“Doomsday plans” developed by the Department of Homeland Security have made for catchy newspaper headlines in recent weeks. However, rather than debating the merits of notional scenarios where, for example, terrorists attack a storage tank of chlorine gas, killing thousands and costing millions of dollars, the discussion should instead turn to how the department can best carry out its overall preparedness mission. This mission is most effectively accomplished by creating a new preparedness directorate at the department that consolidates existing preparedness capabilities from the department and beyond.
Secretary Michael Chertoff cited the preparedness mission as a top priority during his vision speech at The George Washington University last month. His desire for a “risk-based approach” is a laudable goal, but one that will require a recalibration for the bureaucracy he controls. He clearly understands this, putting the bureaucracy on notice during his speech: “Old categories, old jurisdictions, old turf will not define our objectives or the measure of our achievements. Because bureaucratic structures and categories exist to serve our mission, not to drive it.” The harmonization of preparedness programs department-wide resonates well with such mission-oriented thinking.
Former Secretary Tom Ridge took the right step when he consolidated many of the existing preparedness grant programs and state and local efforts into the Office of State and Local Government Coordination and Preparedness last year. Now the new secretary should continue the consolidation of preparedness efforts by merging the department’s infrastructure protection and emergency preparedness efforts with the current preparedness efforts assigned to OSLGCP. These moves, together with the transfer of emergency medical services from the Department of Transportation, should comprise a new preparedness directorate, led by an under-secretary.
“Critical infrastructure protection” is a relatively recent addition to the nation’s lexicon. Safeguarding the nation’s critical facilities, such as power plants and transportation systems, is an important mission of the department. However, given that infrastructure protection is separated from other preparedness efforts at the department by bureaucratic stovepipes, the secretary should eliminate the current infrastructure protection directorate and merge it into a new preparedness directorate. And since the administration’s plan for the Director of National Intelligence will likely require an overhaul of this directorate anyway, the secretary should be proactive and demonstrate the merits of a preparedness directorate now.
The department provides first responders leadership, but given that it still has programs divided between departmental components, it is not yet the “one-stop shop” first-responders desire. When many of the first-responder preparedness efforts were consolidated under OSLGCP, the programs related to the fire service were notably absent. The secretary should aim to move the preparedness efforts of FEMA, including its U.S. Fire Administration, to the new preparedness directorate. The department’s Emergency Preparedness and Response Directorate (where FEMA currently resides) should be eliminated, and FEMA should focus strictly on responding to man-made and natural disasters. The FEMA director should remain a direct report to the secretary, since responding to emergencies, just as preparing for them, is one of the core missions of the Department of Homeland Security.
Emergency medical services (EMS) is a missing piece of the preparedness puzzle. Though emergency medical services agencies are equal in numbers to fire and law enforcement agencies, they receive only 4 percent of the first-responder funding allocated by the Department of Homeland Security.
The reason for such misallocation of funding is obvious: EMS has no federal advocate. EMS is located in a small program office of the Department of Transportation’s highway traffic safety division. While this might have been appropriate in the early years of EMS when its focus was on transporting automobile accident victims, EMS has long outgrown such vestigial ties. The time is ripe for EMS to join its first-responder counterparts in a new preparedness directorate at the Department of Homeland Security.
As the secretary boldly stated last month, “Over the course of the next 60 - 90 days, this comprehensive review will examine what we need to do and what we are doing without regard to component structures and programmatic categories.” With the department and Congress anxiously awaiting his plan, the new secretary should build on the accomplishments of his predecessor and merge the core components of the nation’s preparedness efforts into a new directorate dedicated to preparing for all types of crises, including the recently publicized doomsday scenarios.
Daniel J. Kaniewski is deputy director of the George Washington University Homeland Security Policy Institute.