Homeland Security: Digital Government with National Purpose

Management at the dawn of a new era in statecraft.

by / October 8, 2002
"In the annals of world affairs, June 2002 will go down as the most epochal month in a half century." That from longtime diplomatic observer and Pulitzer Prize-winning editorialist Robert L. Bartley in the Wall Street Journal on comparing the Cold War Truman Doctrine with the emerging Bush Doctrine of preemption against terrorism.

President George W. Bush debuted his namesake doctrine to graduates at the West Point Military Academy, declaring in part, "America has no empire to extend or utopia to build. We wish for others only what we wish for ourselves - safety from violence, the rewards of liberty, and the hope for a better life."

In the preceding nine months, Bartley observes that the public mood had shifted favorably on two perennial questions: "Is America a force for good in the world?" and "Can the American people be rallied?" He concludes, hopefully, "Putting those questions to rest was the most important impact of Sept. 11."

Just as the earlier Truman Doctrine was attended by a massive restructuring of the federal government in 1947, so too is the Bush Doctrine. Central to the reorganization is a bold (and some have argued, unwieldy) proposal to create a permanent cabinet-level Department of Homeland Security with a budget of more than $37 billion and some 167,000 employees reassigned from other federal agencies.

What does the doctrine and the federal overhaul mean for political subdivisions in the states and localities? To better understand the homeland dynamic, the Center for Digital Government and Government Technology magazine convened the first Intergovernmental Policy Congress (IPC) in Washington, D.C., in the days immediately following the president's speech and proposal. Delegates from city, county, state and federal governments worked through the opportunities and obstacles related to homeland security and technology: bioterrorism countermeasures; business continuity; cyber security and infrastructure protection; emergency preparedness and response; and information sharing across agency and jurisdictional lines.

The collaborative thinking of each intergovernmental and multidisciplinary workgroup on each issue will be reported in the pages that follow. While historians have had a half-century to understand the legacy of the Truman Doctrine, it has fallen to journalists and other observers to document history on the run at the dawn of this new era in statecraft. The purpose here is to put this first draft of history (and the best thinking of the IPC teams) in a management context for the men and women charged with delivering services in communities across the country - and who now share the responsibility for keeping them safe.

Managing through Inflection Points
Intel Chairman Andy Grove popularized the use of the term "inflection point" by calling it a change so powerful that it fundamentally alters the way business gets done. We are witness to the intersection of two inflection points. The first came a few years ago with the commodity Internet. It changed citizen expectations, organizational capacity and technical complexity in ways that could not have been imagined just a few years ago. The second came on Sept. 11, and continues as the country works through the ramifications of the attacks. The intersection assumes that the first inflection point can assist in the second - particularly in terms of information sharing and validation and communication among formerly discrete entities on issues of common concern. The intersection is perhaps best put this way: homeland security is digital government with national purpose.

The intersection also demonstrates the most significant difference between today's circumstances and those of 1947 when Truman created the CIA and a combined Department of Defense. In government and on the Internet, rapid response and innovation take place at the periphery - not the center. It is where hierarchy gives way to collaboration. And it is the greatest latent opportunity in transforming the public's business - not only to react to the immediate crisis, but to ensure an infrastructure sufficiently nimble and robust to respond to this and subsequent challenges.

Managing Externalities without Falling Prey to Externalism
Some public policy issues cannot be solved, but they can be managed. State and local government face the dual challenge of managing externalities without falling prey to externalism. That is, to account for the impact of external homeland-related impacts on their core functions (externalities) without becoming inordinately concerned with those externalities to the detriment of those functions (externalism).

Homeland security is the mother of all externalities in the most serious of times. To be clear, the United States and its allies are confronted by rogue states and stateless rogues who intend us harm. Yet, for much of government (particularly state and local jurisdictions), homeland security is an externality that may inform the way they do business but it does not change the business they are in. As Georgia CIO Larry Singer reminds us, "plan your work and work your plan."

Managing through Budget Reprioritization
In the World War II era, sacrifice took the form of personal rationing - fuel, metal, rubber and food. In homeland defense, the sacrifice appears to be largely institutional - including the cannibalization of non-essential services to fund higher priorities.

