The Future of Homeland Security and Emergency Management
William L. Waugh, Jr.
Andrew Young School of Policy Studies
Georgia State University
The future of Homeland Security is dependent upon the future of emergency management. First, natural and technological disasters are still more certain than terrorist attacks and the nation has to be prepared better for the next major disaster than it was for the Hurricane Katrina disaster. Second, it is impossible to prevent all terrorist attacks and the nation must be prepared to deal with the consequences of a catastrophic terrorist event. And, third, Homeland Security officials must learn like the Federal Emergency Management Agency did in the 1990s to collaborate with the nongovernmental organizations on which the nation depends during catastrophic disasters of all sorts. The national emergency management system is made up of networks of public, nonprofit, and private organizations and volunteers over which the Department of Homeland Security has little or no authority. The task environment is one of shared authority, shared responsibility, and dispersed resources and Homeland Security agencies and officials have to develop the skills to work within that environment (Waugh, 2006).
Department of Homeland Security (DHS) was created on November 23, 2003. The Homeland Security Act of 2002 combined twenty-two agencies and programs into one department with roughly 170,000 employees (not counting the 25,000 to 30,000 passenger screeners added a few months later). The Act was a direct response to the September 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center towers and the Pentagon and a component of the U.S.’s “war on terrorism.” The early focus was on the threat of terrorism and that focus has not changed appreciably. Prevention of terrorism has been the explicit programmatic focus as is clear in the department’s mission statement:
We will lead the unified national effort to secure America. We will prevent and deter terrorist attacks and protect against and respond to threats and hazards to the nation. We will ensure safe and secure borders, welcome lawful immigrants and visitors, and promote the free-flow of commerce (DHS, 2005).
The mission statement also includes references to hazards, border security and immigration, and “the free-flow of commerce.” DHS’ constituent agencies and programs (see Figure 1) have a variety of missions and capabilities, not all related to protecting the nation from terrorism. The number of disparate agencies and programs that the Act requires to be melded into a coherent department is only part of the story. Some programs contained very few employees and very narrow missions (GAO, 2004). However, the largest agencies are overwhelmingly oriented toward protecting the nation from terrorists and securing its borders (see Table 1). FEMA is a very small agency within DHS, representing only 2-3 % of DHS personnel.
The largest components of DHS are those charged with protecting the borders and civil aviation – the principal weaknesses identified after the 2001 attacks. Indeed, DHS has been criticized for not expanding its focus to include other kinds of attacks. Moreover, while lip-service has been given the need for an “all-hazards” approach – meaning a flexible approach that provides foundation to deal with natural and unnatural hazards and disasters – preventing terrorism has remained the primary mission and preventing attacks of civil aviation has been the central concern. Lessening the impact of terrorist- and non-terrorist-sponsored disasters by increasing first responder capacities to deal with terrorism-related disasters, developing pre-disaster recovery plans, and other activities to deal with attacks once they have occurred have been secondary concerns. The new National Response Plan mentions such activities, including the involvement of nongovernmental actors, but the document clearly is designed to provide structure for a federal response to a large-scale terrorism-related disaster. The national plan is built around the counter-terrorism programs rather than as an “all-hazards” plan, in other words.
When DHS was created, the expected obstacles to the integration of agencies and programs were numerous. First, intra-organizational difficulties were anticipated with the task of integrating military, law enforcement, agriculture, biomedicine, emergency management, insurance, fire service, and other workforces. On a superficial level, the “artifact” level in organizational culture parlance (Schein, 1992), integration generated conflicts over “patches and badges” and uniform colors. But the conflicts are more fundamental and can affect communication, cooperation, collaboration, and other necessary interactions. Decision processes vary considerably with some agencies having command-and-control orientations and others having more transparent, even collegial, processes. Relationships with the public also vary considerably with some agencies encouraging public participation in programs and policymaking. Incident command systems are very much part of the fire service culture, for example, because fire service organizations, decision processes, and communications are built around fire response. In many respects, the “all-hazards” approach is part of the emergency managers’ culture and provides a structure to organize knowledge and activities. It remains to be seen whether incident command, NIMS, and other newly mandated incident management systems interfere with decision processes and communication, as well as other activities, in organizations that need more collegial and consensus-building approaches. Cultural interoperability may depend upon more decentralized and flexible processes (Waugh, 2003, 2004b).
DHS Manpower by Major Agencies in 2003
Second, interorganizational problems were expected. The coordination of DHS programs with the programs in the estimated 100 agencies in twelve departments outside of DHS with Homeland Security responsibilities has not been easy. Conflicts over national intelligence operations is only one of the areas in which there are coordination problems. Information is still not shared among agencies as it might be. Certainly the coordination of DHS programs with those of its state and local counterparts has been problematic as evidenced by the problems experienced during the TOPOFF exercises.
