Several weeks ago, a number of my colleagues posted about DHS/Administration plans to discontinue National Level Exercises (NLEs) to cut costs. Although I am a big proponent of exercises as a proactive means of ensuring readiness, I kept my two cents to myself, since my colleagues had already expressed concern.
However, I recall then-Arizona Governor (now DHS Secretary) Janet Napolitano expressing concern to Secretary Chertoff that the NLEs were all prescripted and a waste of time to professionals in the response and law enforcement business.
That said, I need not remind anyone in DC that government leadership is constantly changing. There are few top positions held by individuals who have made a career (up through the ranks) in the agency they head. So at least every four to eight years there is at least one entire leadership change-out. I am not saying that is a bad thing because it does bring new ideas to an agency, but rather I am simply stating the fact that there is turnover at the top of the government.
Back to my soapbox, I am sure some of you will remember NLEs were originally called TOPOFF exercises. Maybe that was not the sexiest title but it was probably more appropriate. TOPOFF was the government’s slang for Top Officials exercises, and they were mandated by Congress to ensure that our highest leadership knows what to do (and who does it) when things do go bump in the night in our country. They were designed to show each top leader across the government how the government works as a whole and what each agency is responsible for during an emergency or event that impacts the lives of Americans.
During the exercises (and depending on the event), they were able to see how agencies would respond regardless of how large or small their roles may be. NLEs prompted interactions between agencies, finding how each agency plays a role in helping the nation, regardless of who is in charge of an event. It also gave each leader a brief knowledge of the terms now standardized for responding to any emergency, disaster or event. A standard language was key to the success of the response.
Our nation faces new enemies, and in the fast-paced world in which we live, this is no time for a learning curve for our leadership. They need to be ready to hit the ground running. There is no time for do-overs.