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Published:November 29th, 2006 06:31 EST
Keynote Address by Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff to the 2006 Grants & Training National Conference

Keynote Address by Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff to the 2006 Grants & Training National Conference

By SOP newswire

Well, thank you for that welcome and thank you for being a little patient with me. We hit a little bit of traffic coming in today.

Now those of you who've been to Washington or lived in Washington know this room is also the location for the infamous White House Correspondents Dinner. And the difference between that dinner and this is, first of all, they're not serving you rubber chicken, and second, I'm not going to be that funny.

But I do appreciate the opportunity to be with you here today to talk about the importance of preparedness and partnership in the country. As Corey told you, preparedness is one of the foundation stones of what we do at the Department of Homeland Security. And as witnessed by the fact that you're here today, I think all of us understand that whether we are dealing with an act of terror or a natural disaster, preparedness is a shared responsibility. We all have to work together to protect our communities and our country, and we have to do it not by mandates from the top down but by networking from the bottom up, community by community, state by state, and throughout the federal government.

Effective preparedness requires teamwork across all levels of the government and society, and it requires joint planning, coordination, training and execution. We have to have a common approach, a coordinated approach, across all of the phases of what we have to do to create homeland security -- prevention, protection, response and recovery. So what I'd like to do today is talk a little bit about our vision at the department for managing the full breadth of preparedness activities in partnership with all of you, how we can add value to your efforts, and where we want to go in the future.

I'm going to repeat something I've said a lot in the almost two years I've been on this job, which is the core principle that animates what we do at DHS, and that is risk management. It is a recognition of the fact that management of risk is not elimination of risk. There is no elimination of risk in life, and anybody who promises every single person protection against every threat at every moment in every place in the country is making a false promise.

What we do have to do is identify and prioritize risks -- understanding the threat, the vulnerability and the consequence. And then we have to apply our resources in a cost-effective manner, using discipline and common sense in order to minimize the risk without imposing undue cost on our communities and our families. Now what that means from my standpoint is that I have to look at the totality of risk across the United States and I have to work with the department to figure out where to make the investments to reduce risks in the most efficient way possible and build the necessary capabilities across the country to help you do your jobs.

That means a few specific things. Obviously it means that the high risk locations are going to get a disproportionate amount of money. I think that's the intent of Congress. I think that's the intent of the people. But it doesn't mean that the high risk people or places get all the money. So that while, for example, we do put a lot of emphasis on protecting the big cities and the major elements of infrastructure, we do have to recognize that we have a responsibility to elevate protection for the entire nation.

So we have to invest our resources that balance the need to give the most to the high risk areas, but also to make sure that everybody is getting a basic level of capability to do what they need to do to protect Americans in our towns and our rural areas from sea to sea. I also know that every single person from every community quite rightly is an advocate for the needs and requirements of that community. That's your job; that is what I would do if I were in your place. You quite rightly have the perspective of the people that you are representing in terms of what their needs are. But we also know that if you were to add up all of those needs as perceived by the representatives of every community, we would have to give out 10 or 15 times as much money as we actually have in the pool of what is appropriated. So of necessity, there's going to be some disappointment and some need to balance all of these requests across a common template of risk.

Now it may startle you to hear me remind you that since 9/11 the federal government has provided more than $18 billion in grants to state and local governments, and that is a lot of money. As Everett Dirksen, the late Everett Dirksen used to say, you know, a billion here and a billion there, pretty soon it does start to sound like real money. And that's money that's been important to give to you. It's also money that has to be wisely spent and supervised.

But even with this large infusion of funds, we do have finite resources, and we can't -- in fact, it would be a mathematical responsibility to suggest that we could fully fund capabilities to meet every imaginable risk. So what I want to do today is talk to you about the steps we're going to take going forward to make our grant process more effective, more transparent, and more user friendly consistent with the principles of risk management that I've just talked about.

I also want to say, before I discuss what we're going to do, that we have a very keen recognition of the primacy of state and local government in developing the skills and capabilities for preparedness. State and local governments know communities the best. They know their communities much better than the federal government in Washington knows their communities. And therefore, the expertise to tailor planning and capabilities to specific needs best resides with the lowest level of government. What we can do is not federalize preparedness but help you do your jobs by adding value where federal government resources have a particular help that we can generate, or where our planning capability, looking across the entire horizon, can give you a boost in terms of the specific planning that you need to do for your individual communities.

So let me talk about some of the areas where I think we can add value without preempting you and where I think we can add these values of clarity, transparency, and common sense and user friendliness in how we assist you in doing your jobs. Well, first let me talk about prevention. Obviously, when it comes to terrorism, our best solution is a solution that prevents a terrorist act before it actually comes about. And a critical element in that is our early warning system, which is intelligence -- intelligence gathering, intelligence analysis, and intelligence dissemination to people who need to know.

