Chertoff: Hands off FEMA; upgrade IT
- By Mary Mosquera
- Dec 10, 2008
Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said that the Obama
administration shouldn't carve the Federal Emergency Management Agency
(FEMA) from the Homeland Security Department and that DHS should
continue to invest in information technology systems.
DHS is beginning to achieve organizational maturity and stability, Chertoff said in a meeting with reporters Dec. 9.
disagreed with some suggestions that the next administration, and his
designated successor, Arizona Gov, Janet Napolitano, should separate
FEMA from DHS and make it an independent agency again. DHS needs FEMA
to provide an integrated approach to emergency protection, prevention
and response, Chertoff said.
“All the pieces of the department
fit together thematically, such as dealing with the border,
transportation, how to keep bad things out," Chertoff said. "FEMA gives
us the response and mitigation pieces, which round out DHS prevention
and protection pieces."
If the incoming Obama administration
removed FEMA, the agency would probably focus on what it has
traditionally done -- dealing with hurricanes and natural disasters, he
said, “No one would have ownership or responsibility for response or
mitigation,” he added.
If a problems such as biological attacks
spanned agency responsibilities, it would be harder to get the two
agencies to connect, he said. “When you manage an incident, you want
someone that can manage the whole spectrum," he added. "I think the
reason to integrate is for the ability to do all these things.”
the Bush administration created DHS, it was an immature organization,
where every agency focused on its own task and relied on its individual
information systems, Chertoff said. That is changing now, so he advised
his successor to delay any major changes.
“Every time you
threaten a reorganization, let alone carry one out, everyone stops.
They don’t know who their boss is going to be or what they’ll be doing.
Everybody has their own idea how we could have organized,” he said.
some point, people need stability to have a system that is predictable
and works,” he said, adding that after a period of stability, the
agency executive can then choose to eliminate, combine or add functions.
accomplishing organizational maturity, DHS has consolidated some of its
computer systems in financial management and reduced some of its major
financial management weaknesses, Chertoff said. DHS also was able to
build a joint planning and execution capability for its Office of
Planning and Coordination, which let the department analyze a problem,
build a plan across its agencies and establish metrics to help them
achieve the plan, he said.
“In general, [information technology] investment tends to get less attention because it’s not glamorous,” Chertoff said.
must continue to reduce the number of its Internet gateways under the
Trusted Internet Connection information security initiative and deploy
the next generation of Einstein technology to monitor traffic at agency
Internet connection points to support the TIC, he said.
Mary Mosquera is a reporter for Federal Computer Week.