Managing externalities in the context of working your plan ultimately comes down to the bottom line. A clear-eyed view of the current fiscal landscape suggests that governments must extend the value of existing technology investments to help secure the homeland. At the same time, the externality of homeland security shines a bright light on areas that have been neglected. Consider the following annotated invoice:

1. Inadequate security is the unpaid bill of the public-sector information technology (IT) community.


Upside: Within government, the policy discussion about ensuring a shared trusted environment for doing the public's business has shifted from "whether" to "how."

Downside: Even in the most advanced jurisdictions, such environments are the exception. The current wave of benchmarking exercises across the country must quickly mature into a consistent end-to-end approach to IT security - including mutually aware security architecture, infrastructure, policy, practices and application design criteria.

2. Perpetuation of separate and discrete technical architectures is the unpaid bill of bureaucratic intransigence.


Upside: "Enterprise architecture" has become part of the political lexicon. It resonates intuitively as the key to meeting information-sharing requirements for homeland defense.

Downside: While new malleable architectures are well positioned to deliver on the promise of information sharing, slow progress toward implementing enterprise architectures demonstrates the considerable inertia within public organizations.

3. Insufficient collaboration is the unpaid bill of fiercely independent agencies that are still coming to terms with an interdependent world.


Upside: Amplified by individual heroism, the immediate response to 9-11 demonstrated the potential of borderless collaboration among public entities, and with the private sector.

Downside: Collaboration is necessary but may be insufficient by itself. In the near term, state and local government must pick up the slack while the federal government reorganizes - presumably increasing the demand for mutual aid. Long-term sustainability will require structural changes that reconcile competing interests by matching enterprise funding with enterprise planning and response.

4. Neglected infrastructure is the unpaid bill of public health.


Upside: Public health laboratories, which had operated quietly in the background, effectively identified, analyzed and contained the effects of biochemical agents in isolated incidents last fall.

Downside: The long-neglected public health infrastructure is already strained by the day-to-day demands of communicating among tribal, local, state and federal authorities - and would be simply overwhelmed by large-scale biological warfare.

5. Inconsistent training
and personal preparedness are the unpaid bills of public-sector workforce readiness.

Upside: Like public health, the emergency-management community has become quietly effective without much fanfare, leveraging decades of disaster response to build capacity and a constituency for its work.

Downside: On balance, emergency preparedness remains a peripheral activity. Moreover, little attention has been paid to personal preparedness of essential staff in public agencies. Few have a personal plan for themselves and their families - and few employers have asked essential staff to develop one.

6. Confusion and concern over the use of public information are the unpaid bills of muddled communication.


Upside: Loose lips still sink ships. The National Security Administration (NSA) has extended its information security education and training program to include a timely reminder to those who handle sensitive information. The campaign - featuring the tag line "Information security begins with you" - echoes the look and feel of World War II posters, which exhorted people to keep security-related information to themselves.

Downside: Governments have been less clear about the potentially dangerous crossroads of personal security and civil liberties. It has lead to speculation about the rise of a surveillance society, absent clear affirmation of the government's commitments to civil liberties and privacy.

7. Sticker shock is the unpaid bill of decades of optimistic (and sometimes deceptive) budget estimates.


Upside: The overarching national purpose of homeland security has caused legislatures to carve out a down payment during a time of severe revenue shortfalls.

Downside: Moving forward, legislative- and executive-branch budget writers will need the courage to do the right thing - even when it comes at a cost to existing programs. That can only happen in an environment of full disclosure. These efforts are expensive. The work is hard and unpredictable. Upfront transparency about the total cost of ownership will allow informed decisions - and help break a bad habit of pursuing an artificially low bid, only to make up for it through a river of change orders in the years that follow.

All of that strikes close to home. As do the threats. As does the opportunity to do the right thing. To successfully manage through these inflection points is to end up on the right side of history. It's time to pay our tab.
Paul W. Taylor Contributing Writer

Paul W. Taylor, Ph.D., is the editor-at-large of Governing magazine. He also serves as the chief content officer of e.Republic, Governing’s parent organization, as well as senior advisor to the Governing Institute. Prior to joining e.Republic, Taylor served as deputy Washington state CIO and chief of staff of the state Information Services Board (ISB). Dr. Taylor came to public service following decades of work in media, Internet start-ups and academia. He is also among a number of affiliated experts with the non-profit, non-partisan Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF) in Washington, D.C.