And since September 11th, we have accomplished a paradigm shift in how we share information and intelligence across the government and the private sector. We've done it by fusing and integrating our intelligence analytic capabilities, by developing and building upon an information sharing environment, by lowering some of the walls to information sharing that used to exist before the passage of the Patriot Act.

One of the critical insights we've had is that we have to do, not only a better job of horizontal sharing, as we have succeeded, I think, in doing over the last five years, but we have to do more in terms of vertical sharing. And that's, by the way, not a one-way street. It's not just us pushing information down to you; it's you -- helping you collect and push information up to us because increasingly the threats we have to worry about are not merely those that come from overseas, but homegrown threats of the kind, for example, that the United Kingdom has lately faced in 2005 and 2006 with some of the homegrown plots that came to light over there.

One of the keys to moving this vertical pathway in information sharing -- are fusion centers that are now being created in many of the states and the major urban areas in this country. We see a tremendous value in having a national network of linked intelligence fusion centers to facilitate the two-way sharing of information, and we look forward to enabling and assisting the creation and development of those fusion centers.

One of the things, for example, we're in the process of doing is deploying DHS intelligence and analytic personnel to all the major fusion centers, and getting that done by the end of 2008. We're already getting that done in a number of major cities. This will allow us to build a vertical network to match the horizontal network of intelligence and information sharing for all of our communities across the country.

Second, let me talk about the issue of grants. Again, we recognize that we have high risk regions that are going to get a disproportionate amount of the assistance because they have the greater risk. We also recognize, though, that we cannot give them all the money. We have to make sure that all communities in all states have some basic capabilities.

Now let me tell you what we've tried to do over the last few years. We've tried to move in a more disciplined fashion in two ways, first of all in terms of understanding risk, which again is threat vulnerability and consequence. And part of that means not only looking at what's happened in the past, although understanding what's happened in the past is important, but trying to anticipate what's going to happen in the future, and trying to do it in a way that is based upon hard analytics and not just anecdote and whatever happens to be in the news.

At the same time, we need to be more disciplined about what we give communities grants to spend money on. There were stories early on after the creation of the department and even before the department was created about money being spent for homeland security with what I might describe as a very generous description of homeland security. And we all know that anybody with a modicum of creativity can find a way to take almost any governmental function and spin it in a way that says it enhances homeland security. But we also know that's not what Congress and the public thinks we're doing with homeland security funds. So we have to build a way of describing what we do so that we have a more specific and clear definition of what is appropriate spending. And that, by the way, gives us a better ability to hold people accountable for the way they actually spend the money, so we have fewer of those stories about leather jackets and gym equipment that I think we all remember reading after the first round of grants went out early in the period after 9/11.

So let me tell you how we're going about getting to the next level of clarity and discipline in doing this. We are using risk-tiering as a way of identifying communities with higher risks so we can allocate an appropriate portion of the total funds to those communities. And I'll give you a concrete example based on what we did with mass transit during our grants for the 2006 grant cycle.

We identified through tier one a number of communities that we believed had the highest risk in terms of mass transit. That was based upon ridership; it was based upon the architecture of the system in which we were able to identify those systems with a higher degree of vulnerability. If one tries to analyze for example what a specific bomb could do in system number one as opposed to system number two, we looked at the different architecture. And then, having analyzed the risk, we granted a significant proportion of the total funds to the big cities and regions where we knew that the risks were highest. And then we identified a second category of cities, what we call tier two cities, which we opened up for some competitive bidding or competitive grant applications so that we could give some money out to other communities, again based on the way it would be most efficiently used.

What you'll see if you look at the numbers from last year is that 90 percent of the total mass transit funding went to the tier one big cities and urban areas, which of course, received the lion's share.

But an additional 19 urban areas shared the balance of the remaining funds. So what you would expect, and what I think Congress expected happened. Cities like New York, Chicago with very large systems and particular vulnerabilities and high consequences got the lion's share of the money. But we also were able to give some money to boost basic capabilities in other systems, particularly where they were able to demonstrate that they had very good use to which that money could be put.

We did the same thing with port security grants. We expanded our list of ports that would be eligible to compete, but we did capture the highest risk ports with a significant share of the money. That is putting the money where the risk is, which is what I think again the public wants and where Congress has directed us to move.

