Skip to content

“The present system is not working.”

June 16, 2010

John Morton, our Homeland Security guy, sent this timely e-mail to our staff in reaction to the the Deepwater Horizon oil spill (some snippets snipped out):

The BP oil spill is beyond the interagency.

I guarantee the intergovernmental aspects will increasingly come to the fore…  The fix is not just an interagency matter; it is, as Patti would say, whole-of-society.

Let’s cut to the chase here.  PNSR saw itself as extending Goldwater-Nichols to the interagency in order to balance defense, diplomacy and development in a new National Security Act of 2010 paradigm.  A correct approach in 2007-08 in light of Iraq and Afghanistan, which I definitely supported.

But events, as Leon forecast, are rapidly overtaking this approach, as the spill and immigration are illustrating.  I would argue that “resilience” will require a new federalism with new structures and processes, e.g., the stakeholder collaboration committee and the National Operational Framework which PNSR advocated in FNS.  These are better attune to serving anticipatory governance.  Solutions to such problems can no longer be federal-centric, and we are seeing this in spades.

But consider the Washington dynamic from the other direction.

Take the debt crisis, with which the administration has been wrestling since transition.  With that in mind, let’s think of Ev Dirksen.  Think of the dollars at stake, not just in the Federal budget, but also in terms of regulatory policy re trade, investment, international monetary coordination, etc., and make a comparison as might apply to the “interagency.”

Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, Boeing and Raytheon is to DoD…as Goldman Sachs is to the Fed and Treasury.

The national security system in the postwar functioned quite well because there was a contract among big business, big labor and big government which Ike enshrined in his Great Equation.  So, his NSC and EOP staffs could manage the IA quite well and do the trade-offs, etc.  For better or worse, it worked until the fall of the Soviet Empire.  Not so since…

Which brings us back to the oil spill.  Congress may try to bury BP, but I would be very surprised if the Executive Branch will go along with it.  BP has a lot of suasion in DC, if for no other reason by virtue of the UK support for our Iraq policy from which BP stands to benefit where other international firms don’t.  The IA, thus, could easily rally behind the President to mitigate the effect of the ire of the people.  BTW, the Tea Party could make merry on presidential paralysis in the fall.  As the damage compounds, fanned by a hurricane or two (maybe), then Leon’s wave (see “social tsunami”) starts to build, and we have states clamoring to take charge of more of their own destinies and we really will have to address the intergovernmental.

This really highlights how fast the challenges are coming at us, and not only is the federal government having problems, but society as a whole. This article about a local government defying federal plans and this article about the interrelationships between the country’s institutions are examples of what John has written.

Also, this article in the New York Times spells out chaos in the country’s response to the oil spill in full. Here’s a summary from Slate:

Rick Perry may want to pretend that the Gulf oil spill was an “act of God,” but even if you grant him that, there’s no doubt that the response has been mangled by a lot of very human error. The New York Times reports that “from the beginning,” the response “has been bedeviled by a lack of preparation, organization, urgency and clear lines of authority among federal, state and local officials, as well as BP.” It wasn’t supposed to be this way. After the Exxon-Valdez spill in 1989, lawmakers passed laws requiring stakeholders to develop plans for oil spills, “so the response effort would be quick, with clear responsibilities for everyone involved.” But an excess of plans has led to an excess of confusion. There were not one but five emergency plans supposedly in place in the Gulf, drawn up by the Coast Guard, federal officials, state authorities, and BP. (And every single one of them “either failed to consider a continuing blowout or drastically underplayed the effects of one.”) The various groups responding to the spill have failed to communicate well with each other, with lawmakers, and with Gulf coast residents who have been stripped of their livelihoods. “The information is not flowing,” Sen. Ben Nelson, a Democrat from Florida, said. “The decisions are not timely. The resources are not produced. And as a result, you have a big mess, with no command and control.” The result of this “big mess” is environmental damage that is worse than it had to be. The Times says the disorganization “has left an often dangerous vacuum of guidance and direction in one of the most fragile ecosystems on earth.” Cleanup workers are “tossing around pelican eggs,” and caution tape intended to keep people away from rare birds is getting tangled in their habitats instead. “BP could fire all their contractors,” one local said, “because they’re doing absolutely nothing but destroying our marsh.”


Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: