DHS IG Report: DHS’ role in fusion centers

The DHS Office of Inspector General issued a report last week on “DHS’ Role in
State and Local Fusion Centers”.  The report was issued in response to a request from U.S. Representative Bennie G. Thompson, Chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security.

The report reviews successes and challenges in detail, and makes 7 recommendations.  The DHS Office of Intelligence and Analysis (DHS I&A) is the organization in DHS responsible for fusion centers, and the report states that I&A agreed with all 7 recommendations, and “has proposed plans and taken action that, once fully implemented, will reduce a number of the deficiencies…identified.”

Here’s a summary of the recommendations:

  1. Improve responses to Requests for Information, and identify designated points-of-contact between I&A and fusion centers for information needs.
  2. Expand training courses, including adding additional course locations (not just Washington D.C.), and exploring online training.
  3. Integrate all relevant I&A division roles and responsibilities into the fusion center program.
  4. Review and increase assignments of DHS staff to fusion centers.
  5. Develop measurable performance standards for the fusion center program, and justify continued costs.
  6. Improve interconnectivity among the multiple unclassified and classified information systems used to share and obtain information from fusion centers.
  7. Explore funding options and identify sufficient resources for the fusion center program.  This includes providing staff to the State and Local Program Office to oversee and manage the program.

Regardless of intent, whether or not any of these recommendations are implemented will ultimately come down to funding.  To this end, recommendations #4 (increase DHS staff assigned to fusion centers), #6 (improve interconnectivity among systems), and the 2nd half of #7 (providing staff to oversee and manage the program) are probably the least likely to be implemented in the near future.  But expect funds for some or all of these to be requested in the DHS FY2010 budget.

FEMA’s relationship to DHS drawing attention and debate

One of the most important decisions President-elect Obama will face when his administration takes over DHS is whether to leave FEMA as a part of DHS, or remove it from DHS and make it a cabinet-level agency, as it was before DHS was formed.  Members of Congress, stakeholders, and prominent organizations are taking sides on the issue, but it’s not clear yet what stance the Obama administration will take.

[UPDATE 05/15: CQ Politics reports that on Wednesday 5/13, Secretary Napolitano stated that the Obama administration supports keeping FEMA within DHS; but one day later, Rep. James Oberstar (D-MN) said that he will continue his push to remove FEMA from DHS, despite opposition from the administration.  Give some credit to the dedicated folks at FEMA who’ve had to endure the uncertainty of this long-running debate, because apparently it’s not over yet.]

House: Rep. James Oberstar (D-MN), chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee wrote to President-elect Obama on Dec. 17 to demand the removal of FEMA from DHS, declaring that its placement in the larger agency impedes its ability to serve as a “quick response” agency.  In response, Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-MS) Rep. wrote to Obama Dec. 19 strongly disagreeing with Oberstar, saying that FEMA should remain in DHS, but that Obama should appoint someone to lead FEMA who has a strong relationship with Obama.

Senate: Senator Mary Landrieu (D-LA), chairwoman of the Senate Homeland Security Disaster Recovery Subcommittee, has stated that she doesn’t recommend removing FEMA from DHS at this point, but she’s open to the concept and wouldn’t resist it if the new administration made the decision to make the change.  Landrieu told Homeland Security Secretary-designate Janet Napolitano that “there were still some senators that felt strongly about it staying where it is, some that were kind of open to change and others that would really recommend that it be made independent”, and that “it should be open to discussion.”

Update 01/15/09: Senator Joe Lieberman (I-CT), the chair of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, and Senator Susan Collins (R-ME), the ranking Republican member, urged Janet Napolitano at her confirmation hearing not to remove FEMA from DHS.

Bush Administration: The Bush administration made the decision to include FEMA in DHS, and still supports that decision.  Michael Chertoff has publicly stated that he opposes removing FEMA from DHS, and has cautioned his successor from making any major changes to DHS.