Another thing we've done is increasingly focus on regionalization. We know that threats don't comfortably come confined to the political line drawing that describes what falls within one political jurisdiction or another political jurisdiction. Threats are risk-based, and the consequences of threats are risk-based -- I'm sorry region-based. And that means we have to look regionally at what we doing to deal with risk. And of course, that was vividly exhibited on September 11th and in Katrina, where the spill-over effect of an event in one jurisdiction was acutely felt in multiple other jurisdictions. So we've begun to look at regionalization as an important positive element in determining where we put money. And we've used that, particularly in our urban areas security initiative grants.

Finally, I want to say there was a lot of criticism last year about some of the microscopic detail that seemed to go into the analysis distinguishing between one area and another in terms of risk. And I think as we've looked at that, we've come to the conclusion that perhaps there was a little too much bean counting and a little less standing back and applying common sense to look at the total picture, so I think this year as we move forward, we're going to look to definitions of risk that have fewer microscopic calculations and broader, more easily understandable rules of principle that explain why we are allocating risk the way we are among the various urban areas or states that are competing for money.

So using these principles, which are tiring to put the most money where the highest risk is; regionalization, which is looking at the impact of risk on a region and not really on a political jurisdiction; and clarity and principle-based risk analysis, as opposed to a lot of microscopic bean counting, I think we're going to have a system that is more understandable and more transparent. But there's one additional piece which I think is going to be very good news for all of you, which is it's got to be a user-friendly process.

This year we're going to get grant guidance for all of our grants out this coming month, the month of December, which is going to be earlier than we've ever done it before. And there's a reason that I've directed that we do it. It's because in the past when we've gotten the grant guidance out later in the cycle, those applying for grants have put together proposals, and they've tended to be accepted or rejected almost on what I would call a pass-fail basis.

And I've heard the complaints about it, looking like we're playing kind of a pop quiz type of game with local communities. They have to try to guess what we're looking for, and if they guess wrong, they don't get the money that they think they're entitled to, and that they may be entitled to.

So again, having taken that critique into mind, we've looked at the process and said, how do we make this more of a give-and-take. By getting the guidance out earlier this year, we're going to give you an opportunity to submit your proposals in enough time for us to do one turn-around and get back to you with a critique of what we think is good and what we think is not good. That will give you an opportunity to fine tune your proposals for a second round to maximize the ability for you to get funds that a risk-based analysis says you should be entitled to get by being able to tailor your proposal in a way that is most likely to satisfy our requirements in terms of the preparedness goals that we believe are important for getting capabilities out across the country.

In other words, it's not going to be like a pass-fail test. It's going to be an iterative back-and-forth process in which you will have an opportunity to absorb our suggestions and come back for a second round before we finalize these arrangements.

I'm convinced that this kind of two-way communication is going to go a long way to alleviating some of the frustration that you have rightly expressed in past years. And after we get this year's cycle done, I'm going to predict to you that next year, we will be even earlier in getting the grant guidance out -- hopefully within a matter of 30 to 60 days after Congress appropriates the money for the 2008 grant cycle. What that's going to mean again is better planning for you, better understanding and better communication between our department and the states and localities.

Now, with that, of course, comes accountability. Homeland Security funding, first of all, is not only a federal responsibility. State and local governments also have to put resources in and prioritize resources for homeland security. And in order to do the job you have to do, as well as for us to make sure we're doing our job in the way we're dispensing grants and assistance to you, we need to have accountability, performance measures and benchmarks.

This year marks a banner year for performance management with the release of the National Incident Management Systems Compliance Measures to state governors. And another example of the use of performance measures is the nationwide plan review, a plan that many of you played a critical role in developing, as well as the National Preparedness Goal and Target Capabilities List.

What these planning documents allow us to do and you to do is have a baseline for measuring preparedness with respect to some very specific skills and resources so that we know what our targets are and we can measure the progress we are making toward those targets. And I'd suggest that in your own work, and in terms of applying state and local funds, as well as applying our funds, if you look to see what additional performance measures you can develop to help you monitor the progress you're making and ensure accountability from the people in your communities who are spending the money that Congress and state legislators have appropriated for homeland security.

Finally, a critical element of preparedness means boosting response and recovery if we are unable to prevent or protect against a major disaster -- whether it be natural or manmade. And we've worked very hard this past year, particularly after the experience of the hurricane season of 2005 to help enhance our mutual capabilities in response and recovery.

Our goal is, again, not to supplant state and local government as the principal point of the spear in dealing with disasters, which is the customary and constitutional way we operate in this country.

Rather, our intent is to add value to your efforts and capabilities and to help you ensure a coordinated response when we do face a major, multi-jurisdictional incident that requires all levels of support -- federal, state and local.

