TCS Daily

The Key To Homeland Defense - The States

By Hugh Hewitt - September 26, 2001 12:00 AM

To Earlier this week I wrote on the subject of the new Office of Homeland Defense for my other web column at WorldNetDaily. ( Everyone in Washington, D.C., agrees that this is a much needed office, but reaction to that column alerted me to some issues not yet asked and answered inside the Beltway. Because I agree that this effort is vital to the prevention of future terrorist attacks on unsuspecting citizens, I relay some of these concerns.

First, a federal agency even loosely affiliated with law enforcement raises issues of a federal police force beyond the scope of the FBI and the ATF. Gov. Thomas Ridge, R-Pa., who will head up the new office, would be well advised to arrange for some tough questions to be thrown at him by senators if, in fact, Senate confirmation is required, as many suspect authorizing legislation will provide. The governor is in a position to answer these issues of jurisdiction with the credibility of a chief executive who has felt the burden of federal interference, but he will have to convince skeptics that his agency does not intend to trample on the authority of state and local officials.

There is also the perennial and legitimate concern of gun owners about confiscatory federal regulations. Better a bold statement on the rights of gun owners than vague assurances about respecting Second Amendment rights. If Ridge addresses this constituency, he will earn at least grudging admiration for having tackled the sensitive issue head-on.

State and local officials are also watching to see if this new office will be another "mandate factory" -- the sort of federal office great at giving orders and vanishing when the bill is due. Advocacy of preparedness is a critical role, but advocacy ought not to metastasize into authority to compel. The Constitution's Spending Clause has become the bludgeon of choice in recent years, as Congress has attached very long strings to the money it provides to its co-sovereigns at the state level. Gov. Ridge is again well positioned by virtue of his service in Pennsylvania to assure nervous states on this point.

Then there is organization. Having served long ago as deputy director of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, I am acquainted with the volumes of the Federal Personnel Manual and the reams of statutory provisions behind it. Once set up and staffed, it will be extraordinarily difficult to change. So Ridge and the congressional drafters must get it right the first time.

To me it is obvious that each state must have assigned to it a state director whose job it will be to familiarize himself or herself with the particulars of that state's vulnerabilities to terror attacks. It is also obvious to me that each state director should be very close to the top of a very flat management structure if he or she is going to be able to mobilize support to cure deficiencies in preparedness. The obscure rules of the Senior Executive Service must be combed so that each of these state directors is given a rank sufficient to draw talent into the office. It would be best if each of these directors were also a political appointee, not only so that they would hold the confidence of the administration but also so that their respective client governors and mayors would know that these appointees had been selected by the incumbents and at least nominally enjoyed their trust. Given President Bush's demeanor these past two weeks, I think we can be confident that he will be seeking the most competent people for the senior levels of this agency. Congress should assure that the personnel system is modified in the agency's authorizing legislation to allow him a chance to make this crucial effort succeed.

I asked Jim Strock about this federal-state cooperation issue. Strock is a veteran of senior positions in both the federal and state bureaucracies, having served as the head of California's Environmental Protection Agency and as head of enforcement at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. When I asked him about the appropriate balance between federal presence and state oversight, he wrote back:

"Far from undercutting state authorities as so many reasonably fear, the unprecedented circumstances of the national emergency we are entering may lead to greater reliance on states. As President (and former Governor) Bush and Governor Ridge acutely understand, the states are the first line of defense on natural and human-made disasters. Extensive public and private emergency services generally lie directly in the purview of governors -- who well know that their careers can be made or broken in the immediate aftermath of a crisis."

"In addition," Strock continued, "planning for the worst while hoping for the best, the federal government has not historically been called upon to respond to multiple disasters, other than prospectively in the context of civil defense in the Cold War. The states would inevitably be in the lead.

"The states, and local communities, are the repository of experience and expertise relating to their own infrastructure that will always exceed what the best-intentioned bureaucrat in Washington might assemble. What is more, there simply may not be time to work through Washington."

Strock added a little glimpse of the complexity of the challenge ahead: "In California, potential mischief involving the water aqueducts and pesticide supplies in the Central Valley, or the Golden Gate Bridge, or the refineries at Wilmington and Martinez, or the nuclear facilities at Rancho Seco, would be best understood and comprehended by teams led by state officials with long histories of working with local governments and communities."

"Rather than being an obstacle to the immense task being undertaken by Governor Ridge," Strock concluded, "the states may well be the indispensable piece that makes a truly national response possible and credible."

Voices like that of Jim Strock are the voices that Congress should listen to as it ponders the statutory authority that will be given the new Office of Homeland Security. There is a rush to respond, as there should be. But that response must be calibrated to give Gov. Ridge what he needs -- including authority over his appointees -- even as the structure of the new agency takes account of the irreplaceable expertise of the states.

Hugh Hewitt's radio show is syndicated by The Salem Radio Network, and is heard across the country. He can be reached at

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