Obama Administration: The Obama administration has not taken a public stance on either side of the issue.  Senator Landrieu said Napolitano is “testing the waters” with Congress to find out how members of Congress feel about the issue.  Landrieu emphasized that Napolitano didn’t say removing FEMA from DHS is something the Obama team is considering.

Update 01/15/09: At Janet Napolitano’s confirmation hearing, she didn’t take a stance on either side of the issue, instead promising to actively look into the issue.  But her other testimony about FEMA indicated strong support both for FEMA and for increasing FEMA’s cooperation with the rest of DHS, regardless of where FEMA ends up.

Update 02/25/09: The DHS Inspector General weighed in with a report titled “FEMA: In or Out?“, in which the ID recommends keeping FEMA in DHS.

Other Organizations and Stakeholders: A month ago the International Association of Emergency Managers officially endorsed removing FEMA from DHS (Representatives Oberstar and Thompson publicly disagreed on the issue at that time as well).  In addition, the Heritage Foundation, an influential conservative think tank, weighed in on December 4 with a memo supporting Thompson’s position to leave FEMA as part of DHS.  A number of other organizations and stakeholders have cautioned more generally against any major reorganizations at DHS, even though they may not have addressed FEMA specifically.

Update 01/08/2009: 3 fire service organizations – the IAFC (International Association of Fire Chiefs),  IAFF (International Association of Fire Fighters), and Congressional Fire Services Instituteweigh in against removing FEMA from DHS.

  • The IAFF is affiliated with the AFL-CIO (labor is expected to have some influence in the strongly Democratic Congress), and according to the IAFF web site, “The IAFF is one of the most active lobbying organizations in Washington; its Political Action Committee, FIREPAC, is among the top one percent of the more than 4,000 federal PACs in the country.”
  • So expect these 3 organizations to carry some weight, and for Congress to resist if the Obama administration pushes to separate FEMA from DHS.

Potential Conflicts: In Oberstar’s letter to Obama he declared that his committee has jurisdiction over FEMA and that making FEMA independent would have strong support in Congress.  However, the overlapping nature of Congressional oversight of DHS makes it likely that other Congressional Committees, including the House Committee on Homeland Security that Thompson chairs, will lay some claim to FEMA oversight as well.

Expectations (My Take): Expect continued public discussion and debate, but expect Obama to take some time before making a decision.  And regardless of what his final decision is, don’t expect a change to FEMA any time soon.  Obama tends to be a consensus builder, and feelings are strong enough on this issue that even if Obama decides to remove FEMA from DHS, he’ll probably go slow, taking time to build a broader base of support for the change before implementing it.

UPDATE 12/24/08: It’s important to note that one of the reasons there is resistance to making FEMA independent of DHS again is that some important entanglements between FEMA and DHS have already been established in terms of politics, funding, and already enacted legislation (which was written to apply to DHS as a whole).  It could get pretty messy to separate them at this point.  For example, allocation of funds for the DHS Homeland Security Grants Program (HSGP) is performed by the FEMA Grants Directorate, and moving that function to DHS could cause confusion and funding changes all the way down to the state and local level.  So if FEMA is ultimately pulled out of DHS, expect some ripples and unintended consequences in unexpected areas.

Update 02/25/09: At this point, I’d say the momentum is clearly on the side of keeping FEMA in DHS, and I’m going to stop updating this post.  If this changes and the momentum seems to swing the other way, I’ll publish a new post.

