Ben @ DisasterAccountability.org
3/12/08 Report criticizes DHS lack of diversity Posted by Linda on March 12th, 2008
The Department of Homeland Security’s disgraceful response to Hurricane Katrina may have been a reflection of the racial and gender makeup of its senior staff. A new GAO report shows that women and minorities are greatly under-represented in the senior ranks of DHS.
In March 2007, the department’s headquarters staff was one of the least diverse offices, with only one African American and one Hispanic among 46 members of the career SES, the report said. (Washington Post)
The problem was illustrated when Secretary Chertoff appeared at a Congressional hearing last week to discuss the report. One legislator noted that Chertoff had brought with him ten aides - all white and all male. Another legislator, Rep. Melvin Watt (D-NC) , asked the Secretary to assure him that the rest of his staff was more diverse.
“I think that is definitely the case,” Chertoff said.
“Okay,” Watt said, and appeared to begin moving to another question.
But Chertoff continued: “I wouldn’t assume that the ethnic background of everybody behind me is self-evident.”
Watt replied: “I wouldn’t assume the ethnic background of everybody behind you is self-evident, but I think I know an African American when I see one. . . If anyone wants to stand up and volunteer and tell me they are an African American, I hope they will do that right now.”
No one stood. Some in the audience began laughing. (Washington Post)
But, discrimination in emergency response is no laughing matter. The lack of diversity in the senior ranks at DHS almost certainly affected the department’s slow and callous response to the needs of minorities and women following Hurricane Katrina. Those and other examples described in “World Disasters Report: Focus on Discrimination” show that discrimination in disaster response is a worldwide problem.
In the United States, the emergency management profession is one of the last to integrate its ranks, permeated by a pernicious bias that perceives minorities and women as less capable of taking charge in emergencies. As a result, during my 13 years with the federal government, I found it necessary many times to remind FEMA and other agencies of the need to be more inclusive: to include tribal governments in emergency planning activities, to address the emergency needs of foreign-born migrant workers, and to respect the technical contributions of African-American emergency management specialists.
In 1999, federal agencies began requiring vast numbers of senior career positions to have security clearances, although many of the positions had no clear need for access to classified information. This, I warned members of Congress, would open the door to more discrimination because the process for approving (and revoking) clearances was vague and external oversight poor to non-existent. Agencies could therefore deny clearances for virtually any reason - even an illegal one like discrimination or whistleblower retaliation. Thus, it is not surprising that the executive ranks of DHS, which are most likely to require clearances, are the least diverse.
Dysfunctional hiring practices will remain a problem until new laws are passed providing meaningful oversight over the the security clearance approval process and providing stronger protections for discrimination complainants and whistleblowers. As Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) stated,
“The makeup of the department’s senior leadership must be reflective of the face of America.”
Disaster Accountability Supporter:
I thought I'd let you know about a new blog post discussing this week's massive layoffs at the American Red Cross. We all know the economy is not doing so well but few organizations are giving pink slips to 1/3 of their Washington, DC employees. While I am a big critic of American Red Cross disaster relief capabilities, layoffs of this magnitude are reckless.
If our nation was dealt a major disaster today, would the American Red Cross be ready? Probably not... one week after announcing 1000 layoffs in their National Office. The ratio of Red Cross staff to volunteers would be larger than widely criticized post-Hurricane Katrina figures.
Please read the full blog entry here: http://blog.disasteraccountability.com//
Friends,I'm excited to announce the new Disaster Accountability Blog.
Over time, the Blog will prove itself as the leading source of news and views on Disaster Accountability issues. We welcome guest bloggers to participate, raise awareness about critical issues, write and comment on entries, and propose improvements to the U.S. disaster prevention, response, relief, and recovery systems.
Please send any suggestions for blog improvements or interest in guest blogging to Linda Lewis, our Policy Analyst, at LewisPlan @ yahoo.com
There is much to report after our first two (full) months. This email will discuss two big items on our agenda this week (the CA wildfires and official comments we submitted Monday to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security), ways you can help, and a general update covering the past two months.
The fires in Southern California have already displaced over a quarter million people-- and will likely force the evacuations of many more. With the fires still out of control, the "Disaster Response/Relief" system is activated... and the public is at the mercy of the same organizations and Federal agencies that have yet to fix many of the problems that plagued the Katrina response/relief effort.
A) Yesterday, we announced the availability of our toll-free hotline for the reporting of disaster response/relief gaps in California's wildfire disaster. The press release is located on our website at:
The Katrina aftermath taught us that gaps in critical services are more likely to get addressed when they're realized. The hotline provides survivors, volunteers, and disaster workers with an "outside line" that will publicize any gaps in critical services. Please publicize our toll-free Disaster Accountability Hotline (866-9-TIP-DAP) to anyone you know in Southern California.
The hotline and reporting mechanism will only work if people know about it.
B) We also sent official comments on the newly proposed "National Response Framework" to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). While it's not completely clear, the National Response Framework is supposed to be the Federal government's "outline" or "structure" or "plan" for "disaster management." The Framework is riddled with holes, management conflicts, vagueness, and inaccuracies. It essentially replaces a "National Response Plan" without providing an actual plan, because it is a "Framework." Confused? You're not alone.
