Another 9/11 anniversary is upon us. Looking back over the last 12 years, the United States has made a lot of progress in securing the country, and much of this progress grew out of the 9/11 Commission recommendations. Yet, one of these recommendations has not received much action – indeed, no action at all. Congressional oversight of homeland security is as duplicative, wasteful and counterproductive as ever.
Last week, a Las Vegas couple was arrested for plotting to kidnap and kill police officers. This conspiracy to kill police officers is a case of homegrown terrorism, a growing threat to U.S. national security. When we look at the diversity of violent extremist ideologies and thousands of followers who present a threat to the United States, we are looking into a mirror.
For all of the names being bounced around for DHS Secretary, a couple have caught me by surprise, but none of them was as jaw dropping as the news that the Congressional Black Caucus is encouraging President Obama to nominate Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee as a replacement for outgoing-DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano. I can only hope that others see her consideration for one of the toughest jobs in the world for what it really is – an unrealistic and unfunny joke.
Charles Kenny, a Fellow with the New America Foundation and the Center for Global Development, published an opinion piece in Bloomberg BusinessWeek called, “The Case for Abolishing the DHS.” He makes some powerfully accurate assessments on the return on investment from DHS, but as powerful as those arguments and examples may be, Kenny’s declaration that “closing the DHS is a small government solution that works” is a glass-is- half-empty summation that misses some important metrics.
In an era of diminished budgets and vanishing security grants, a recent break in at the Carters Lake Water Treatment Plant in Georgia highlights how the federal government is leaving small water systems, and the communities they serve, hanging in the wind. I’m not suggesting DHS throw obscene amounts of money at rural water systems, but I would argue that these systems can make major strides with small amounts of money.
The Center for International Policy recently released a report entitled “Drones Over the Homeland,” which provides an excellent analysis of CBP’s Unmanned Aerial Vehicle program from inception to the present. It adds significantly to the debate Congress should be having about the wisdom of using UAVs for surveillance. I hope congressional appropriators will take note.
The Office of the Chief Procurement at DHS sent a “heads-up” notice that ought to get more than passing interest from the private sector. Yesterday, DHS posted a Request for Information on FedBizOpps seeking comments and suggestions on the data fields in the DHS Acquisition Planning Forecast System (APFS). DHS officials have repeatedly promised to update the APFS and make it more user-friendly, and this RFI is evidence they are sticking to their promise.
As the Boston area recovers from the tragic and unprecedented events of the past week, the lessons learned will be far reaching. Emergency management professionals, like their counterparts in law enforcement, are pretty good culturally at pulling together “after-action” reports that chronicle what they did right and what they can do better next time. Those lessons learned will offer new chapters to study and consider in terms of planning and preparations for any future incidents of this magnitude but in terms of the private sector, there are a number of lessons learned that need to be studied as well.
Americans love speed. It is buried deep in their psyche. The good news is we move information fast. The bad news is we sometimes move it too fast. The news of the recent Boston Bombings spread as quickly but far more broadly through social media. The dizzying volume and speed of information was breathtaking. So was the misinformation, rumor and desire to be the first – right or wrong. Thus the challenge of the Internet Age begins – can news be speedy and accurate?
In a democratic society, the government’s job is to serve the people. The same can be said of the press. Of late, however, both pillars in the American experiment have fallen short of their raison d’etre. At the recent National Association of Government Communicators Communications School, I met some government public affairs officers and journalists having a frank and friendly conversation about how we can do better.