Event: House Homeland Security Committee roundtables on privacy, civil rights, & civil liberties at DHS

  • When:  Wednesday, December 3rd, 2008
  • Where: 311 Cannon House Office Building, Washington D.C.
  • Time:  9:00 am – 4:00 pm

On Wednesday, December 3rd, the Majority Staff of the House Committee on Homeland Security will host a series of roundtable discussions on the future of privacy, civil rights, and civil liberties at DHS.  The event, entitled “A Path Forward: Constitutional Protections in Homeland Security”, is sponsored by Rep. Bennie Thompson, Chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security.  Experts from the public sector will give their views on the focus the Department should take in dealing with privacy, civil rights, and civil liberties during the new Administration.  There will be a total of six panels:

  • 9am – The Road Ahead: Protecting Civil Liberties in a Natural Disaster
  • 10am – A New Direction:  Privacy Implications in Datamining
  • 11am – The Way Forward: Privacy and Domestic Intelligence & Information Sharing
  • 1pm – The Advancing Lane: Transportation Security & Privacy and Civil Liberties
  • 2pm – The Changing Course:  Privacy, Civil Liberties, and the Border
  • 3pm – A Progressive Dimension: Cybersecurity and Privacy

Emergency Managers endorse removing FEMA from DHS

From CQ Politics:

The International Association of Emergency Managers (IAEM), a prominent association of emergency managers, is recommending that the Obama administration pull the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) out of the Homeland Security Department and restore its leader to cabinet level status.  Larry J. Gispert, president of IAEM said this has been the IAEM’s “informal position all along,” but the board of directors formalized the stance at the group’s annual meeting this week.

“They have an opportunity with the change of administration to . . . do it right, which is to have FEMA be a stand-alone agency reporting directly to the president and the administrator of FEMA sitting in the cabinet,” Gispert said. “That’s the James Lee Witt model.”  During the Clinton administration, FEMA Administrator James Lee Witt met with the cabinet. His successor in the Bush administration, Joe M. Allbaugh, did not.

Rep. James L. Oberstar (D-MN), chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, endorsed the idea.  But House Homeland Security Chairman Bennie Thompson (D-MS) says FEMA should stay where it is.  Obama’s transition team declined to comment for this story.

Committee leaders await findings on info sharing network

From FCW:

The House Homeland Security Committee’s Democratic leadership remains concerned about the Homeland Security Department’s effort to overhaul its platform for sharing sensitive but unclassified information with state and local authorities, dubbed HSIN Next Gen (HSIN = Homeland Security Information Network).

In July, the chairman, Bennie Thompson (D-MS) and a senior member, Jane Harman (D-CA), asked DHS to suspend work on the program until requirements for the platform’s users had been defined and validated.

In two letters to DHS leadership dated Sept. 23 and Oct. 9, Thompson requested the Homeland Security Information Network Advisory Council’s findings for oversight purposes. As of Friday morning (Oct. 17), the committee had not received them.

House Homeland Security chair faults DHS for unfinished scenarios

From HSToday:

In a letter to DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff on Oct 9., Congressman Bennie Thompson, chair of the House Homeland Security Committee, charged that DHS has failed to draft national planning scenarios for specific threats as ordered in a presidential directive nearly five years ago.

The letter states that Homeland Security Presidential Directive 8 ordered DHS to plan for 15 national scenarios where federal input would be vital in a response to a threat, but DHS condensed those scenarios to eight “key scenario sets” in the National Response Framework.  The eight additional planning scenarios Thompson cites would describe how DHS and FEMA would handle a terrorist attack, a natural disaster, a cyber attack, a pandemic influenza outbreak, and other threats.

Thompson’s letter asks Chertoff to provide his committee with a program plan and a project schedule by Oct. 23 for finishing up the eight scenarios. Those plans should include a list of assignments and who is responsible for carrying out those assignments.

DHS and Congress at odds over cargo scanning mandate

A war of words has broken out between the House Homeland Security Committee and DHS over the mandate to screen 100 percent of U.S.-bound cargo at foreign ports.

Committee Chairman Bennie Thompson sent Secretary Michael Chertoff two letters in recent months chastising DHS for not living up to the mandate.

On Oct. 3, Chertoff responded with a five-page letter that made clear that the 100 percent screening mandate outlined in the 9/11 Commission recommendations legislation is extremely problematic, both because of the limitations of technology and complications in dealing with sovereign nations, and will be impossible to implement by the 2012 deadline.