A summary of our comments:
A pdf document of our full comments:
An analysis of our comments:
C) We need your help. You can do these three things now.
1) Forward this email to TEN people you know and encourage them to visit our website and sign up for updates.
2) Visit the "Take Action" page on our website and view all of the ways you can help.
3) Donate now. We need your support to cover our website and hotline costs and achieve our goal of hiring a staff person. You can donate here:
D) Since launching the project just two months ago...
1) We were profiled in a short article in the New Orleans Times Picayune. The following day, I joined Jeff Crouere's morning radio show in New Orleans. The article and radio clip are posted on our website.
Other highlights/significant mentions include:
The Orient Lodge: http://www.orient-lodge.com/node/2560
• Content-wire.com: http://www.content-wire.com/accountability-project-public-emergency-response
• The "Take Action" item in September's In These Times, the monthly magazine.
2) In our first two months, we filed nine press releases (all are posted on our website).
3) We've recruited 30 "Disaster Accountability Monitors" in: CA, DC, FL, LA, NY, IL, MD, CT, TX, MO, OR, UT, AL, KS, MI.... and the list is growing. Plans are to recruit at least a few hundred monitors across the US.
4) We now have 540 policy recommendations to improve the nation's disaster system organized on our website. The progress of each recommendation can be tracked by any website visitor through a Google or other web search. Only through tracking these recommendations will we know if the major problems discovered in the wake of Hurricane Katrina have been addressed or fixed.
5) Linda Lewis, a long-time expert in emergency preparedness and federal whistle-blower joined our staff as a policy analyst. She's volunteering her time for now -- but I'm hopeful that we'll be able to successfully fundraise to support a staff position soon. Linda is providing invaluable policy and programatic support.
In addition, our website was designed and programmed by amazing and dedicated individuals. Freelance programmers Gugulethu Ntombela and Ulrich Sossou provided hours and hours of dedicated work to this project. Steve Ofner of Liberal Art designed site template. Thank you.
6) The Connecticut Urban Legal Initiative, a nonprofit law clinic (and one of my classes this semester at UCONN Law), has taken us on as a pro-bono client this semester. We are now officially incorporated in Connecticut. Soon, we'll be filing the necessary documents to establish 501c3 nonprofit status.
7) Our advisory board is getting bigger, and more impressive... Our board of directors is also forming... and we're actively recruiting for both...
8) Our Facebook group has over 230 members. Join it!
9) In November, we will be included on a panel on "Disaster Accountability" at The Community College of Baltimore County.
10) A number of committed volunteers dedicated many hours this past summer, researching reports, adding recommendations to the website, and reaching out to stake-holders and interested groups and individuals.
... and that's just a quick summary. If you have any questions, comments, or suggestions, please let me know.
Thanks again for your continued interest and support,
Disaster Oversight Group Details New DHS/FEMA National Response Framework Holes
Press Availabilities This Week To Review Multiple Problems With Framework
Disaster Accountability Project (DAP) staff are available to discuss comments it will submit Monday to the Department of Homeland Security on the recently proposed National Response Framework (NRF). The Framework's public comment period was briefly extended until Monday, October 22, 2007.
Linda Lewis, DAP Policy Analyst and long-time Federal emergency planner/whistle-blower and Ben Smilowitz, DAP Director and former manager of a Red Cross Client Service Center in Gulfport, MS immediately following Hurricane Katrina are available for comment on the group's NRF comments. A complete copy of the comments is available upon request.
Some comments include:
• "The NRF inadequately considers the needs of non-English speakers who may be foreign visitors or immigrants... Make the draft NRF readily available in Spanish and other languages spoken by a substantial portion of the population"
• "Make civil service positions less vulnerable to political pressures from above by embracing meaningful whistle-blower protections for all emergency managers, including those with security clearances; and provide an effective and supportive mechanism for receiving disclosures of inadequacies in emergency planning, exercising and response."
• " 'Framework' is indeed a more accurate name for this product ; but it is not entirely accurate. What is needed is a different product - a plan, not a name change."
• "The description of the FEMA Director and DHS Secretary's responsibilities conflicts with requirements of the Post Katrina Reform Act."
• "Shifting NRF implementation to the DHS Secretary is not consistent with the intent of Congress as described in the Post Katrina Reform Act...The head of FEMA and not the DHS Secretary should be in charge of coordinating federal emergency response."
• "Some ESF functions may be inappropriately combined, partitioned or privatized."
• "Not all 'lessons learned' are publicly reported or followed up with changes to plans. For example, as TOPOFF 4 prepares to being, the TOPOFF III after-action report still has not been issued."
• "Federal exercises frequently ignore recovery or give it lip service if addressed at all... Ensure that adequate exercise time is allowed to cover long-term recovery issues in reasonable detail."
• "Logic suggests that the FEMA Administrator would be the coordinator of the federal response, not the DHS Secretary's advisor... The roles of the FEMA Director and Director of Operations Coordination appear to conflict, calling to mind post-Katrina confusion."
