Rich Cooper

Apr 21, 2009

This Wednesday, April 22, 2009 four senior DHS nominees (Craig Fugate to be Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Administrator; John T. Morton to be U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Assistant Secretary; Ivan Fong to be DHS General Counsel; and Tim Manning to be FEMA National Preparedness Directorate Deputy Administrator) will appear before the US Senate for their confirmation hearings.  These four individuals are part of the first wave of Obama Administration senior executives, following the confirmations of Secretary Napolitano and Deputy Secretary Lute, selected to take the reigns of key DHS components and lead it for the next four-plus years.  

In appearing before the Senate, each will present their respective vision and qualifications for taking on what can only be described as thankless and back-breaking jobs.  Every one of the positions they are stepping forward to fill is its own individual lightning rod each ultimately grounded to the individual name and reputation of the person taking upon the respective office.  It is an absolute guarantee that in the course of their respective tenure in these positions each of these office holders will be struck by lightning multiple times in the form of Mother Nature; the media and blogosphere; terrorism/wide scale emergency events; constituency groups of every interest and ideology; two-faced politicians; programmatic, policy and bureaucratic failures as well as the always fickle general public.  

In fulfilling the Senate’s role of “advise and consent” on these positions, Senators will question the respective nominees on their ability to take on these national level assignments and effectively lead each.  All indications are that each of the nominees is on a clear path towards confirmation.  Each of them are supremely qualified and experienced for their respective posts; they’ve all apparently paid their taxes (always a plus); they’ve passed the various background checks; and they’ve each willingly agreed to take on some of the most challenging jobs in public service.  We owe each of them a debt of gratitude for stepping forward to serve, but before they can raise their right hand and be sworn into office, they each have to answer questions from the Senate.

Since I’m not a sitting US Senator, I won’t have the opportunity to question the nominees, but if I did here are four sets of questions I would ask them if given the chance.

Questions for Craig Fugate – Nominee for FEMA Administrator
1)    Mr. Fugate you’ve worked with FEMA when it was an independent agency and when it became part of DHS as it is today.  So let’s cut the crap on giving us a safe answer and cut to the chase – Should FEMA stay inside DHS or be removed entirely to operate independently again?

2)    As Florida’s lead Emergency Manager, you and your team encountered wide-scale fires; numerous hurricanes (sometimes one right after the other); power blackouts; destructive tornadoes, flooding and more and yet the Sunshine State weathered them all with considerable success.  How was that possible and what do you need to replicate that same performance for FEMA and the nation?

3)    In the course of the Presidential campaign, the then-Obama campaign heralded the public-private partnership model Florida developed to help the Sunshine State’s residents and businesses plan, prepare, respond and recover to emergencies of all types.  This model allowed you to have private sector members as part of the State’s emergency operations in information sharing as well as response and recovery efforts.  What obstacles (e.g., policies, programs, regulations, attitudes, lack of resources, etc.) do you see at FEMA today that prevent you from executing similar partnerships from occurring with the private sector and enhancing our national preparedness?  How do you propose to overcome these and what are your metrics for success?

4)    In 2007, the Congress passed the 9/11 Commission Recommendations Act which directed DHS to establish a Voluntary Private Sector Preparedness Accreditation and Certification Program.  While the legislation makes no requirement for DHS or its component agencies to select its support contractors or vendors from those who have a qualified, practiced and accredited business continuity/preparedness plan, do you think that FEMA should impose such a threshold when selecting those who support the Agency and do business with it?

Questions for John T. Morton – Nominee, Assistant Secretary, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)
1)    Mr. Morton over the course of the past several years (and weeks) the enforcement actions of ICE have been compared by Members of Congress and others to those of terrorists, the Gestapo and even called by some “un-American.”  Some have even questioned the “value system” of our enforcement approach.  Can you describe the enforcement approach and “value system” you want to bring to ICE?

2)    Are you willing and prepared to challenge Members of Congress of either party, regardless of their seniority or political party to defend the honor and integrity of the men and women you lead when rhetorical criticism goes beyond the realms of reality and decent respect?

3)    During the Bush Administration there was a notable increase in immigration enforcement actions, but in the opening months of this new Administration, there has been a significant reduction in such efforts.  Can you describe for us the overarching strategy you hope to implement at ICE as it pertains to enforcement efforts?  Will you be looking to focus on workforce enforcement or pushing ICE’s resources to those interior enforcement efforts that focus on violent or incarcerated illegal aliens?  

4)    What enforcement strategies do you look to bring to ICE that address families and children, particularly those cases where children who are born in the US to parents who are here illegally involved?  

Questions for Ivan Fong – Nominee, DHS General Counsel

1)    What is your exposure to the SAFETY Act and your opinion on its effectiveness in addressing the private sectors liability concerns over the technologies, services and products it brings to the marketplace?  Should it be expanded to cover non-terrorism areas or become international in the scope of its protections?  

2)    One of the biggest criticisms of DHS’ General Counsel operations from its internal components as well as other federal and private sector members is its inability to execute in a timely and efficient manner the review of simple documents ranging from CRADAs, policy and programmatic letters, MOUs and so forth.  One internal DHS component leader has even remarked that DHS lawyers are more bent on making policy during heir reviews than undertaking the actual legal review of actions that they were hired to perform.  As such they have become one of the greatest obstacles to progress.  What do you propose to do rectify such performance?

3)    What, if any role, do you think your office should have in the Department’s Information Sharing and Analysis efforts particularly as it pertains to Fusion Centers and intelligence sharing products such as those released earlier this month that discussed right wing extremism and returning veterans?

4)    There have been concerns expressed by Members of Congress on both sides of the aisle that DHS policies are being implemented or changed so that the Department does not follow the laws as passed by Congress.  One recent example in the news is whether DHS policy changes on immigration enforcement to focus on employer’s violations will mean that the Department will not evenly enforce the laws as they apply to individual illegal aliens. What will be the policy of the Office of General Counsel under your leadership with regard to selective application of federal law?

Questions for Tim Manning – Nominee, FEMA National Preparedness Directorate Deputy Administrator
1)    As a Statewide Emergency Manager, what are the qualities and performance metrics you saw during your service in New Mexico that told you the strengths and weaknesses of the prepared and unprepared communities in your State?  Do you think those same metrics can be applied nationally?

2)    In recent testimony before the US House of Representatives, senior Native American leaders have shared the tremendous gaps in resources, planning and preparedness assistance, interoperability and so on that exist between their people and the federal, state and local government that surround them.  What is your strategy to ensure that our nation’s tribal populations also become part of our national preparedness strategy?  How did you address these situations in New Mexico?

3)    Part of your responsibilities as FEMA’s Preparedness Directorate leader is to act as a steward of the National Response Framework.  As New Mexico’s leader for engaging the Framework, what are its current gaps and shortcomings and how can we make it a better tool to enhance our overall resilience?

4)    In July of this year, the National Level Exercise (NLE09) will be occurring.  While much of the exercise planning is already underway, there is a recurring frustration by members of the private sector of a lack of inclusion in the exercise planning process.  A further criticism is the fact that the national exercise fails to test the one area that consistently fails us in every disaster, large or small – communications.  What is the value of an exercise that fails to include some of our country’s best and brightest (the private sector) in its planning?  Furthermore, what is the value of an exercise that fails to test communications architectures and their back-up/alternatives so as to keep us connected?

Good luck gentlemen…

This piece was originally posted on Security Debrief.


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