Story URL: http://news.medill.northwestern.edu/washington/news.aspx?id=139281
Story Retrieval Date: 5/24/2013 10:11:18 PM CST
Created in 2003, the Department of Homeland Security is an amalgam of agencies pulled from departments as diverse as the Treasury, FBI, Energy, Justice and Defense, among others. The 12 departments of DHS represent the consolidation of 22 agencies.
The agencies of which DHS is comprised:
U.S. Customs and Border Protection
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services
Transportation Security Administration
Federal Law Enforcement Training Center
Federal Emergency Management Agency
Science & Technology Directorate
Office of Cybersecurity and Communications
Office of Operations Coordination
Office of Infrastructure Protection
U.S. Coast Guard
U.S. Secret Service
Editor's note: This is the first of a two-part series that looks at how the Department of Homeland Security is performing under the new administration.
WASHINGTON—The Department of Homeland Security is a ponderous beast.
Responsible for cybersecurity, emergency preparedness, immigration, border security, counterterrorism and subdivisions within each of these areas, pinning down how such an agency is handling its mission is challenging. Assessing how its performing under new leadership after only seven months into the job should be equally challenging, one would assume.
However, in light of the Department of Homeland Security’s Quadrennial Review, which is a self-audit of sorts, it seemed fitting to see if President Barack Obama's cadence of “Change” had taken hold at the department and, if so, determine to what extent.
From the on-the-ground perspective of state homeland security agencies to Washington bureaucracy watchers, the response was overwhelmingly positive about the changes they’ve seen since Janet Napolitano was appointed head of DHS. The appointment of Napolitano, a former governor of Arizona, was heralded: people liked that she had experience at the helm of a border state and also applauded her reputation as a strong administrator. “It’s the first time that an able manager with solid experience has taken the helm of the department,” said Michael Greenberger, the director of the Center for Health and Homeland Security, a research organization affiliated with the Baltimore’s University of Maryland.
Criticism did surface, but even then, it was tempered and limited to finely honed points.
To be fair, everyone, from the think tankers to the state agencies said much of the success this year is the result of the previous Bush administration’s efforts. Created just six years ago, DHS is young, and many said some progress was a matter of maturity rather than a new approach. For example, Pat Santos, assistant deputy director, Emergency Preparedness for Homeland Security of Louisiana said the relationship between FEMA in Washington and FEMA in Louisiana is just as strong today as it was when Santos started his job three years ago under former President Bush.
One area that many agreed needed more attention: Grants. Matching up with recent criticism from the General Accountability Office, grants are welcome money, but they need to be handled better.
Today, the states speak out.
Tomorrow, the experts weigh in.
The state perspective – Louisiana, Oklahoma and New Jersey
Who: Pat Santos assistant deputy director, Emergency Preparedness Louisiana
Overview: The legacy of Hurricane Katrina has strengthened ties and relationships between Louisiana and FEMA under the DHS umbrella in Washington. Santos said the election may have shuffled the staff in the nation’s capital but did not disturb on-the-ground relationships, something he considered important. “If you look [at problems] it’s usually because [you’re working with people] you don’t know” he said, adding “You don’t have time to share business cards in an emergency.”
Added bonus: William Craig Fugate as FEMA’s chief. Fugate formerly headed up FEMA's Florida operations and Santos found comfort in having someone from his neck of the woods, who understands the Gulf Coast’s challenges.
Proof of progress: Hurricanes Gustaf and Ike. Unlike the Katrina situation in 2005 “where everything was messed up,” Santos said the way the Louisiana handled Gustaf and Ike showed the state had learned its lesson and was able to move people out of harms way in an orderly, effective manner.
What needs improvement: Reimbursing states when they help each other. Santos said neighboring states have a system where they agree to welcome each others’ residents during emergency evacuations, but getting the financials straightened out needs some work. Santos said DHS is aware of the problem and is working on it.
Who: Clay Rives, assistant director for Homeland Security of Louisiana
Overview: Gives the current administration an A. Rives said communication between DHS in Washington and Louisiana is excellent. “They’ve let us know basically what’s going on. The info sharing has been very, very good. The level of professionalism has been excellent” he said.
Highlights: Rives said Secretary Napolitano’s staff is in constant communication with his office. Weekly updates are just part of the information flow. Rives came away from a recent national-level exercise with federal, state, and local reps that focused on information sharing and said it went really well.
Proof things are working: When a plane few into U.S. space from Canada in April, it activated Louisiana’s crisis action team and they knew how much fuel the plane had, how far it could travel. “We were plugged in, real time. We were prepared” Rives said.
Who: Kerry Pettingill, director Oklahoma Department of Homeland Security
Highlights: A sense that state needs are taken into consideration, not merely tossed into a pile and ignored. “I feel like we have more of an advocate for us [in the Washington office] than we had in the past” Pettingill said. “They have realized that boots on the ground, people on the streets is where information has come from.” Pettingill added that the home office has shown concerns not just for its priorities but for local ones as well. “They’ll accept the urgency we have about a priority and they’ll try to facilitate it for us” he said. Pettingill noted a greater sense of order in DHS--- instead of getting the same question from different people (“It didn’t seem like they shared information well internally” he said of the prior administration) Pettingill’s office now gets calls from a single contact person.
What he’d like to see: DHS throw support behind creating a unified statewide communication system for emergency services – police, fire, hospitals – to use as well as funds to maintain the systems and equipment they’ve already invested in but need to maintain
Who: Scott Kisch, chief of staff New Jersey Office of Homeland Security
Highlights: Kisch says the federal department is finding its footing and the latest DHS crew in Washington is working to “re-engage the states.” Like the other state agencies, Napolitano’s inclination to communicate clearly has been noted in New Jersey. “Some days I get more notices and messages than I can digest. And that wasn’t true six months ago,” Kisch said of the back-and-forth that includes daily and/or weekly phone, e-mail and face-to-face visits. Kisch also said he had a sense that the relationship with DHS wasn’t top-down, but reciprocal. “[There’s a] willingness to listen to what threats are from a state perspective and greater recognition of the local perspective of what threats are” he said.
Place for improvement: “Everybody’s going to tell you they want more money” Kisch said. Kisch also said he’s hoping for greater clarification for what the home office perceives as national and regional threats.