Should DHS Take the Lead in All Gulf Efforts?
On July 7 the Homeland Security Policy Institute released a commentary co-authored by the former Administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) C. David Paulison and HSPI’s Deputy Director David Kaniewski entitled “The Gulf Oil Spill Disaster: Three Steps to Federal Leadership,” which I think is worth reading. In essence, the authors call on the Obama Administration to make clear the chain of command and framework for the federal government’s response to the oil spill by invoking Homeland Security Presidential Directive 5, which would put Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano in charge of all interagency efforts and use the National Response Framework as the guidelines for all response activity. Finally, the authors want the President to direct that FEMA play a more central role in the response.
Structurally, creating a chain of command and framework of this sort makes perfect sense to me, and I think it is sorely needed. Currently it seems that no one is really in charge. Is it the Coast Guard, is it British Petroleum, or is it the Secretary of the Navy and former Mississippi Governor Ray Mabus in charge of recovery restoration of the region? There is no question that a myriad of federal agencies have been involved in the response, but the only thing that seems clear is that no one is clearly in charge.
That said, the devil will still be in the details. What will be the policy approach towards recovery and restoration taken by the Secretary of the Navy? It seems to me that whatever the approach towards the restoration effort is undertaken it has to done in close coordination with the recovery efforts as the two are inexorably tied together. How will this be coordinated with the disposition of the $20 billion restoration fund overseen by Kenneth Feinberg? (A related question here is what methodology will be used to guide all the Gulf Coast related response, recovery and restoration efforts – hopefully the notion of resiliency will be a core part of the direction of these efforts).
Moreover, while it makes perfect sense to say that the National Response Framework (NRF) and the principles outlined in the National Incident Management System (NIMS) will serve as the response framework, what will this mean in practice? One of the criticisms of the NRF and NIMS is that they are fine as principles, but there is not a lot of meat on the bone. How will that serve to better coordinate the activities on the ground? What governance process will be brought into the Unified Command? How will they achieve better situational awareness and coordination? While these are clear principles in the NRF and NIMS, implementation is still pretty vague. This in no way suggests that the President not implement the recommendations of Paulison and Kaniewski. It is to say that structural changes alone will not solve the profound issues facing the Gulf. They can, however, lay the groundwork to begin to put the necessary pieces in place.