So what are our major goals over the next year or two?  First, we are determined to ensure that the Urban Area Security Initiative cities, the major cities, have inter-operable communications in effect by the end of this coming year, and that all states have inter-operable communications in effect by the end of 2008. We have the first generation of equipment. We know that what's needed at this point is finishing the governance plans and the documents, and we also know that we need to complete the job of getting the specifications for the next generation of digital equipment out there so you can complete the process of being able to do your own planning for your next generation of purchases.

The bottom line is we have to be able to communicate during a disaster, and this remains a priority for all of us. We're going to get it done. And again, as part of our performance measurement approach, we anticipate that after a collaborative effort we have undertaken with you over the last few months, we are going to be able to issue interoperability score cards for the UASI cities this coming month. The idea again being this is going to help guide those cities that need more money to get to where they have to be in terms of prioritizing their grant applications using our 2007 money.

Another goal is NIMS compliance. We're well on our way to NIMS compliance all across the nation. This, by the way, was a 9/11 Commission recommendation. And it's important work we have to complete.

By having a common set of protocols, a play book so to speak that emergency responders at all levels understand, train against and exercise with, we're going to be much closer to having a nation that can be robust and better prepared when a cross-jurisdictional catastrophe actually occurs. We want to make sure that as we get into FY2008, we continue to build measures of effectiveness to make sure that we are training to NIMS, managing our resources to NIMS, and exercising to NIMS.

For our part, the federal government is making sure we're doing some things better to service you. We have this year for hurricane season put into effect a level of commodity management capability never before seen at FEMA. The good news was we didn't have a terribly serious hurricane season. We did have a couple of very serious tropical storms and near hurricanes. We did get to exercise the system. It worked well. We tweaked it somewhat. This next year going into the 2007 hurricane season, we're going to go to the next level of commodity tracking which is going to give us visibility at all levels of where essential supplies are when you call for them.

We've also revised the National Response Plan, using lessons from the 2005 hurricane season. And perhaps even more important, we have begun working with DOD what we call a deliberative planning process for 15 major catastrophic national planning scenarios, which we would need to plan against if there were truly a catastrophe in this country.

These include everything from pandemic flu, to the detonation of a nuclear improvised explosive device, to a major biological attack, to an earthquake in California or at New Madrid, or at any of the other major 15 planning scenarios that have in our national preparedness goal.

And in order to make sure that we're adequately focused on warning people when a catastrophe comes, the President earlier this year issued an executive order mandating that we put in place a comprehensive system to alert and warn the public during national emergencies. Those of you who grew up in the '50s remember that they used to break into television programming with this warning system, which was the first primitive version of this. But we're in the 21st century. We have text messaging. We have the Internet. We have digital cable. We have satellite television. We have to upgrade the current patchwork system and build one that is national in scope for the 21st century. Therefore, in the next two years, we're committed to implementing this system for the 21st century with the goal of establishing the capability to reach 85 percent of the listening public in 10 minutes with warnings. And that's going to be a major step forward for protecting this country against any foreseeable catastrophe.

Let me conclude by saying something which I know you all know:  Preparedness is not at the end of the day just a government responsibility. The government does not own most of the assets in this country. We don't operate the business, and we don't employ most of the people. That's why it's a civic duty and a personal responsibility for individuals and private businesses all across the country to do their part in personal preparedness. We have to continue to promote a culture of preparedness through the Citizens Corps, which has at this point close to 2,100 councils in every state and which is training hundreds of thousands of people in communities all over the country in preparedness. And I want to thank you for your support and participation.

We also have to continue to promote preparedness through a robust media campaign known as our Ready Campaign. I want to tell you that the Ready Campaign has generated almost $600 million in donated media, and the website has received more than 1.9 billion hits and 24.3 million unique visitors. That is getting the message out so people can do what they have to do to put themselves in a position to deal with emergencies.

And I want to continue to encourage you at your community level to work with schools and other institutions to make sure you are fostering a preparedness outreach program that helps you by making sure the public is prepared to help itself.

Every one of you plays a critical role in our nation's ability to prevent, protect against and respond to potentially life-threatening and life-disrupting incidents or disasters. Those of us at DHS count on your partnership and your collaboration every single day. I want to thank you for joining us here. I want thank you for your ongoing commitment and partnership as we meet this challenge together. Whether you're a state and local official, whether you're the owner, operator of a private business, or whether you're simply a member of a family and a private citizen, we look forward to working with you in the days and months ahead. We want to be clear. We want to be transparent. We want to be helpful. And as I hope I've demonstrated in this speech, we will continue to listen to you, hear you, and adapt what we do to make sure that we are best meeting your needs.

Thank you very much.