Our country has a system that creates an odd environment in Washington D.C. and its vicinity. As an administration ends or goes through a transition (as in by-year elections), people change out jobs. Individuals with experience and expertise leave government and move back to the private sector. In some cases they take jobs vacated by some of those who have replaced them in Government in Think Tanks, and in Academia. Others join the ranks of consultants. These individuals attempt to make a living giving advice and counsel to commercial companies and other entities in two ways. One is to help these entities to deal more effectively with the Federal Government. The other is to provide advice on how to directly address the issues with which they most recently worked in Government.
Homeland Security and Emergency Management is a prime example. There are a plethora of fine companies available in the DC area which portray themselves as experts in Homeland Security and related issues. Most are fairly recent arrivals. Some were founded by former Clinton Administration experts in Counterterrorism and Infrastructure Protection. Others are companies who have been formed post-9/11 and post-Katrina in response to the creation of the Department of Homeland Security, the “rebirth” of FEMA and the numerous CT structures formed during the Bush Administration.
Are these “experts” legitimate? Do they help the Nation face these challenges more effectively? At the risk of appearing self serving (I am the former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Homeland Defense and Defense Support for Civil Authorities) I have to say, “YES”. Having up to eight years at the highest levels of Government, the former government leaders know what they did, and why they did it. They know what had been planned, which certainly may change, but not immediately. They are uniquely placed and suited to help the clients who engage them. Now that I am in the private sector, I have had numerous interactions with individuals and companies of the sort described above. In my opinion, they have added greatly to the field, by using their experience constructively.
The aspect of the consulting business that draws the most criticism is the assistance to companies trying to win government business. What is not truly understood is that most of the former government actors who help ease unfamiliar companies through this byzantine process actually make our system at least a little bit more efficient. Does it help the firms who hire the consultants win contracts and make money? Yes it does, but it also helps the Government get the support it needs with less wasted time and energy.
The other aspect, which leads to the actual transfer of knowledge and expertise in relevant processes to non-Federal government entities or to private sector firms, is even more important to the Nation. Every State, Local, and tribal government, every mid-large size company, and almost any other entity you can think of needs to improve their ability to protect themselves and their infrastructures, to respond to emergencies, and to strengthen their cyber security. Far too often, the organizations are unaware of the threats, uninformed about what their Federal partners will do in a certain situation and how they can tap into that response. Even if the consultants do nothing else but provide accurate information, they would be a key producer of value. They almost always do much more.
In many cases, consultants also provide assessments as to what needs to be changed, maps to how those changes can be achieved, and how to exercise those company or local assets involved, keeping them operationally effective. The protection of our citizens and infrastructures is not a field about which we should be caviler. Nor should it be left to those with little or no experience. Tapping into former government experts is a great way for companies or communities to avail themselves to this knowledge.
As experts depart government service, they should utilize their knowledge and expertise to better equip our society to face the challenges that abound today. It may be as simple as speaking at a local church or Kiwanis Club about the threats to local infrastructure. It may be providing a one time snap shot of security vulnerabilities for a small business and its continuity of operations plan. Or it may be a full blown assessment of the emergency management structure, annual exercise program, and continuity of government plan for a state, or a county adjacent to a major metropolitan area. These are things that our society needs to have done, and done professionally. Is the application of former government expertise in these situations a cynical attempt to make money? I do not believe so.
My experience is that those who join the consultant ranks after government service are, in the main, eager to continue to serve as they did in government, only now are doing so from the private sector side. All these roles add value to the clients whom they serve, and add safety to the American people.