist incident had, in and of itself, a deterrent effect on the choice of targets by terrorists. In London, the authorities learned after the IRA bombings that the city’s ability to get back to a semblance of normalcy quickly had a deterrent effect on future bombings. Even former Republican presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani helped stem the crime rate in New York City by instituting a resiliency program where broken windows were repaired and graffiti was removed as promptly as possible. The result was that people felt safer in their neighborhoods and crime decreased, thereby improving the economic stability of neighborhoods and the city as a whole.

If Rep. King does not believe that the lack of resiliency is a “serious threat” to our nation, to our economy, to our people and to our way of life, perhaps the new Governor of Louisiana and rumored Vice-Presidential candidate Bobby Jindal (himself a former Member of Congress) should invite him to visit those thousands of acres of empty land in the state that once served as places where people lived, worked and played. They are vacant today solely because the people and governments have been unable to recover from the destruction caused by Hurricane Katrina.

It is a very serious issue, Rep. King. We would be better off as a nation if you and your colleagues on both sides of the aisle in Congress started treating it that way.

David Olive focuses his blogging primarily on the “business of homeland security” — the interaction of the private sector with the Department of Homeland Security and other national security agencies. Read More