Event: House HS Hearing with Janet Napolitano

The House Committee on Homeland Security will be having a full committee hearing on Wednesday Feb 25, with DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano as a witness. I may have a chance to attend this hearing in person. If so, I’ll post a separate entry on it after the hearing.

Event:    House Homeland Security, Full Committee Hearing
Date:     Wednesday, February 25, 2009
Time:     10:00am
Location: 311 Canon House Office Building
Witness:  Janet Napolitano, Secretary of Homeland Security
Register: Registration not needed, but you may want to arrive early to get a seat.
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House passes law to improve sharing of threat information

From the Associated Press:

Legislation passed by the House Tuesday (H.R. 553) would require DHS to produce a declassified version of threat information for state and local first responders who don’t have the security clearance to view classified material.  The measure would also require portion marking, where certain classified parts of a document might be blacked out but the rest of the information would remain unclassified.

Steven Aftergood, a secrecy expert with the Federation of American Scientists, said the Harman bill sends an important message that classification should not be a barrier to keeping local officials informed about threats.  But he said the bill doesn’t cover the CIA or the Pentagon, the biggest sources of classified data. “This is not the systemic change that we need but it is an urgent part of the larger problem and I hope it will elevate classification reform in the administration agenda.”

The bill, which passed by a voice vote, passed the House in the last session of Congress but wasn’t taken up by the Senate.  The bill now goes to the Senate.  I’ll update this post as the bill status changes.

New bill calls for quarterly reports from DHS grant recipients

From Government Security News:

A bill that would require recipients of homeland security grants to file quarterly reports to Congress on precisely how they spent those funds has been filed by Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-NY) and co-sponsored by five other congressmen.

The measure, H.R. 625, was introduced on Jan. 21 and referred to the House Homeland Security Committee. It is intended to provide greater transparency on how DHS grant monies are actually expended.

I’ll update this post when the status changes.

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.

Expect changes in U.S. approach to cybersecurity

The U.S. approach to cybersecurity is likely to change significantly under the Obama administration.  Although it’s not clear yet exactly what priorities will be sacrificed to make room for the increased focus, or how the changes will all play out, here are some highlights of recent activities in this area:

  • Reports: A recent report highlighted weaknesses in U.S. cybersecurity efforts, and recommended changes to U.S. cybersecurity leadership and policy, including the White House taking over the lead for cybersecurity efforts from DHS.
  • Obama Administration: President-elect Obama’s statements during the campaign, and his relationships with the authors of the reports (several of whom are advisors to his campaign), suggest that he’ll probably appoint a “cybersecurity czar” at the White House to coordinate national cybersecurity efforts.  Speculation is rising about who he’ll appoint to the post.
  • Congress: Key members of Congress have stated concerns about our lack of preparedness and inability to protect from and respond to cyber attacks.
    • Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger (D-MD), chair of the House Intelligence subcommittee on Technical Intelligence, says billions of dollars need to be invested by both government and the private sector.  Rep. Ruppersberger also supports appointment of a “cybersecurity czar” at the White House.
    • Rep. James Langevin (D-RI), chair of the House Homeland Security subcommittee on Cybersecurity, said “We’re way behind where we need to be now.”  Rep. Langevin has also called for leadership of cybersecurity efforts to be removed from DHS, and for increases in our offensive cyber warfare capabilities to use as a deterrent (much as our offensive conventional and nuclear capabilities are used as a deterrents to conventional and WMD attacks).
  • DHS: Although DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff agrees we have significant vulnerabilities, he cautions against changing leadershipof cybersecurity efforts at this stage.  But incoming Secretary Janet Napolitano may have a different view, especially if changes are supported by President-elect Obama.
  • Front-Line Stakeholders: Many key participants in a recent cyberwar simulation exercise reported that we’re not prepared for a real cyberwar.
  • Recent Precedents: Cyber attacks aimed at Estonia earliet this year, and aimed at Georgia during the recent conflict between Russia and Georgia in South Ossetia underscored both the likelihood and effectiveness of cyber-attacks during a conflict of any kind.  These attacks were effective, even though they are widely believed to have come from non-state actors (Russian sympathizers).

Summary:

With agreement about our vulnerability all the way from the front line to Congress and the White House, expect some major changes in both leadership and policy.  Increases in funding should also be expected, though whether funding comes as new expenditures or shifting of funding from other areas remains to be seen.

For more information:

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