Third, political problems were expected as the eighty-eight Congressional committees having oversight and appropriations responsibilities for Homeland Security programs engaged in turf battles. While Congress has consolidated responsibility for Homeland Security into fewer committees, there is still considerable overlap programmatically.
Fourth, mission problems were expected with the integration of non-terrorism programs into a department focused on the terrorist threat. FEMA, in particular, has responsibilities unrelated to dealing with terrorism, such as the National Flood Insurance Program and the National Earthquake Hazard Reduction Program. Other DHS components also have diverse non-terrorism responsibilities, not least of which are the U.S. Coast Guard’s responsibilities related to oil spills, boating safety, and air-sea rescue. The nation’s capacity to deal with large-scale natural disasters is certainly being questioned in the aftermath of the four hurricanes that made landfall in Florida in 2004. The federal response effort was massive, but the recovery has still been very slow in many parts of Florida.
And, fifth, some of the component agencies were identified as having serious administrative problems before being transferred to DHS. The Border Patrol, INS, and Customs Service, in particular, had poor administrative records, according to GAO.
The new department also suffers from most of the fiscal and administrative problems that have affected virtually all federal agencies and programs in recent years. Budget cuts and shifting presidential priorities have been devastating to many agencdies and programs. “Doing more with less” has given way to “doing less with less” and some agencies are simply unable to perform the duties they are mandated to do by law. The public service, including state and local civil service systems, is also reaching a critical juncture. Low or no salary increases for years, deteriorating facilities, and the lack of support from political leaders and the public is causing an exodus from the public service. The public workforce is aging rapidly and, in many civil service systems, half or more of the employees are eligible for retirement. In practical terms, there is a “brain drain” as experienced employees retire or choose to transfer to more hospitable work environments. The loss of institutional memory and experience may be most pronounced in law enforcement agencies and the military in which personnel can retire in twenty years and in agencies, such as FEMA, which were created twenty-five years ago and is losing long-time employees. The loss of employment security and employee rights in the new DHS management system, as well as intra-agency transfers and reorganizations, is encouraging retirements and transfers to other federal agencies, as well as encouraging employees to take their skills to the private sector as consultants.
However, it should also be noted that some agencies had high quality and popular programs, strong working relationships with their state and local counterparts, strong working relationships with private and nonprofit sector partners, and good reputations working with the public when they were moved into DHS. Whether those capacities and abilities remain is uncertain.
The issues that need to be resolved by DHS are how to:
move from the counter-terrorism to an “all-hazards” approach;
develop mitigation and recovery programs for terrorism as well as for natural and technological disasters;
transition to mitigation, response, and recovery when prevention does not work;
improve intra-organizational and inter-organizational information sharing;
resolve turf and culture wars to coordinate national efforts, not just federal efforts;
involve nongovernmental organizations and volunteers in Homeland Security as they are involved in the national emergency management system; and
leverage private sector resources, including how to get the private sector to protect itself (how to create a market for security).
The answer is a broader, more open approach with wide participation, building local and state capabilities as the foundation for the national effort.
What does the future hold for Homeland Security?
The counter-terrorism mission will change. Terrorism is not a new threat. Since World War II, there have been hundreds of international terrorist attacks every year. Terrorism tends to be persistent, but cyclic. What has changed is that there are more terrorists willing to kill thousands or even millions of people and their capacities to do so are increasing. The common wisdom used to be that “terrorists want a lot of people watching and not a lot of people dead” because killing many would alienate support. Now, evidently, some do not seek broad support. Small groups motivated by religious fervor may be the most dangerous (Waugh, 2003a).
As Table 2 shows, other than the 2001 attacks, relatively few Americans have been killed in international terrorist incidences. By contrast, thousands of Americans are killed every year through other means. Compare the 2689 Americans killed in terrorist attacks in 2001 (the CDC MMWR number is 2922) to
33,396 killed in vehicle accidents
11,671 homicides involving firearms
An estimated 400,000 died from tobacco-related causes (CDC).
This is not to say that terrorism is not a serious threat, but, rather, the threat should be put into context. It is also likely that the current threat will dissipate over time and other concerns will come to dominate public attention. A 8.0+ earthquake or a Force 5 hurricane in a major metropolitan area, for example, would certainly divert attention from the “war on terrorism.” Public and government attention has been drawn to natural hazards after major disasters before and where attention goes public spending goes. The current Congressional hearings on Homeland Security standards and program performance portends greater accountability for DHS programs, as well.
