Chertoff speech addresses FEMA’s role in DHS

DHS secretary points to value of having response, prevention and intelligence organizations together


Now, why am I bringing this up? Because, as we go into the transition, I do see there are some who call for the removal of FEMA from the Department of Homeland Security, and I think I want to take this issue on directly because it has arisen, it arose before the department was formed, it’s arisen, I think, throughout the department’s existence, and it has now, of course, a subject of some discussion again.

I begin by observing, of course, that FEMA is -- that DHS is a young organization. It’s a little over five years old and even in this five years, there’s been a lot of reorganization. But the core of the argument made about FEMA is that somehow FEMA’s involved with consequence management, dealing with the response, and DHS, in other respects, is dealing with preventing or protecting against a response, and that if these are different functions, that therefore they ought to be under different roofs, and I really beg to differ with that. I think that is a profound misunderstanding of how one plans and prepares and executes in the face of a possible emergency and an actual emergency because the truth is emergencies don’t come neatly packaged in stovepipes and if there’s any lesson we’ve learned in dealing with terrorism or dealing with any other crisis, it is that stove-piping is the enemy of efficient and effective response.

Let me be more specific. The fact that FEMA and other components of DHS have had an opportunity during times of rest to plan, train and exercise together and to build capabilities that are capable of crossing jurisdictional lines has allowed us to have the kind of capabilities to support an emergency that would not be the case if we were in different departments.

Simply put, what we do is when we get our communications equipment on our aircraft, we train our operators whose day job is perhaps patrolling the border or dealing with maritime incidents with the Coast Guard, we train them to support a response if the need for response comes upon us. You could not do that if we were located in different departments. So the ability to plan, train and exercise together is a function of our ability to be integrated together.

A second reason why FEMA fits well in the department is because, once we have an event and it’s necessary to quickly call upon other agencies, the quickest way to do that not by reaching to another department of government and having a mission assignment and requiring the other department to then come in and lend assistance, but it’s to have the ability of the Secretary to immediately order assistance to be rendered in all of the elements and capabilities of the entire Department of Homeland Security. This is not merely my opinion. Two people in a position to know because they’ve watched the department since its formation and because they were responsible for its creation in significant part have also endorsed this view.

Citing FEMA’s successful response this year to a number of disasters, the current U.S Senate Homeland Security Chairman, Senator Joe Lieberman, and the Ranking Member, Senator Susan Collins, had this to say in a joint letter they published in yesterday’s New York Times, actually today’s New York Times: Supporting FEMA’s Continued Participation as Part of DHS. “Lives are saved when skills, resources and missions are united, not disbursed.”

This, by the way, is a lesson we’ve learned in national security. When the Department of Defense was first created, you know, the Navy didn’t want to be in it, the Marine Corps didn’t want to be in it, the Army didn’t want to be in it. Everybody viewed it as a diminution of their traditional prerogative as a stand-alone department, and they resisted the full integration of the department all the way into the late 1970s, when the consequence of failure to integrate was, of course, a disastrous result in Desert 1, the failed effort to rescue the hostages during the Carter Administration, and it was as a direct result of that that the Goldwater-Nichols Act in the next decade cemented a quality of jointness that brought all the elements of power together, and what we’re learning now, by the way, is increasingly that in our foreign activities, our national security activities, we need greater integration between the warfighter and the rebuilder than we’ve had before, and I would argue that, just as we’re learning that lesson overseas, we should not be unlearning it here at home.