menu

If patience is a virtue, those waiting for the Private Sector Preparedness (PS-Prep) Program have to have the patience of Job.

After what can only be described as months (if not years) of delays, bureaucratic inertia, internal turf battles and outright bewilderment if the program would ever finally come to be, DHS formally released its selected standards for the voluntary private sector program. Whether because of bureaucratic exhaustion or because they couldn’t find another reason to delay it, the formal announcement about the standards has finally been made. It is long past due.

While there is no surprise as to the selected standards, given they were identified more than a year ago, the fact that it has taken this long to formally issue them is a powerful message by itself.

Enacted in 2007 as part of the Implementing Recommendations of the 9/11 Commission Act of 2007, every legislative and regulatory timetable prescribed as part of this effort has been ignored or been completely disregarded. Furthermore, to say this unfunded mandate was a priority to DHS leaders would be a tremendous stretch of the imagination.

While there were certainly those people inside the Department who have faithfully and honestly busted their behinds to make this program a tangible and workable reality, its lack of any type of public embrace or outreach by the Department’s most senior leaders is more than obvious. We certainly have the appropriate (albeit manufactured) words of previous press releases (as well as today’s), but in this town, it is easy to tell where priorities rank and it’s obvious PS-Prep is not among the top tier of issues.

That’s not hard to believe when you’ve got a never ending nightmare of an oil spill in the Gulf; the threat of an active hurricane season underway; and people committed to their own destruction and others via exploding cars and underpants. The inbox is certainly overflowing, and it always will be at DHS; there is no argument there. But taking as ridiculously long as it has to get to today’s announcement gives little hope to DHS’ ability to be nimble enough to respond to the dynamic circumstances in which the private sector operates daily.

For all of its rhetorical promise in urging the private sector to do the right thing in being truly prepared for all hazards, the Department’s operational performance in executing this program is tremendously disappointing. While the standards they have formally chosen have promise to make a difference in preparedness, the actions of the Department’s leadership in the “go-slow” approach in forging this program gives an indication of how much this issue truly matters to them.

That’s what I probably find so disappointing about today’s announcement. As events in the Gulf and elsewhere have shown us, we have no luxury in taking our time to be ready for incidents and accidents in all of their forms. There is and always should be an urgency for preparedness, particularly for the private sector. Boilerplate speech rhetoric, canned press release words, and going-through-the-motion exercises can never replace the force, drive, and action of leaders who want to make something happen. I have not seen that yet with this program and maybe I never will.

I can only hope that in going forward, the Department’s leaders will embrace this program for its true potential and the difference it could make to the bottom line of this country’s overall preparedness. Maybe then Congress will properly fund it. Until then, we will just go through the motions and that by itself is a waste of everyone’s time.

And preparedness is never a waste of anyone’s time.

Rich Cooper blog primarily on emergency preparedness and response, management issues related to the Department of Homeland Security, and the private sector’s role in homeland security. Read More