The Disaster Accountability Project provides accountability and oversight to the nation's disaster prevention, response, relief, and recovery systems through monitoring and policy research.
WATCHDOG GROUP QUESTIONS NATIONAL EMERGENCY EXERCISE TIMING, POLITICS
Disaster Accountability Project Warns Exercise Effectiveness Compromised Without New Plan And Before Complete Framework
The timing of the upcoming TOPOFF4 Exercise is drawing criticism from the Disaster Accountability Project (DAP) because an updated National Response Plan is not yet in place. Originally, the Exercise was planned to follow the close of the comment period for the newly proposed and highly controversial National Response Framework (NRF). In a large-scale emergency, it would be critical for plans at all levels of government to be aligned with the national coordinating plan. But, state and local officials have not had time to align their plans with the NRF because it has not been finalized.
According to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the TOPOFF4 Exercise scheduled for October 15-19, 2007 "will feature thousands of federal, state, territorial, and local officials. These officials will engage in various activities as part of a robust, full-scale simulated response to a multi-faceted threat." In addition, "The full-scale exercise offers agencies and jurisdictions a way to test their plans and skills in a real-time, realistic environment and to gain the in-depth knowledge that only experience can provide." See: http://www.dhs.gov/xprepresp/training/gc_1179350946764.shtm
"The purpose of a national exercise should be to test the adequacy of emergency plans and procedures," says Linda Lewis, who spent 16 years advising federal, state and local agencies on ways to improve preparedness. "But, the TOPOFF4 exercise, testing national preparedness for a dirty bomb attack is being held before the draft National Response Framework has been finalized, and early comments on the plan indicate that major revisions are needed." Lewis, a DAP policy analyst, points out that the Department of Homeland Security made a similar error in April 2005, when it held TOPOFF3 before the deadline by which state, local and other federal agencies were to have revised their own plans to reflect the National Response Plan (NRP) issued in December 2004 with little input from state officials. "Even if the exercise is declared an overall success, which is virtually a given in government exercises, the plan is unscripted and it is questionable whether successes could be repeated. Thus, the exercise may provide an opportunity for DHS officials to reject changes requested by state officials that DHS locked out of meetings to finish a draft NRF."
"DHS was counting on a lot of negative publicity culminating next week, when all the comments were initially expected. A large-scale exercise deflects that scrutiny and lends the appearance that everything is under control. With the National Response Plan in transition and a Framework under intense scrutiny, exactly what plan will guide the thousands of Federal, state, territorial and local officials? What is the point of spending $25 million to train around a plan that will soon experience a massive overhaul? The photo-ops from TOPOFF4 will provide Americans with a false sense of security. This nation is not ready to deal with a large-scale disaster and Americans need to see through this PR stunt and demand substance over looks," said Ben Smilowitz, Director, Disaster Accountability Project and former Red Cross Katrina relief site manager stationed in Gulfport, MS immediately following the storm.
Planned in the wake of Hurricane Katrina by a frustrated, former Red Cross site-manager in consultation with other key stake-holders, The Disaster Accountability Project provides accountability and oversight to the nation's disaster prevention, response, relief, and recovery systems through monitoring and policy research. A draft of the Disaster Accountability Project's comments on the proposed, controversial National Response Framework are available upon request and will soon be posted to the group's website.
DISASTER RESPONSE OVERSIGHT GROUP CALLS FOR INVESTIGATION INTO HOMELAND SECURITY LEADERSHIP FAILURES
Congressional Time Would Be Better Spent Listening To Whistleblowers In Homeland Security and FEMA About Agencies’ Disaster Preparedness Deficiencies
Today, the United States Government Accountability Office will release a 320 page report that will say: "DHS has made limited progress in the areas of emergency preparedness and response." Also today, the US Senate’s Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs will be hearing from The Honorable David M. Walker, Comptroller General, United States Government Accountability Office and The Honorable Paul A. Schneider, Under Secretary for Management, U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
“The latest report confirms that Homeland Security and FEMA are dysfunctional. There have been countless reports since Katrina and many make the same recommendations, over and over. Instead of hearing from Homeland Security’s top brass, Congress ought to hear from whistleblowers within the department,” says Ben Smilowitz, Director, Disaster Accountability Project. “We are in the middle of a hurricane season that produced two category five storms in as many weeks. Homeland Security’s leadership should be investigated.”
The recently formed, non-partisan Disaster Accountability Project is tracking recommendations to improve the nation’s disaster prevention, response, relief, and recovery systems via its website and a toll free hotline (866-9-TIP-DAP). Over 500 recommendations from 16 reports are now posted online. There have been thousands of recommendations for improvement since Katrina and many are collecting dust.
A toll-free hotline (866-9-TIP-DAP) is also available as a public service for disaster survivors, workers and volunteers to report critical service gaps that must be made public and addressed. The group is recruiting a network of Disaster Accountability Monitors and Bloggers to help report, verify, and raise awareness about gaps in disaster relief services.
The Disaster Accountability Project's website is http://www.disasteraccountability.org/
From the website:
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