Fiscal Constraints Highlight Need for Collaboration

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The most significant homeland security threat to the United States is hiding in plain sight: the ongoing fiscal crisis.

That was a shared message from two guest speakers at the Naval Postgraduate School Center for Homeland Defense and Security Jan. 30. Retired Vice Admiral and former Coast Guard Vice Commandant David Pekoske and retired FBI Special Agent Michael Rolince brought their decades of homeland security expertise to the CHDS Multi-Discipline Approaches to Homeland Security course.

A recurring theme from both presentations was that the ongoing fiscal debate in Washington, D.C., is a homeland security concern. The accompanying funding downturn will likely curb resources such as staffing and equipment.

"One of the biggest threats we face, and probably the most immediate, is the overall health of our economy and the fiscal impact on government budgets," said Pekoske, currently the national security group president at A-T Solutions. "We may have to scale back significantly on programs because our economy is not vibrant and government budgets are declining. That will, by necessity, impact important programs with respect to defense, homeland security, and public safety due to less government and private sector investment."

Rolince, a 31-year FBI veteran agreed, adding the fiscal climate will prompt much-needed tough decision-making.

"I believe we can spend a lot smarter while we put more thought into the decisions we make," said Rolince, now a senior associate with the consulting firm, Booz Allen Hamilton. "If we don’t get an adequate return on investment in a time frame we believe is practical, we should stop spending in that direction."

After more than a decade of government infusion of cash and resources into varied aspects of the homeland security enterprise, the time has come to filter, if not eliminate the ineffective and disproportionately costly programs. Some moneys have been spent poorly, Rolince said.

An example, he said, would be the National Security Entry-Exit Registration. The system was ill-conceived and actually undercut the relationship-building many agencies were seeking with certain communities. It was later shut down and replaced with a biometric based system. Additionally, myriad duplicative databases, platforms and initiatives centered on technical solutions have been developed. What has worked, Rolince added, has been the continuing emphasis on information sharing across agencies at all levels of government, as well as an increased emphasis on agencies exchanging personnel.

"Going forward, the focus should be on collaboration, integration and enhanced effectiveness and efficiency, particularly given the reduced level of funding that will be available to maintain our strength, while simultaneously ensuring our security," Rolince said.

The keystone of information sharing is interagency and government-private sector cooperation. This is essential for effective and efficient public safety and security programs, Pekoske said, while also meeting the challenges of two other looming homeland security challenges – cyber-security and violent homegrown extremism.

Collaboration requires each partner to find common ground and each party receive some benefit. Moreover, Pekoske urged decision makers to use the financial challenge as an occasion to revamp long-held traditional thinking.

A reading assignment for the course was "Collaborate or Perish!: Reaching Across Boundaries in a Networked World," co-authored by former Los Angeles and New York police chief William Bratton and Zachary Tumin.

"Rather than viewing this financial situation as purely a crisis I would encourage leaders at all levels to look at this as an opportunity to reset," Pekoske said. "We need to ensure we invest in those programs that achieve the best outcomes and eliminate or reduce those that contribute less. If you miss this opportunity you may not get it again. You’ll be in the position of making incremental change and often incremental change, while improving outcomes on the margin, doesn’t result in large-scale improvement or achievement of a grander vision and is often more costly. You should be able to look back in a couple of years and say, ‘this happened, and this is how much farther along we are because of the actions we took when the opportunity was available.’"

Battle-tested military intelligence analysts are returning from Afghanistan and Iraq, Rolince noted, and will provide a deep talent pool in that field.

"Hopefully, the government will be able to take advantage of that talent," Rolince said. "But it will create tremendous pressure within the system because there just aren’t going to be as many jobs as there will be applicants, particularly as regards certain specialized National Security related positions. Simultaneously, an upside for managers and leaders will be the opportunity to build teams comprised of seasoned individuals who bring years of relevant experience, and who can train and mentor those who arrive new to the work force."

CHDS professor Kathleen Kiernan said students need to understand the importance of collaboration, especially so with strained finances.

"This is about teams." Kiernan said "It really means we cannot be competitive against these threats absent a coherent whole government and whole of communities approach."

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