Preparedness Reforms for a More Resilient Nation

By |2020-05-06T02:33:22+00:00May 5th, 2020|0 Comments

This is the second part of a 2-part article.  In the first article, we identified key gaps in our ability to effectively marshal national resilience. These gaps are focused in three major areas:

  1. lack of effective oversight,
  2. breakdowns in operational coordination, and 
  3. disjointed funding. 

Luckily, solutions are at the ready if we can muster the attention, political will, and sustained leadership necessary to accomplish them.

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to wreak havoc on the daily lives of Americans, there have been increased calls for a review of our national preparedness. Some have even likened this to a 9/11 Commission type of review to identify what signs we missed and how we can better structure governmental efforts to identify and act on threats to public health.

Before jumping into another commission, though, Congress should first implement the major recommendation that has yet to be heeded from the 9/11 Commission report; strengthening Congressional oversight. At the time of their report, the Commission co-chairs noted this would be “among the most difficult and important” to accomplish. Since then, they have repeatedly highlighted how separating homeland security oversight among over 100 different Congressional committees results in fractured priorities and direction.

Streamlining oversight of the Department of Homeland Security under the Congressional Homeland Security Committees would allow for clear and consistent priorities at DHS, something that has been sorely lacking since its inception. Moreover, it would allow for authorizing legislation, similar to the National Defense Authorization Act, to govern the operations of the Department and guide long term investments for the domestic security and resilience enterprise.

Beyond Congressional oversight, domestic security and resilience operations rely on a complex patchwork of programs at the Federal, state, and local levels each engaging in disparate partnerships with the private sector. Rather than produce streamlined and effective planning guidance that links pre-incident security, mitigation, and capacity investments with post-incident response and recovery efforts, we see a dizzying array of doctrine that befuddles partners and creates division in the very efforts that are supposed to lead to national preparedness. As discussed in Part 1 of this article, there are more than 360 doctrinal elements that must be addressed by the array of state, local, tribal, territorial, and private sector partners, all of whom struggle to complete multiple reporting requirements and grant applications.

This domestic security and resilience enterprise requires a strong integrating structure across its landscape of agencies. Just as leaders today make “war effort” analogies to the national effort mobilized to fight in World War 2, we can also look to structural reforms the Greatest Generation made to effectively integrate their warfighting capabilities. In World War 2, integration between the land, sea, and air domains, along with international coordination, became the job of the Combined Chiefs of Staff, later the Joint Chiefs of Staff. This model could also provide a way for our disparate domestic security and resilience disciplines to effectively integrate doctrine, planning, and operations. 

Creating a Joint Resilience Staff that incorporates FEMA, the U.S. Public Health Service, the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, Coast Guard, TSA, National Guard, CBP, and HUD Community Development, along with select others, can create a unity of effort for pre- and post-incident planning and execution. This would provide for clear and sustained partnerships with other nations, levels of government, and the private sector. It also would expand on reforms included in the Post Katrina Emergency Management Reform Act to ensure that the President is advised by emergency management experts. Making the Joint Resilience Staff the primary advisor to the President on all domestic security and resilience operations would ensure that the White House is armed with a suite of advice and solutions that address how to anticipate and adapt to potential hazards instead of just responding to them.

Finally, it is impossible to substantially integrate our pre- and post-incident planning and operations without reforming how we fund these programs. Between agency budgets, grant programs, Federal insurance programs, specialized contingency funds, and tax incentives, it’s difficult to get a clear picture of how security and resilience policy and priorities compare to actual investments. Just for recovery efforts following the 2017 and 2018 hurricanes and wildfires, Congress appropriated more than $140 Billion to 90 programs in 20 different Departments and Agencies. Specific to biological threats, the Government Accountability Office testified last year that, across 11 different agencies with a role in biodefense, “there was no existing mechanism that could leverage threat awareness information to direct resources and set budgetary priorities….”

Just as with operational integration, we can look to the National Security Act of 1947 to inspire meaningful and practical solutions. The Intelligence Community is comprised of 17 different elements spread across multiple Federal Departments, yet it is funded by a singular National Intelligence Program that covers the projects and activities across the entire community. A similar approach can be used to establish a Domestic Resilience Program that covers the investments made across the various Federal departments to ensure that investments are aligned to the long-term priorities established by streamlined oversight and are being executed well by the coordinated operational community.

Funding reform also provides an opportunity to maximize the nation’s investment in pre-incident mitigation. A range of recent studies from the Pew Trusts, National Institute for Building Sciences, Government Accountability Office, and others estimate that the return on investment for pre-incident mitigation is anywhere from 3-to-1 to 12-to-1. Yet the vast majority of Federal hazard mitigation funding flows to communities AFTER a disaster, not before. Additionally, the complex patchwork of programs create overly burdensome programmatic requirements at the local level that inevitably result in duplications of benefits that must then be repaid to the Federal government. The entire system is built to suffer and learn hard lessons rather than identify and make strategic investments based on our now robust understanding of the hazards we face through better data than we’ve ever had before. The National Resilience Program can fund both security and resilience operations (steady state and contingency) while also consolidating Federal grant programs to focus investment on lifeline infrastructure sectors (energy, food & agriculture, communications, transportation, public health, and housing).

The country continues to face the most complex and dynamic threat environment in its history. We will continue to endure increasingly costly natural disasters and the potential for other emergent infectious diseases while also addressing the asymmetric threats to our critical infrastructure and economic competitiveness posed by state and non-state actors. This array of risks can be managed by filling in the gaps of our domestic preparedness efforts and sustaining our commitment to capabilities that allow us to anticipate and adapt to future disruptions in a unified manner.

If pursued together, these reforms can replicate well-proven structures to address urgent concerns facing our domestic security. Effective oversight, operational integration, and unified funding have formed the backbone of a foreign policy and national security apparatus that saw us through the Cold War, adapted to fight a War on Terrorism, and now are addressing great power competition in the 21st Century. Our oceans no longer protect us from the threats and hazards we face and our diplomatic and military might are not enough to ensure our safety and security as a nation. They have to work in concert with a well-developed and integrated domestic security and resilience enterprise. These proposed reforms are the first step to achieving that unity of effort and purpose.

Recommend0 recommendationsPublished in Enterprise Resilience

About the Author:

Mark Harvey has spent 15 years developing infrastructure protection and continuity of government plans and policies in the U.S. Intelligence Community and the Department of Homeland Security. While on the National Security Council Staff, he facilitated Presidential crisis management for response and recovery during the two worst years of natural disasters on record. Mark is currently a Resident Fellow at the Harvard Institute of Politics.

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