I was rereading a bit about Emerson and self-reliance earlier. It affected me, as it always does. Before I wade into current political statements of opinion on the recent Presidential Directives (I’ve seen blog headlines), I’ve decided to treat it like I would treat any document I wanted to interpret. What follows is my initial set of impressions and thoughts. This will change, it always does. It might be interesting to do part 2 sometime later, when these thoughts bounce against those of others and I have to rethink things.
This is for my friend Mary, who asked me to blog on this (thank you, but look what you’ve done!).
HSPD-20 / NSPD-51 (National Security Presidential Directive 51 and Homeland Security Presidential Directive 20) is a presidential directive (not a law) that was issued by the White House on May 9. As you might have guessed from the numbers, there have been other directives. I’m not sure why this one is so special, or causing such a buzz.
The first time I read it, it really did fill me with alarm. I thought – “Oh, good lord, now all they have to do is drop a bomb here at home, and BOOM – no more elections.” But I’m not so sure that I completely understand its significance. Maybe they all read like that. After all, think of the topic of discussion. In a disaster, we do want some plans in place!
HSPD-20 is a presidential proclamation that declares how the White House plans to deal with a “Catastrophic Emergency” – “any incident, regardless of location, that results in extraordinary levels of mass casualties, damage, or disruption severely affecting the U.S. population, infrastructure, environment, economy, or government functions.”
Yeah, that makes me nervous already. It’s the “regardless of location” that bothers me – a lot. Think about possible locations…
Ok, what KIND of plan, and what has changed?
There is the creation of the position of an executive branch “National Continuity Coordinator” who will be in charge of coordinating plans to ensure just the continuity of Federal Government structures and the implementation of Federal continuity policies – it’s about policy coordination for contingency plans?
This is a bit ambiguous. I think you could defend the interpretation that it declares the executive branch itself to be the “National Continuity Coordinator” over “executive departments and agencies” – what unspecified power for executive “guidance” is it claiming over local, state, and private organizations to ensure continuity for national security (as well for emergency response and recovery)? These are very different things. This is perhaps an extension of the powers of commander-in-chief (it’s only supposed to cover the army and navy).
The most ominous part of the document somehow is the revocation of Presidential Decision Directive 67, “Enduring Constitutional Government and Continuity of Government Operations.” What is being revoked? Why it is all being revoked? Why not just amend, or supersede?
It appears that the text of PDD67 has never been released to the public. This is going to be a pain.
but it’s unclear what Bush would see as needing to be revoked.
— OK, back. PDD67 was issued by Clinton in October 1998 – it directs all levels of government to plan for full minimum operations in any potential national security situation. Uniform policies were created for developing and implementing plans to ensure the continuation of essential operations during any man-mad, natural, technological, or national security emergency. So it’s about how to plan the plans? Sheesh.
Each federal agency was assigned specific functions based on their capabilities and authority, and each had to publish a contingency plan (“continuity of operations plan”- COOP), maintain the budget to support it, and ensure readiness with training, testing and evaluation (including computer simulations, war games, hazmat training, rehearsals, and the like). This built on and amended previous plans and directives, such as PDD-62 (Clinton, May 22, 1998), which established an integrated program to counter terrorist threats and to manage the consequences of attacks on the US. PPD-63 and the EPA’s Critical Infrastructures Protection Plan made each department and agency maintain plans to protect their own infrastructure (including their “cyber-based systems). In case of catastrophic disaster, the EPA is responsible for protecting the water and air supply against “corruption” (Don’t you feel safe now, knowing that the EPA has it under control? I’m starting to see why it’s so important for cronies to be in these positions… steady, steady – no ranting…).
So, to reword, plans were developed to identify possible requirements for a “Plan B” of chain of command and emergency functions and things like that in the event that the status quo was seriously disrupted. There were different roles for different agencies and departments (some or all of which may still apply?). So now it looks like they have to show metrics for successful performance? Is that new? I’m not sure. The EPA and the Department of Defense will probably still train state and local emergency responders, and so on.
We’re familiar with FEMA. Most of the resources of the National Preparedness Directorate of the Federal Emergency Management Agency [FEMA] used to be spent on ensuring the continuation of civilian government in the event of a nuclear war, through what are known as these Enduring Constitutional Government programs.
They called it “coordinating consequence management activities.” Lovely.
I’m thinking sci-fi scenario – the underground bunkers, maybe even the secret blast-off to a satellite – but maybe that’s become a dated chain of thought (or maybe I’ve read too much science fiction).
“Like, dude, what do we do with all these people dying of radiation poisoning? How many towns do we have to quarantine to prevent the epidemic? Where should I put all these bones?”
“Never mind that, get the President and the Speaker and those lobbyists into the capsule.”
Keep laughing. The George W. Bush Administration was the first president ever to put the Continuity of Operations plan into action – right after September 11, 2201. They pulled a rotating staff of 75-150 senior officials and other government workers from every Cabinet department and other parts of the executive branch into two secure bunkers on the East Coast (a government-in-waiting that Congress didn’t even know about, nice).
Still, even if we don’t like to think about it, we do need to have executable contingency plans so that everyone wouldn’t be running around, not knowing what to do, or thinking that they should all sit and wait for the Rapture, or go hysterically violent, or something like that.
So what’s new? Under the previous arrangement (as far as I can glean), there is no ultimate coordinator or boss or czar or whatever. The Head of each Federal agency/department was responsible for ensuring continuity of functions, essential resources, facilities and records, and the delegation of authority for emergency operating capabilities (within applicable laws – and probably without, too).
