| June 27, 2013

OCPA fellow delivers Homeland Security wake-up call

On Tuesday in the nation’s capital, OCPA research fellow Matt A. Mayer testified before a subcommittee of the U.S. Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs. His testimony — titled “Are we Prepared? Measuring the Impact of Preparedness Grants Since 9/11” — was meant to assess the consequences of federal funds on the country’s preparedness for natural and manmade events. Mayer highlighted three directives necessary to efficiently prepare America for future major events.

First: Stop reinventing the preparedness doctrine.

In his statement, Mayer said that over the past 10 years, “symbolic planning took the place of execution.” New political appointees try to “reinvent the wheel” even when current policy lacks major flaws. This not only puts an unnecessary burden on the taxpayers, but revision for the sake of revision only distracts from the ultimate goal — cohesion between federal and local officials that leads to a high level of preparedness. Mayer said,

The impact of this constantly changing landscape on state and local partners is enormous. It results in waste, inefficiency, and delays. It also leads to the disintegration of trust, as state and local partners must deal with another new Washington political appointee who promises to “fix” the problems, but rarely does.

If Washington appointees stop rewriting and tinkering with the policy, federal and state administrators may have a chance to effectively prepare for an incident while not wasting large sums of money.

Second: Change the way we assess preparedness.

In the most revealing comment of his testimony, Mayer said the government has no idea what kinds of capabilities are available, and where they are available.

After 10 years of federal funding, because there has never been a comprehensive, independent audit of state and local assets, we really don’t know what capabilities we’ve actually acquired, at what level those capabilities currently are, and what remains to be acquired. Federal homeland security funding has become another permanent federal program with no endpoint in sight.

An audit is step one. After we know the capabilities and where theyare located, it may be possible to understand what has been left incomplete, what works, and what doesn’t.

Third: Allocate finite funding more strategically.

For his final point, Mayer suggested that preparedness funds are not being allocated correctly. Over the past 10 years, “virtually every constituency managed to get a program tailored to its wants.” Even worse, once those constituencies became ingrained in the system they were able to fight off calls for reasonable consolidation. In addition to being spread too thin, Mayer argued that the funds are not even being sent to the right locations.

[T]he methods for allocating funds ranged from nonsensical population-based allocations to complex algorithms using risk-related elements. These allocation variations resulted in funding being sent to places with little to no terrorist risk and then being placed on autopilot, thereby allowing locations to receive funds no matter what their risk or level of preparedness. Meanwhile, America’s high-risk jurisdictions received less funding than they should have.

The government must make sure that this money is being sent to the right places for the right reasons. Without strategic selection, it is easy to see how this system could be manipulated and broken.

Overall, Mayer’s testimony was a wake-up call. It has been just over a decade since 9/11 yet the government has allowed egos, inefficiency, and politics to get in the way of preparing the country for inevitable threats. Hopefully this subcommittee was listening.

[Baxter Lewallen is an OCPA intern.]

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