White House mandates COOP planning

HSPD-20

The Bush administration outlined a series of steps May 9 that the executive branch will take starting in the next 90 days to ensure the government remains open in all situations.

Under Homeland Security Presidential Directive-20, President Bush told agencies to appoint a senior-level official at the assistant secretary level as their continuity of operations (COOP) coordinators and prepare plans, budgets and exercises to test their COOP plans each year.

“This directive establishes a comprehensive national policy on the continuity of federal government structures and operations, and a single national continuity coordinator responsible for coordinating the development and implementation of federal continuity policies,” the directive states. “Continuity requirements shall be incorporated into daily operations of all executive departments and agencies.”

HSPD-20 builds on the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Federal Preparedness Circular, which was released in June 2004 and provides guidance for agencies to develop COOP plans.

Although FEMA’s document is for guidance, the directive is mandatory.

“On its face, Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.) thinks this is a wise move, as it ensures compliance from agencies that in the past pretty much ignored FEMA” and the Homeland Security Department, said David Marin, staff minority director of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee, where Davis is the ranking member. “But we hope the shift will be as seamless as possible, since we're nearly six years removed from Sept. 11 and it's been four-and-a-half years since Davis began pressing the federal government to take COOP more seriously.”

The White House said agencies should plan their COOP procedures to deal with all manmade and natural threats, and be able to initiate the plans with little or no notice.

“Emphasis will be placed upon geographic dispersion of leadership, staff and infrastructure in order to increase survivability and maintain uninterrupted government functions,” the directive states.

HSPD-20 stated that President Bush designated the assistant to the president for homeland security and counterterrorism as the national continuity coordinator. The coordinator will work with agencies to develop their COOP policies and plans through the Continuity Policy Coordination Committee.

In addition, Bush outlined 15 steps the executive branch must take to implement the directive.

The steps include:
  • Ensuring that vital resources, facilities and records be safeguarded and official access be provided.
  • Providing critical communications at alternative sites and making sure they are available and redundant so key leaders remain connected.
  • Identifying and training preparedness employees capable of relocating to alternative facilities to support the continuation of government.
  • Requiring the Office of Management and Budget director to conduct an annual assessment of executive department continuity funding requests and performance data to monitor progress of agency implementation plans.
  • Requiring the Homeland Security Department to develop and conduct a federal continuity training and exercise program and make available grant funding for state and local governments as well as private-sector critical infrastructure owners and operators.

The directive also requires the White House’s Office of Science and Technology Policy to:
  • Define and issue minimum requirements for continuity communications.
  • Establish requirements for a communications architecture and monitor its implementation.
  • Review quarterly and annually the assessments of continuity of communications capabilities.

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