U.S. Dept of State, 2001, 2002, 2003. Note: The State Department stopped publishing its annual report on Patterns of Global Terrorism in 2004. Data on terrorist incidents is now reported by the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC), but the data is not comparable to that published by the State Department. NCTC uses a much broader definition of terrorism and does not differentiate between terroristic acts and acts committed by terrorists.
The most likely changes in DHS will be several. First, there need to be a broadening of focus from the current “war on al-Qaeda” to a “war on terrorism.” DHS is fighting the last war rather than the current and next wars. Greater attention to domestic terrorists from the militias to environmental extremists is needed. The Oklahoma City bombing is a lesson too often forgotten. Second, DHS’ cultural incompatibilities will remain, but that is okay. All DoD agencies and offices do not share common values. However, for DHS to develop a tolerance for diversity the current command and control approach must change. More decentralized decision making, whether regional or programmatic, is needed. Third, secondary missions must be protected in the competition for budgets. The “gun toters” may get priority, but not to the exclusion of those without guns. Secondary missions too often are not missions at all, but failures to perform secondary missions can be very costly politically and economically. Fourth, DHS and other federal agencies must deal with the growing brain drain by encouraging retention and investment in human capital. A reliance upon contractors will not work in the long term because internal capacities are lost and they are not always available in the market. Fifth, some agencies, like the Secret Service, are likely to escape DHS because they have missions that are distinct from counter-terrorism and they have constituents who can help them get away. Other agencies, like the U.S. Coast Guard, may find DHS to be the home they never had and they can make it even more “homey” by competing well for budgets and other support. Clearly, homeland security is not packaged well and DHS would benefit from a rethinking of its components and its administrative structure.
Sixth, the organizational culture of DHS’ central structures will have to become more focused on a coordinative role – simply because the coordinative role is more flexible, more responsive to circumstances, and ultimately more effective . At the same time, DHS will have to become more transparent – less secretive – in dealing with the public and other agencies. Trust is all important and secrecy does little to instill trust. The lack of trust in federal agencies, particularly the military, was noted during the Katrina response. The White House report on the Hurricane Katrina response identified problems federal agencies had working with NGOs (White House, 2006) and the House Select Committee’s report attributed that poor interaction to a lack of trust due to the lack of interaction prior to the storm (U.S. House of Representatives, 2006), but some NGOs and individuals simply do not trust outside agencies in general and military and law enforcement agencies in particular. And, seventh, “Homeland Security” will have to mean more than counter-terrorism. The terrorist threat will remain, but will not remain as prominent a public concern as it has been since the 2001 attacks. DHS will have to adjust in order to thrive.
References: Schein, Edgar (1992) Culture and Leadership
U.S. Department of Homeland Security (2005) Mission, accessed DHS homepage www.dhs.gov, May 18.
U.S. Department of State (2002) Patterns of Global Terrorism 2001 (April).
U.S. Department of State (2003) Patterns of Global Terrorism 2002 (April).
U.S. Department of State (2004) Patterns of Global Terrorism 2003 (April) (revised).
U.S. House of Representatives. 2006. Bipartisan Committee to Investigate Preparation for and Response to Hurricane Katrina. A Failure of Initiative: Final Report of the Select Bipartisan Committee to Investigate the Preparation for and Response to Hurricane Katrina. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.
Waugh, William L., Jr. (2005) “Terrorism and the All-Hazards Approach,” Journal of Emergency Management Vol. 3, No. 2 (March/April).
Waugh, William L., Jr. (2004a) “The All-Hazards Approach Must Be Continued,” Journal of Emergency Management, Vol. 2, No. 1 (Winter 2004): 11-12.
Waugh, William L., Jr. (2004b) “Building a Seamless Homeland Security: The Cultural Interoperability Problem,” National Conference of the American Society for Public Administration, Portland, OR, March 28-30, 2004.
Waugh, William L., Jr. (2003a) “Extreme Events and the Need for Cultural Interoperability,” Natural Hazards Workshop, University of Colorado, Boulder, CO, July 13-16.
Waugh, William L., Jr. (2003b) “The Global Challenge of the New Terrorism,” Journal of Emergency Management, Vol. 1, No. 1 (Spring): 27-38.
Waugh, William L., Jr. (2006) “The Political Costs of Failure in the Katrina and Rita Disasters,” Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, Special Issue on “Shelter from the Storm: Repairing the National Emergency Management System After Hurricane Katrina,” Vol. 604 (March): 10-25.
Waugh, William L., Jr., and Streib, Gregory (forthcoming) “Collaboration and Leadership for Effective Emergency Management,” Public Administration Review, Special Issue on Collaborative Management (forthcoming).
White House, The. 2006. The Federal Response to Hurricane Katrina: Lessons Learned. Washington, DC: The White House, February 23.