Gilmore Commission Calls For Improved Homeland Security Strategy

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December 15, 2003


The United States needs an improved homeland security strategy to strengthen security in communities facing the greatest risk, improve the use of intelligence, increase the role of state and local officials, and sharpen disaster response capabilities, a federal commission said today.

In a report to President Bush and the Congress, the commission—chaired by former Virginia Gov. James S. Gilmore III and known as the Gilmore Commission—says the creation of the Department of Homeland Security has resulted in improved planning and readiness. But the report concludes that the overall national homeland security strategy should be directed by a White House-level entity that “must have some clear authority over the homeland security budgets and programs throughout the federal government.”

The Gilmore Commission says that an existing entity—the Homeland Security Council—is best equipped to craft a new strategic policy that could then be carried out by the Department of Homeland Security, other federal agencies and a host of state, local and private groups that also must be involved. The Homeland Security Council is made up of the secretaries and heads of federal departments and agencies with homeland security responsibilities, supported by its own staff in the White House.

The formal title of the federally chartered Gilmore Commission, created in 1999, is the Advisory Panel to Assess Domestic Response Capabilities for Terrorism Involving Weapons of Mass Destruction. The RAND Corporation provides staff support to the commission.

The 17-member Gilmore Commission will disband in early 2004 now that its final report is complete. Since it began, the panel has made 144 recommendations, with 125 being adopted by the Congress and various government agencies.

The commission says that by providing long-term guidance to federal, state, and local government officials, an improved homeland security strategy can help create a “new normalcy” that acknowledges the threat of terrorism will not disappear, but still preserves and strengthens civil liberties.

“There will never be a 100 percent guarantee of security for our people, the economy, and our society,” Gilmore writes in the report’s cover letter. “We must resist the urge to seek total security—it is not achievable and drains our attention from those things that can be accomplished.”

The commission calls on the president to create an independent, bipartisan oversight board to provide counsel on homeland security efforts that may impact civil liberties, even if such impacts are unintended. The commission says the board is needed because of the potential chilling effect of government monitoring conducted in the name of homeland security.

The report expresses concern about protecting freedoms guaranteed by the First Amendment to the Constitution, which could be violated by government’s increased reliance on sophisticated technology that has vast potential to invade personal privacy.

The Gilmore Commission urges policymakers to move beyond simply reacting to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. The report calls for forward-thinking efforts by government at the federal, state and local levels, and by the private sector as well.

Despite an encouraging start in the effort to protect the nation against terrorism, the report warns that “the momentum appears to have waned as people, businesses, and governments react to the uncertainties in combating terrorism and to the challenge of creating a unified enterprise.”

The Gilmore Commission says that one important element of a national strategy for homeland defense should be to empower state and local officials,who have been drafted into the homeland security efforts in an inconsistent manner.

To ease the confusion experienced by local and state governments and others seeking aid from the Department of Homeland Security, the commission calls for creation of a single grant-making entity in the department to streamline a funding process that now involves many units.

Another Gilmore Commission proposal designed to assist localities calls on the Department of Homeland Security to revise its color-coded Homeland Security Advisory System to include a way to notify local and regional emergency responders about threats to their specific jurisdictions. A revised alert system also should include training to show emergency responders preventive actions necessary at different threat levels, the commission says.

A RAND survey of 918 state and local emergency response agencies (such as law enforcement departments, fire departments, emergency medical services, hospitals, emergency management agencies and public health agencies) conducted for the Gilmore Commission found that state-level organizations are relatively positive about federal homeland security efforts up to now. However, the survey found that local response organizations are less satisfied.

Most state and local emergency response organizations want the Department of Homeland Security to improve coordination, information-sharing and communication among all levels of government, which could help unify state and local efforts with federal programs, the RAND survey found.

“There are 55 states and territories; with the lack of clear articulated vision from the federal level, each one has been moving to combat terrorism in its own way,” the report says.

The Department of Homeland Security needs to take a stronger role in developing standards for local emergency responders, including technical systems as well as training and exercise needs, according to the Gilmore Commission report.

For example, at least six federal departments and a number of other organizations are involved in developing standards for emergency communication systems and equipment. The involvement of so many entities makes it difficult for state and local officials to know what equipment to buy and increases the chance of incompatible systems, the Gilmore Commission found.

While the RAND survey found that state and local emergency response organizations want more federal funds for their homeland security efforts, the Gilmore Commission cautioned against increasing aid without first developing a mechanism that would give priority to the regions where the risk is greatest and without implementing measures to make sure money is being spent wisely.

“The system does not have to be built on the premise that every community in America must have the same type and the same level, based almost exclusively on population considerations, of response capabilities” the report says. “The panel firmly believes that one size does not fit all.”

Risk assessments that look at a variety of factors—including population—should eventually become the basis for allocating funding, the Gilmore Commission recommends. Those efforts should be backed up by the creation of an improved mutual aid system that allows for a quick and effective response should disaster strike, the commission says.

According to the report, too little intelligence information is shared with state and local officials, despite improvements in the ways the government handles such information. The RAND survey found that only about half of local law enforcement agencies and half of state and local emergency management organizations have received guidance from the FBI about the type of information they should collect about suspected terrorist activity and pass on to the FBI.

The Gilmore Commission recommends that to improve intelligence sharing, the president should: designate a federal authority that can speed up the granting of security clearances for state, local and private officials; provide training to allow these officials to use intelligence information; and overhaul the current classification system to improve the dissemination of critical intelligence.

The commission also reiterates its recommendation of a year ago that the president establish a Terrorist Threat Integration Center independent of the FBI, CIA or the Department of Homeland Security to coordinate intelligence about potential terrorist attacks in the United States.

Members of the Gilmore Commission represent fire services, emergency medical services, law enforcement, emergency management, public health, the medical community and local government. They include former senior federal officials and senior retired military officers. One of the members was Ray Downey, who died in the collapse of the second World Trade Center tower in the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. Downey was deputy chief and chief-in-charge, special operations, for the New York City Fire Department.

The Gilmore Commission report is the product of a series of meetings and workshops that the commission has held over the past year. In addition, the report includes findings from several research projects conducted by analysts at RAND, and detailed results from RAND’s nationwide survey of state and local emergency response entities.


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