This directive would take away some authority in planning, and probably impose a new uniform standard of some sort? Would it take away authority or action at the time of disaster too? I can’t tell.
Each branch of government is responsible for its own plans. This would add a functionary to coordinate with the other two branches for “interoperability.”
Would this Coordination be arbitrated by a higher authority? What grievance procedure could there be in this? What happens if the head of one of the federal agencies or departments disagrees with this “coordinator”? Then what? Who has the final word? What about oversight?
This Coordinator person has to come up with a plan for all this within 90 days. Right. So it’s already written, and the person is already chosen? Wolfowitz needs a job, for example? Shouldn’t this be a position that needs to be confirmed? Oh oh… he couldn’t be thinking Gonzales…Rumsfeld… Rove? No, no, couldn’t be. Back to the text.
The White House could be building on its previous successes in expanding the executive role (hence the concern) – in which case state and local governments, territories, other properties (Guantanamo?), and interestingly enough, also private corporations – would be his (and Cheney’s and ?) to command in case of a national emergency. That would be really, really bad – I’m guessing that’s the cause of all the buzz and noise, if people read it that way.
The other interpretation might be that he is trying to do what he’s done in other places, like Homeland Security, which is to centralize power and information. In this case, the executive branch would be (or have?) the ultimate “coordinator”, like a wedding planner. Think the right will steal that metaphor?
Still, even then, the language of “coordinating” might be a screen for more of a “dictating” role. Have you actually dealt with someone whose title was “coordinator”? So you know what I mean. Anyway, the document says it’s not a directive role…and there’s lots of repetitions of “constitutional.” Maybe he’s trying to respond to criticisms about how this government has failed to respond effectively to catastrophes.
There are two different time-frames being discussed – one is the coordination effort for planning, and the other is what kinds of authority would be activated in case the plans went into effect.
If it means that all these agencies and authorities and private interests have to answer to the White House or its representative during an actual disaster, that seems like a very bad idea. I’m not sure if that’s what it means or not, and I don’t think I’d be able to tell without having access to more of the document, which is classified. So I don’t know.
Are there any other “eyes” in the legislative branch who would know what we’re actually talking about here?
You don’t want to be waiting for authorizations at a time like that, and suppose communications systems are disrupted? And “systems are down”?
Decentralized and adaptive power structures are much more effective. There is some concern about communication networks in the document, and a science and technology officer is responsible for ensuring those systems. I guess it all depends on the kind of disaster…
One thing we should have learned from Global Terrorism (and Global Corporations – I wonder who learned from who?) is that “cells” and “units” with multiply-redundant lines of communication and feedback are more adaptive and effective than “headquarters.” Interpenetration is more effective than top-down management. Instead of using methods of intelligence-gathering integration, we blunder in without even knowing a language or culture and whip up hornets nests. We were better when we had some classy spies, and practiced protective camouflage. We’ve forgotten our roots as Revolutionaries. We’re the new “red coats” – sticking out a mile. But back to the matter at hand, already in progress…
There are those who are saying that this is a setup for Bush to become an actual, old-fashioned dictator. No – it’s a bit more subtle. The Enduring Constitutional Government (ECG) refers to all three branches – but the difference it that they would be “coordinated by the President.” I would need to hear more details about what the coordination and implementation would look like in order to start screaming “Dictator.” Bush would like to be a Dictator, I’m sure, but he’s not.
Most of the document that has been released is more about structures and planning than about actual implementation. Read one way, it’s almost a will, since it also provides for the succession to the Presidency. “Heads of executive departments and agencies shall ensure that appropriate support is available to the Vice President and others involved as necessary to be prepared at all times to implement those provisions.” Hmmm.
There will be a new threat alert/readiness system – the President will get to issue the COGCON level focused on threats to the National Capital Region.
Continuity of Government Readiness Conditions. COGCON? Are they kidding? It sounds like an inside joke. Cogswell Cogs, cog in the works, brick in the wall, conference, conjob, conning the cogs, the con about continuity of government. Anyway, that level issued (through the super-secret underground lair communication device?) will signal all the agencies and departments of the executive branch to comply with assigned requirements under the program.
“Bible college never prepared me for THIS – are you SURE that’s the required action for this department?” “Yeah, honey, now just stand over there…”
All details of the COGCON program are classified.
This directive and the information contained herein shall be protected from unauthorized disclosure, provided that, except for Annex A, the Annexes attached to this directive are classified and shall be accorded appropriate handling, consistent with applicable Executive Orders. – George W. Bush
The directive does not have the same weight as, say, the Patriot Act or the Military Commissions Act. There may be aspects of it that are even more dangerous, that go further than “total information awareness” and the other kinds of surveillance on American citizens that this administration seems to crave.
Hermeneutics/deconstruction – deconstruction/hermeneutics.
Nope. Can’t get a fix. I can read it as intending to protect and defend the American people and the Constitution. And I can read it as a very scary document that we’ll think should have given us warning about the destruction of America as we know it. And I can believe it could even, in some sick way, be both.
We could say – “thank goodness we had this.” We could say – “they were planning it all along.” We could say – “he just wanted to one-up Clinton, and somebody wanted a new job.”
I have serious reservations, but I don’t think I have enough information to credibly argue about this document. For all I can tell, they’re just trying to reduce the paperwork.
One thing that I can tell you is that I am happy that I don’t write government documents for a living. I suspect that there are many things that we don’t know about – across the board – at the federal level of government.
After all this, I’ll have to stew some more. Sigh.
Well, at least I’ve got the initial bits that struck me.
Comments are welcome.